Picture Perfect: Head shot Holiday Cards

dogs, How-to, pets, photography

Simple design using head shots I took then created this composite image with Adobe Spark Post

Fayston, Vermont. The Halloween candy is in the stores, so that means it’s time to prepare your end of the year holiday cards. You’ve had a lot of practice since my last how-to photograph dogs blog post, so hopefully you have saved a few favorites. If not, don’t worry! Here are a few tips for taking a “studio” head shot in your own home with your cell phone that you can use for your card. No snow required.

What you’ll need, in addition to your fully charged smart phone:

  1. A clothes hanging rack. Not a sweater drying rack, but a tall, adjustable rack on which you normally hang pants and dresses.
  2. Pant hangers – the kind with clips. Or drapery clips. I used pant/skirt hangers.
  3. A festive and clean backdrop. A tablecloth or large throw/blanket works well. I used a plaid fleece throw, but if you choose a solid color you don’t have to worry as much about hanging the backdrop super straight. If you live near a fabric store (I don’t), buy a few yards (3-5, depending on the size of your dog and if you want some floor coverage) of velvet – try a dark red or blue or black. A roll of craft paper works, too. Use a seasonal color for whatever holiday you celebrate. Maybe you want to make a Halloween card AND a holiday card!
  4. A tripod for your mobile device is also recommended, especially if you want to be in the photo, too. Mine is a Joby GorillaPod, purchased a few years ago for around $25. Search Amazon or B&H Photo for a similar gadget.
  5. A room with lots of natural light that’s big enough to set up the clothes hanging rack and space to take a photo. I used my palatial master bath/laundry room because it has large windows and a lot of floor space. The garage with the door open also works for this project. Or, if it’s a nice day, find a flat spot in your yard without direct sunlight.
  6. Treats, squeakers, or whatever you need to get your dog to look at the camera. Lucy responds to my Donald Duck voice. If you are feeling ambitious, gather other seasonal props, such as costumes, scarves, hats, lights, etc.
  7. Your dog, after you’ve set up your studio.

Rack and hanger set up

My iPhone tripod, with an old phone

Studio Assembly

Clip the long end of your fabric to the hangers and hang on the rack. Take care to hang the fabric straight if you are using patterned fabric. The clips should hold multiple pieces of fabric so you can flip one over for a new look. (See image, below.) Perhaps you’ve seen a “photo booth” at a party or fundraising event – this is a down-and-dirty simple version.

Tip:  If you want the whole dog in your picture, puddle the fabric on the floor so that the floor doesn’t show in your photo. Have doggo sit or stand on the fabric puddle. You can also use a second piece of matching fabric for the floor.

Set up a test shot to make sure you know where to sit to take the photo and where your dog will sit. Use a stuffed animal or a backpack as a stand-in and take a test shot. You’ll need to be about four feet from your subject. (My phone camera warns me when I’m too close or too far. Apple thinks of everything…) If you don’t have enough room, pick up the rack, fabric and all, and find a new location.

Adjust the backdrop to the light source, if necessary. I changed the angle of my backdrop slightly after my initial test.

Test shot for lighting with Charlie Brown

Take your shot

Now it’s show time. After you’ve exercised your dog, it’s time to take photos. I had to wake up Linus and motivate him to leave the couch.

  1. Bring doggo into your “studio” and have him sit in front of the backdrop. Set up any props or costumes.
  2. Use the “Stay” command while encouraging ear perk with a squeaker or small treat held near the camera lens.
  3. Select the Portrait setting if you have it.
  4. Hold the smartphone camera level with your dog’s eyes. On the screen, tap on your dog’s eyes.
  5. Then snap! For best results, use the tripod to prevent camera shake.

This will likely take a few tries, but your dog will love the attention. Stay positive and task focused. Reward and praise your dog! If you’re not seeing the image you like after a few takes, try again later.

Plan B: If your pooch is used to being held (and has trouble with “stay”), consider being in the photo with her. Figure out where you are going to sit and do a test shot or two. Now the tripod is mandatory. With your phone in the tripod, set the timer on your smartphone camera for three seconds. Gather your dog and sit on your mark, looking at the camera (or kissing, laughing and of course smiling) until the shutter clicks. If three seconds is too short for you to find your mark, try 10 seconds on the timer.

Caveat: My dogs are NOT used to being held. After setting the timer on my smartphone, I crawled over to sit next to test subject Lucy.  She saw this as playtime and began enthusiastically licking my face. (I should have known this was going to happen – it’s why my dogs are banned from the room when I need to stretch.) My photos were a hot mess of blonde blur. Bonding, 10; quality photograph, 0.

Plan C: Consider asking a family member or friend to help by hitting the shutter button. Bribery (um – reward) works for people, too. Coffee is a fine offering for my help, but you might try wine. Invite your helper to use your studio, too! Swap out the fabric for a new background and a different look.

Edit time (or, fun with apps)

One you have taken the photo you like, it’s time to let doggo finish his nap while you edit. Simply using iPhoto’s magic wand (or whatever photo app you use) and a bit of cropping will improve your image, but with a few more clicks, you will create more professional looking results.

Tip: Browse through the printed photo card choices online and pick out a few favorites before you crop. Knowing what aspect ratio you’ll need will save you from re-editing if you choose a card that calls for a 3:2 image but you’ve made yours 1:1. Wait a minute – what? 1:1 aspect ratio is square – the top and sides are the same. 3:2 is the size that will yield a 6 x 4 inch print – a rectangle. Your phone is 4:3. Aspect ratio is the width to height comparison of a photo.

For printed photo cards, you have a lot of online options, including Snapfish, Shutterfly, mpix, and Nation’s Photo Lab, to name a few. Many companies offer dog specific cards. If you don’t have a favorite printer already, ask a few friends who send great cards for recommendations. Once you browse the cards and make your choice, simply upload your photo and choose quantity.

For a complete and easy-to-use photo editor, one of my favorites is Snapseed. Snapseed is a Google product found for free on the App Store and also available for Android. It has editing “tools” and filters, called “looks.” Sometimes I need to lighten my image before I apply a filter, so I go to the “tools” section before going to the “looks” section (filters). Snapseed lets you save a copy or modify the original, and it lets you undo edits even after you’ve saved them.

Magic wand and cropping in iPhoto

Image brightened and Snapseed portrait filter applied

Another editing app I use is PicsArt. PicsArt has many fun filters and easy-to-use editing tools, plus it has a cut-out feature. If you want to remove the background on your headshot, tap the scissors icon, then swipe your finger over the areas of the image you want to keep. Fine tune the cut-out with the eraser tool. Apply the filter and you’ve just created a sticker that you can add to another image. Or, you can change the background to a solid color or a pattern. I used PicsArt to create the image of Linus, below right.  Even though the background of my original image was simple, the plain black gives the image more punch.

If you have some down time and really want to play with photo editing, try Enlight Photofox. I have the older, paid version of Enlight; Enlight Photofox is free but has subscription-based add-ons. Either Enlight or Enlight Photofox will let you layer images to create something completely new. Don’t be afraid to play! I had a long wait at the doctor’s office, so I followed one of the tutorials to create this stylized portrait of Linus (below).

To make a funky digital card for social media, try Photo Lab –  you pick a frame, then add animated effects and type to your headshot. (See Linus image at the bottom of this post.)

For a more sophisticated look, take a look at Adobe Spark Post. It’s another graphic design and collage app I like for graphic layouts such a digital holiday message for social media. I used Spark Post for the title image.

PicsArt collage of Charlie Brown, Linus, and Lucy

Tip: If you are using more than one headshot, make all the heads the same size. I need to resize Lucy in the above collage.

Design note: Many of the card designs are so colorful that your photo in black and white makes an elegant finished card. (See image at the top of the article.) Duplicate your image and make it black and white by using your photo editing app. Upload the black and white version to see which way you like it. Some of the card makers will let you edit your photos, but I feel that I have more control (and better results) if I make a second version to upload.

P. s. Why am I writing this post in September? This home studio set-up also works great for showing off your dog’s Halloween costume!!! Plus, if you have your holiday card ready to go early, you’ll likely find a great price on printing and have one less thing to do once December comes. Because it’s all about the cookies, really.

Finally, please share your work with wagmorevt.com! I’d love to see your dogs! I’ll add your photos to a future post. Thank you.

Have fun!

Linus head shot in Photo Lab. Scrooge effect is all Linus…

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Snaptastic! Readers share their dog portraits

dogs, How-to, photography, Uncategorized
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In an image sent in by Carol, Bradley the Labrador (owned by Carol’s son) enjoys a dip in a lake in the Sawtooth Mountains.

Fayston, Vermont. After a couple of posts giving photography tips for capturing a good portrait of your dog, I put my readers to the test. (Well, it was an optional assignment.) I received excellent submissions through which I can not only see your dogs likeness, but I also feel how special your dogs are.  That emotion is the end goal of a good portrait, so congratulate yourselves on an assignment well done!

From Carol, in New Jersey, I received images of of her son’s dog, Bradley, and of her Labradoodle, Wilson. Kersten, also in New Jersey, shared photos of her dog Rhodie. Andrea in Connecticut sent in photos of her dog, Filbert. And Nancy, who lives not far from me in Vermont, forwarded photos of several of her dogs. Thank you all for sharing your images!

I’ve assembled the photos into a gallery, below. Click on an image to see the dog’s name or owner. Sweet!

Oh, snap! (Send your photos before it’s too late!)

dogs, How-to, photography, Uncategorized
img_3341

Linus, Charlie Brown, and Lucy take a break during our evening stroll.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017.

A gentle reminder: Dear readers, I’ve only had two of you send in dog photos for my October post! I am grateful to those faithful two, but I’d really like to show photos from a few more of you – especially if you have found my photography tips helpful!  So please give portrait shooting a go and email your images on or before October 1, 2017 (that’s this Sunday) to me at silvernaildesign@gmail.com. I won’t sell your images or give them to any other party to use, I promise.

If you don’t have a dog, I will post your portrait of another pet or a favorite person of yours. The idea is to have you try the tips I gave you to see if they help you take a better picture. (I’m betting they will! To review my last post, please click here.)

In addition to sending your portrait to me, I’ve found a few more places for you to submit your dog’s photo. Two of the three are time-sensitive, so start snapping!

  1. Orvis is looking for a catalog cover dog. Submit your photo by September 30, 2017.  Prizes, Orvis merchandise, and the coveted cover are at stake! Check out their gallery of entries for inspiration.
  2. Adventure Dogs Official is an Instagram account that features fun reader-submitted photos of dogs out having a great time. It’s a wonderful account to browse for ideas and just be bow-wow-ed! They are always looking for dogs to feature. Send a high resolution photo with caption and location of pic to advernturedogsco@gmail.com or tag #AdventureDogsOfficial on Instagram.
  3. Smithsonian Magazine is also holding a dog photo contest. Actually, Smithsonian offers many categories for its annual contest. Even if you don’t want to enter, it’s worth browsing through the submissions. (I feel so boring and landlocked after I viewed some of the wonderful entries. Maybe I just need another glass of wine.) Contest entries are due November 30, 2017. You must create a profile before you can submit a photo.

If you have any questions, please send an email to me or use the contact form, below. Thank you for your participation. I’m looking forward to seeing your photos! 

Kind Regards,

Rebecca

wagmorevt.com

Picture Perfect Dog Portraits, Take 2

dogs, How-to, photography, Uncategorized

Lucy on a sleepy Sunday morning

Fayston, Vermont.  Still struggling with taking a decent photo of your dog? To follow up on my post from May 7, 2017, Picture Perfect: Tips for Taking Dog Portraits, here’s a simple exercise to start you on your way to taking better dog portraits. Yes, a little homework – it is back-to-school time – then, please send your assignment photos to wagmorevt.com and I’ll post them next month.

The assignment theme: “Let sleeping dogs lie”. I heard from some of you that your dog just won’t sit still long enough for you to take a decent photo. Training tips aside, let’s remove the action bit as much as possible and start with a tired pooch.

Step 1: Take your dog for a good walk. The light will be best for photos in the early (early-ish) morning or early evening, so time your walk with your mission. Tidbit from Captain Obvious: Pick a day that’s not raining or about to rain. You want good light. Wet dog is your call.

Step 2: When your dog settles down for a post-walk rest, take out your camera or smart phone. Hopefully your dog will be some place where you will have natural light, like through a window or outside on your deck. Turn on your camera or the camera on your phone.

img_1211

Charlie Brown does not like mornings. To take this shot, I steadied my smart phone on the deck while I crouched super low, almost lying down, to take the shot.

Step 3: Set up your shot. Focus on the dog’s eyes. (With the smart phone camera open, tap on the screen over the dog’s eyes.) The dog’s eyes will probably still be open, and that’s good. Figure out which way the light is hitting your dog’s face, and set yourself up so that you see that light on your dog’s face. Hold your camera/phone at dog eye level, which might mean getting down on the floor. I do this all the time…

Step 4: Take the picture! Take several pictures: Try different angles, like above and below your dog, and take multiple shots. Try moving in very close for just the face, then farther away for the whole dog.

img_1648

Linus rests after his morning walk, Note how the soft light coming through the windows hits his face from the right side and behind him.

Step 5: Edit your image. Simply using the auto-enhance feature in iPhoto (or whatever you have) is often all you need. If you still have a lot of shadows, move the shadows slider in iPhoto to the right to lighten the shadows. Use the brilliance slider to lighten up dark photos, too. Cropping unnecessary bits will help your composition by “focusing” the attention on your subject.

Step 6: Send your finished image to wagmorevt.com! I’d love to see them, and I’ll share them in next month’s post. Please tell me your dog’s name, your name, and where you took the shot (town, state, and then anything else – living room, under the bed…) Your deadline for inclusion in the next post is Sunday, October 1, 2017.

Email photos and information to: silvernaildesign@gmail.com

Note: If you don’t have a dog, improvise! A cat, a teddy bear, your spouse;-)

Have fun!!! And, happy snapping!

Picture perfect: Tips for taking dog portraits

dogs, How-to, Uncategorized
RS_welcoming committee 2017

Lucy, Charlie Brown, and Linus sit for a portrait outside my front door. This “welcome mat” was shot using my iPhone.

This post is written in response to the requests I’ve received for tips on photographing dogs. Photography, in general, is subject about which A LOT has been written, so I’m going to hit on quick and simple ideas that I’ve found useful with my dogs. I’ll “focus” on these areas: dog wrangling, light, composition, equipment, and editing for taking dog portraits.

1. Dog wrangling. 

linus portrait 2017

Linus is staring at the treat in my hand. Ths “stay” command allows a few seconds to focus and press the shutter a few times so I can choose the image I want.  Yes, Linus enjoyed the treat!

Use basic commands of “sit,” “stay” and “come” when taking dog photos. Photo sessions double as training sessions! I have noticed an improvement in my dogs’ response to “stay” since I’ve been taking more frequent squad photos. When Linus sees the camera, he will sit before I even give the command. Reward and praise – and be patient.

 

RS_CB_Foggy forest

Charlie on a foggy morning walk.  I liked the mystery created by the fog but had to lighten up the image with editing to see Charlie a bit better.

2. Light. Take note of the light source and light direction before you start shooting. Light is important for evoking emotion and capturing details. The topic of light in photography is too broad to discuss in depth here. However, here are a few thoughts:

  • Consider what you’re trying to shoot then find the right light. I prefer natural light, whether outside or inside next to a window. Early morning and late afternoon provide better light than full sun midday when shadows will be strong and could make your image striped or dappled. If the sun is bright, move into the shade for even light and no squinting. Shade on a light-colored sidewalk or on sand will yield more true colors than shade cast by bushes on the grass, which will give a greenish cast.
  • Bright light will better define the action at high shutter speeds for action shots.
  • Fog and mist create drama.
  • Generally, you will need more light to photograph a dark colored dog like my Charlie Brown than you will need for a light colored dog like Lucy or Linus.
RS_B&W_sleeping linus

Linus, giving me the eye. Black & white shows texture well.  Also, note the circular (triangular?) composition of the dog’s body around the shadow.

Optional exercise: Try converting your images to black and white and discover the lessons in contrast and texture to be learned from black and white photography. Also, experiment with apps (some of my favorites are listed under the equipment heading) and their settings and filters to figure out what you like the best in your images.

3. Composition, or how the viewer’s eye moves around the image, is another topic too broad for this post to really cover well. That said, the viewer’s eye will be attracted to the lightest spot (usually), so pick a focal point that is light, such as the eyes.

  • Before you start, think about what emotion you’re trying to show or what the story is you’re telling – your focus, so to speak. Also, take the time to look at your surroundings with your photo in mind. An uncluttered background puts the attention on your subject for a classic portrait. If you are shooting a landscape, have your dog be the focal point for an interesting composition.
  • For a basic portrait, focus on the dog’s eyes.
  • Shoot with the camera at dog-eye level.  This tip is also useful when shooting human subjects.  Also, try holding the camera lower than your subject or directly above for a different view – play with the angles!

    RS_Lucy portrait in leaves_2017

    Lucy poses during a recent walk in the woods. I called her name to get her attention as I hit the shutter.  She was above me on a rock ledge so I could stand when I shot the image. This was shot with my iPhone.

  • Hold a treat behind or above the lens so the dogs look directly into the camera. Or make a noise to attract their attention to you, behind the camera, for a view of the subject’s face. Profile or 3/4 views also make lovely portraits, so please don’t think there is only one right way. Photos of paws, or a nose, or even a tongue tell a story about personality.
  • Pay attention to shadows and reflections – they can really enhance your composition or detract by fighting for attention with your subject.

4. Equipment: Smartphones work just fine! Use what you have, and learn how to use it. If you’re like me, the camera always in your pocket is your smartphone. The newer smartphones have good cameras, so invest a little time in learning how to use the camera and take advantage of the extra features available with apps. While my Canon 7D DSLR takes awesome photos, it’s not always convenient to carry. I tend to leave it at home when I go out on a hike and use my iPhone.

Remember, with a smartphone’s camera on (or open), tap on the area you want to be in focus. The smartphone camera will want to focus on the closest object, which on a dog’s face is the nose, so tapping on the eyes on the screen will tell the camera otherwise.

With a few apps, shutter speed and aperture can be set to better control a smartphone’s camera. These two sets of photography numbers do two different things.

RS_Lucy on the ball

Lucy is frozen in mid-air by setting my iPhone’s shutter speed to 1/1000 using the CameraPlus Pro app.  The morning was dark, so the image is dark, even after editing.

  • Shutter speed: the larger the number, the crisper – or more frozen – the action will be. 1/1000 freezes Lucy’s hair mid-leap. A setting this high works best in bright light.
  • Aperture: Or the f-stop number; the smaller the number (portraits), the more blurry the background will be. The larger the number, the more will be in focus (landscapes). Start with setting either the shutter speed or the aperture leaving whichever you don’t choose on “auto” until you become more comfortable with the settings.
  • Steady the camera. Make yourself into a tripod: Decrease camera-shake by holding or leaning on something as you hit the shutter or putting your camera on something. Make sure your setting for stabilization is “on.” Exhale as you hit the shutter.

Some of my favorite apps for my iPhone include Camera Pro Plus (costs a few dollars, but it’s great for setting shutter speed and easy editing), Slow Shutter (for low light and long exposures), and PicsArt (great for adding text or fun filters). I also use Photoshop.

5. Editing apps can really make a difference between a good image and a great one, and apps only take a few seconds to use. While editing tools cannot un-blur a blurry image, they can improve lighting, lighten up shadows, boost color, remove unwanted objects or even the entire background, and crop to improve the composition. Filters on apps can change the mood with a single tap.

Different apps offer different filters and some of my favorites are on the Photoshop Express app. PicsArt has filters that “convert” your photo into a “painting.” The Camera Plus Pro app has a wonderful Clarity Pro feature, under “The Lab” tab, which allows one to adjust the amount of intensity and vibrancy not offered on the free version. The free clarity feature gives results that are a bit overdone for my taste, but try it to see for yourself before you spend money on the Pro version. (I don’t receive any compensation from these app mentions.)

 

RS_Charlie eyes on it

Charlie Brown focuses on the treat. I’ve focused the camera on his eyes to better show his expression. This was shot with my Canon 7D.

6. Have fun! The most important thing is to have fun with your dog. During training time, have your camera handy but keep the sessions short. If you want a big family portrait, practice often with your dog before you gather the people.  Take a walk, and take some photos along the way.  Your dog will love the walk – and the extra attention – and you’ll be taking wonderful photos to show off your beloved pooch!