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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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

Three’s the Charm

animal rescue, dogs, photography
img_8223 copyright rsilbernagel

Lucy, Linus, and Charlie Brown at home.

Fayston, Vermont.  Wagmore is three! Well, almost. Launched three years ago on National Puppy Day, I started the blog to tell stories about my dogs and about those I meet in my community. Although I don’t have as much time to sniff out stories as I’d like, we’ve had a wonderful time exploring and sharing. I am looking forward to another year of happy tails!

For me, the highlight for this past year was seeing the photos of my readers’ dogs. As has been my custom with my anniversary post, the words are few and the photos are many. Have a look through the gallery of images from the past year.

National Puppy Day is March 23, 2018.  We will be taking a long walk and indulge in an extra cookie (or two) as we continue our training. Perhaps you will add (another) dog to your family. Or donate to your local shelter or rescue organization. (I shop on Amazon Smile to benefit my rescue – it’s easy to sign up.) Consider buying some new dog toys or a comfy bed for your pooch. Or meet a neighbor to take a walk together. Or, take a portrait of your dog… How will you celebrate?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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dogs, photography, travel, Uncategorized

Lucy, Charlie Brown, and Linus in their orange vests on a recent walk in a Vermont state park. Their leashes are at my feet.

Fayston, Vermont.  My apologies for once again not sticking to my first-Wednesday-of-the-month schedule. Our power was out for a couple of days last week, and our internet was down for over a week. I’m finally back on-line with a new, faster modem. But leash lines, not power lines, are this post’s topic.

Do you carry a leash?

My town’s leash law allows dogs to be off-leash if they are under voice control. I have yet to meet a dog during our wanders who is actually that obedient. Admittedly, mine are intermittently obedient. Know that I love to let my three dogs off leash. It is wonderful exercise for them as they run at least three miles to each one I walk. They are very happy to explore and play with each other. I have a couple of places where I can do that without too much worry, but the best place is on my own property, which is mostly wooded and has a trail looping through it.

We are working on the command “come.” Each of my dogs does fairly well when I work alone with one of them, but when they are together, not so much. Linus and Charlie Brown have selective hearing. They are usually not far; they are too busy to come. We have much work to do.

When we are out (and my dogs are on leash), we occasionally encounter unleashed dogs. “Oh, he’s friendly” – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that line from an owner of an unleashed dog. That might be true, but one of my dogs is reactive.

Linus meditates…

Linus is not always friendly. He barks at dogs on t.v.  While we are working on that, too, it is the top reason I have him on a leash when we leave our property. It is also why I time my walks to avoid the other “regulars” in my neighborhood. Sometimes we meet, however, and it’s hard. My neighbors are extremely patient and understanding. 

So, while your dog might be friendly, another dog might not be – please keep that in mind when you let your dogs off leash on a public trail. Always carry a leash, and leash your dog when you come across others. Please.

Another reason for keeping dogs on leash during November in Vermont is because it is hunting season. My dogs look adorable in their orange bandanas and vests, but underbrush could conceal and camouflage them. A tired hunter might react simply to movement. To be safe, I keep my dogs leashed.

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Charlie perches atop a hay bale for a portrait

Third, some folks might not want to meet your dog, even if doggo is very friendly. About a month ago, I brought Lucy to the reservoir to swim. The park had just closed for the season, but it was a warm, sunny day. Lucy was on leash as we walked to the water. About 50 yards away, another woman was working with her young dog. The dog was much more interested in Lucy than the owner’s commands and treats. The lady persisted in struggling for his attention. Lucy was oblivious as she just wanted to swim.

Swim she did. I had brought my camera and started to take pictures. I noticed a hilltop that would provide a scenic backdrop for a Lucy portrait. After a bit of swimming, I leashed her to walk up the steep hill to see the view. At the top we were immediately and enthusiastically greeted by two off-leash black labs. Their owner was calling them to no avail. The meeting was friendly, but I was overwhelmed by our new friends. In the happy frenzy, I became tangled in Lucy’s leash between three large, wet, jumping dogs and was nearly knocked to the ground. The owner asked me not to unleash Lucy because her dogs had been attacked by off leash dogs.

Oh, the irony…

Lucy at the Waterbury Reservoir, post swim and Lab greeting

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
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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.

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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.

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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!