Monday, September 19, 2016

Photographing furry friends

Chronicle Herald - Sept 19, 2016

When you spend 17 years of your career in financial services and your job disappears, you are faced with a decision. Do you buckle down, and head out, and try to find yourself another job in the same field? Or do you step outside the corporate box and try something new? 

I faced that decision 18 years ago. I could say it was a tough decision, but it wasnt. The decision to try something new wasn't tough. But becoming the master of my own destiny was totally different from the white collar background I was raised in.

To the disbelief of many people who knew me at the time, I decided to start my own business. Not only my own business, but a dog biscuit business. Its fairly common now to see dog biscuits packaged by small companies, but 18 years ago it was not. I grew the business for ten years and then it was time for a new dream. We sold the company and decided to move to Nova Scotia.

I left the dog biscuit business behind, but I wanted to continue working with my love for animals. I created the Paws For Charity Art Book Project and for six years I compiled fund raising coffee table books using donated art and photography from artists around the world. I learned a lot about animal photography while working together with those generous people.  

Animals are very special to many of us. As we get older, some of us spend more time with our pets than we do with our kids. Similar to people portraits, animal portraits are best taken without a distracting background. Make sure you have a plain backdrop, or that you blur the background to keep only your pet in focus. If you cant keep the whole face in focus, make sure you keep the eyes sharp. Similar to the "candid versus posed" article I wrote a couple of months ago, its up to you to decide whether to pose your pet for a portrait or whether youd like a candid action shot.
Phantom and his shadow were perfectly framed by the shadow of our screen door
One of my favourite photos of our pets was totally unplanned. Our 18 year old cat Phantom was sitting in our screened in porch. Both he and his shadow was framed by the shadow of the screen door. I ran to get my camera and took the photo without him noticing.

After his death, we were without a cat for a couple of years, but finally it was time for a new feline and we headed to SHAID, our local animal shelter. Myrtle joined our family just after Christmas in 2012. Oddly enough, my favourite Myrtle photo was taken in the same screened in porch. Although I dont know a way to pose a cat, sometimes you can capture them in a pose of their own choosing. This example has a blurred background and Myrtle looking directly into the camera.
Myrtle strikes a pose
Dogs are much more obliging and are happy to work for praise or treats. Try to get down on their level. You will miss some great body language and expressions by requiring them to look up at you. Remember, although we often think it, dogs are not human. We cant tell them what to do. You need to be patient and creative. If you are trying to photograph a dog with a person, try dabbing a bit of peanut butter on the persons cheek (with their permission of course!) or have the person hold a treat to capture the dogs attention. Making strange sounds can also grab their interest, and supply some funny expressions.

When we are taking pictures of our own pets, its important to remember that we are capturing memories and our love for our animals. The image doesnt have to be perfect, it just has to mean something to us.

If you arent happy with your own pet photography results, or even if you are, there are local charities that photograph pets to fund raise for their cause. Supporting their events are a win-win situation. You end up with a great gift for yourself or a family member. The charity ends up with some much needed funds for their programs. And thats something good to focus on.

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