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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Summer Hot Spot

dogs, pets
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Lucy in the golden light during our morning walk.

Fayston, Vermont.

Summer is full of indulgences, but yes, one can have too much of a good thing.  Too much ice cream gives me a stomach ache. But too much swimming for a water dog? About a month ago, my golden girl Lucy came down with a case of hot spots. Although I’ve owned a series of dogs, I’d never seen it: Hot spots look like a nasty, crusty rash with open sores. They are caused by a bacterial infection.

The weather had been record-breaking hot in the beginning of July. We do not have A/C. To keep her cool, I filled a kiddie pool for Lucy to splash in, plus I took her swimming.  She didn’t dry well in the humidity, and I’m sure she also had some itchy bug bites as we all did. The bacteria had their own summer party on Lucy.  It was a rager.

By the time I figured out what was bothering Lucy and that she had to go to the vet, it was the weekend. The infection had spread to behind each ear, on top of her head, and she also had a patch on her left hip. She was seen right away on Monday. To clean the infection, the vet shaved the area around the sores – standard procedure.  However, she looked like a Barbie that had been given a haircut by a toddler.

She was put on a course of oral antibiotics and I had to clean the sores with antibacterial pads twice a day. I felt terrible that I had helped the infection to spread when I petted her head and rubbed her ears.  The part on her hip was likely spread by her scratching. Linus and Charlie were unaffected.

The rash eventually cleared up and her hair is growing back.  I’ve been reluctant to take her swimming. Today she went back in the water. She looked so incredibly happy.

Maybe I can have a little ice cream.

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Lucy swims for the first time after her “hot spots” cleared. If you look closely, you can see where she was shaved by her ear.

 

 

Sound bites

dogs, pets, photography, Uncategorized, vermont

Linus, Charlie, and Lucy pose for a Father’s Day tribute

Fayston, Vermont.  “You know they all bark when you leave the house,” my son reported. “Even Lucy.”

My son is home from college for the summer.  My work schedule has become temporarily more demanding, so he’s been home with the dogs more than I this month.

“Linus sounds like he’s being tortured – it’s part howl, part bark,” he continued.

“Then Charlie chimes in with a high-pitched alarm bark. It’s annoying.

Lucy adds a low grunt, more of a mild complaint,” my son concluded.

“No wonder the neighbors don’t talk to us,” I replied.

“I don’t think so. Their dog barks, too,” he said.

“Do the dogs stop barking when you come downstairs?

“Yes, but sometimes not right away.”

This news surprised me because we take the dogs for a long walk in the morning before leaving. They are usually all sound asleep when I close the door behind me. Last spring, before my son came home, I forgot my phone and had to return to the house, only to find all three dogs asleep, right where I left them. They came to greet me blinking and stretching from being stirred awake.

But I am not usually gone as much once June hits. This year, however, household projects are left undone; vacation plans scrubbed; day trips canceled. I had to take a personal day so that I could accompany my son on a photo assignment for his internship. The extra money I make will be nice when the holidays come, and the end to my crazy schedule is near. But tell that to my dogs.

I look forward to setting my summer rhythm to the beat of tail thwapping. And less barking.

Photo Gallery

Linus at home

Osprey overhead, DAR State Park

Lucy on our morning walk, after a night of rain

Super Charlie in flight

Swallowtail Butterfly

Lucy, DAR State Park

Hay was cut on the very next day

Receiving line, Fayston

Old apple tree frames a very Vermont scene, Waitsfield

Linus in the lupines

Love stinks

dogs, pets
Charlie at home

Charlie Brown at home.

Fayston, Vermont. I recently gave Charlie Brown a bath. At 10 pm.

As was our routine, dog-dad had let our dogs out before going to bed. He let them out into the yard, but not the fenced-in part – our neighbors are seasonal and mud season is not one of their seasons. Spring feverish, our three dogs took off into the night.

After a few minutes, Lucy returned home but Linus and Charlie did not. Dog-dad continued to call them, with each repetition growing louder and angrier. I came downstairs, grabbed my wallet and car key, then tapped the button to open the garage door. I hoped the sound of the door clanking up would bring them back, but I only heard the peepers. No familiar jingle of dog tags. At least I heard no more yelling.

I started the car and pulled out of the garage, crawling down the driveway and expectantly searching for Charlie and Linus in my headlights. Twenty five yards down they appeared, looking quite happy and excited, tails and tongues a-waggin’. They eagerly hopped in the car.  

Charlie snuggled up against my neck. He smelled like he spent the night at a frat party. A wave of nausea hit me at the stench. Into the shower we both went.

In the morning, dog-dad and I agreed to keep the dogs in the fenced in part of our yard. I arrived at work tired. My mind had ruminated on “what might have been” and my sleep was restless. As I was settling into my morning coffee and emails, one of my co-workers announced that she had a sad story to tell me. She looked upset. Quite unexpectedly, she said, she had to say goodbye to her dog last night. We hugged and cried; their time with us is too short we told each other. She told me how her dog suddenly became very sick over the weekend. We cried some more.

Dogs are only with us for a short time. Make every day a good one.

 

 

In memory of Goldie.

All photos ©️Rebecca Silbernagel 2018

Lucy & Charlie take a break during our morning walk.

Lucy!

Mother’s Day bouquet

Sugarbush Resort

Hi, Charlie…

Did somebody say cookie?

Morning walk reflections

Linus keeps my seat warm.

Cinco de Barko

Spring fever

Mad River Valley view