Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun – Holiday Edition

animal rescue, dog training, dogs, holiday events, How-to, photography

Lucy and Charlie have the best seats to watch our changing seasons

Fayston, Vermont. With Halloween a sugar coated memory, the Holiday Season is upon us. Be sure to include your dog(s) in the celebrations because not only are dogs good at cleaning up after dinner, they want to be with you no matter your to-do list.

Thanksgiving probably means a family gathering, so I hope you’ll take a group photo with your dog. Remember to practice “Sit-Stay” before then, and be patient. Short training sessions done post-exercise and with consistency are the keys to success. Once you have everyone gathered, take several shots. Tip: Use the burst mode to take a bunch of shots quickly. You just need one with all eyes open.

Dress Rehearsals

Before you go out for the photo with Santa, you want to both look festive. Many dogs are fine with costumes, but for some like my Charlie, a bandana is about all he will tolerate. Maybe he’ll wear reindog antlers. How did your dog do with Halloween? If he was uncomfortable or nervous, skip the costume.

The crew in their basic bandanas

Bandanas come in just about any color and cost about $2 from the craft store. Or shop Etsy for a holiday-themed one just for dogs. I’ve put reversible bandanas from Simply B Vermont (on Etsy and at The Quirky Pet in Montpelier, Vermont) on my crew as they are handmade near my house and come in a variety of super fun prints. They cost $16 each.

For you, dress in coordinating colors. Solid colors photograph better than patterns, but ugly sweater is your call. One of my favorite finds this year are the holiday animal sweaters for women at Lands’ End. Probably not ugly enough to win an office contest, but they offer one with a Golden Retriever, another with a cute terrier, and one with a Dachshund, as well as a variety of other designs (cat, sheep, cow, plus traditional seasonal motifs). Made from machine washable cotton; $69.95 – 40% off with coupon code NOVEMBER40 as of this writing.

Additional tips before bringing Fido to Santa or out caroling:

  • Basic commands “sit”, “stay”, and “come” are essential for safety and everyone’s enjoyment. Work on these often!
  • Use a leash and harness and whatever reward system you prefer.
  • Make sure your dog is healthy and vaccinations are up to date.
  • Practice! Take your dog to stores that allow pets. Make the outings short at first. Many shops on Church Street in Burlington, Vermont are pet friendly. Some of the big box stores are dog-friendly, too. Call ahead if you’re not sure. Caveat: In preparing this article, I started by searching those pet friendly guide websites, but found some information not accurate or out of date when I confirmed with the businesses. So before you go, call your destination directly to inquire about its pet policy.
  • Exercise your dog before any practice runs and especially before the Santa trip.
  • Bring poop bags. Because, you know…
  • Public outings are not for every dog. If your dog seems anxious while you’re waiting in line, leave. If your dog is nervous or the slightest bit reactive, don’t even try a store outing – have a friend come over to take your photo. And keep working with your dog on socialization.

Charlie looks snuggly in his festive blanket – this is his dressed up look…

The takeaway: Lower your expectations, practice with your dog, and relax. Your dog will respond to your emotions. Your dog’s personality makes the portrait special, not Santa. (Sorry, Santa.)

Santa!!!

Check your local community calendar for holiday events that are dog-friendly. PetCo and PetSmart locations across the country will offer Photos with Santa in December. PetCo in Vermont will host Santa on December 8 and again on December 15. PetSmart in Williston, Vermont expects to host Santa on every December Saturday before Christmas.

After Thanksgiving, call your local store or look online for times and dates.

Benefit Events

Helping a rescue organization by attending their fundraising event is my favorite excuse to have a night out. Check your community calendar or local newspaper for events near you. Here are a few events coming up in Vermont:

Shop Small Sale at Dog Mountain Home of the Stephen Huneck Gallery, St. Johnsbury, Vermont; Saturday, November 24. Ok, not a night out, but a great opportunity to pick up unique gifts. You may bring your dog.

Making Spirits Bright to benefit Passion for Paws; Thursday, December 13; 6:60-9:30 pm; The Automaster, Shelburne, Vermont; $35 in advance. Information and tickets

Ugly Sweater Contest to benefit Golden Huggs Rescue, Wednesday, December 19, Prohibition Pig, Waterbury, Vermont. The food was terrific last year! Details are still forthcoming – I’ll post an update with complete information next month, or check Prohibition Pig’s website in the coming weeks.

Purrrses for Paws to benefit The Humane Society of Chittenden County; February 7, 2019 at the Burlington International Airport. Features a silent auction of new and gently used purses; tickets:$30 Information and tickets

Shameless Plug

I now have an Etsy Shop! Order holiday cards or my “mountain dog pack” cards featuring, you guessed it, Linus, Lucy, and Charlie Brown. I’ll be adding more cards and prints in the coming weeks, so check back often. My Etsy Shop: RSilbernagelPhoto

A bigger selection of my cards is available at Product Think Tank in Waitsfield, Vermont (in the Mad River Green Shopping Center, next to the Post Office). This dog-friendly boutique is home to locally designed Mountain Lifestyle natural fiber sweaters for men and women, with styles and colors for all the adults on your gift list. Please stop in to take a look.

Bonus: Benefit Contest For Dogs And Their People – Enter Today!

Going on now until November 30, the Orange Crush social media contest from Spot The Dog Vermont is a fun way to play outside during stick season. It is hunting season here in Vermont, and Spot The Dog Vermont makes hi-viz orange vests and bandanas for country dogs. We’ve bought the vests for all three of my dogs. Charlie also has a bandana that’s plaid with reflective dots on one side and orange on the other. This event benefits Golden Huggs Rescue, from where we adopted all three of my dogs.

The details (from Spot the Dog):

Spot the Dog was founded to save dogs lives by protecting them during hunting season, on the trail, and at night. Spot the Dog has a DEEP commitment to saving rescue dogs by contributing 10% of every sale we make to Golden Huggs Rescue.

The Spot the Dog orange crush campaign is about having fun and SAVING LIVES! Beginning Saturday Nov 10th (rifle season kick off in VT) Spot the Dog will be posting photos of your “Orange Crushes” – your dog, a rescue dog, any dog that you love decked out in safety orange! At the end of the contest (runs until December 10th) whichever “Orange Crush” received the most cumulative likes (Instagram+Facebook) will receive a LIFETIME supply of new Spot the Dog safety wear and have a $3000 check donated in the winner’s name to Golden Huggs Rescue!

Here’s how you can participate:

1. Take a photo or selfie of you with your “Orange Crush”

2. Tag @spot_the_dogs or email the photo to Sam@SpotTheDogVT.com

3. Wait to see your photo pop up on our page, and in the meantime share and like our Orange Crushes!!

November Image Gallery

Our weather went from fall to winter practically overnight. Most days, Linus has taken up his spot in front of the wood stove while Charlie and Lucy sit in the snow on a hill in our yard, watching. I don’t know what they’re watching, but they seem to know their job.

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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…

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!