FAQ For Fellow Photogs

So you're a photographer, a hobbyist, or just want to learn about pet photography? Well, I'm glad you are here! I enjoy answering other photographer's questions because I feel that knowledge is only going to make our line of work better for everyone. Unfortunately, sometimes it's hard to answer every email and message individually so I'd love to address some of the most common questions here. So here it goes! If you have any questions for me, feel free to leave them in the comments below and I try to add them all on! :)

Q: What lenses/equipment do you use?

A: As of writing this, I use a Canon 1DX with a 5D Mark III as backup.  As far as lenses go, I own all Canon lenses - 35mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.4, 16-35mm f/2.8, 85mm f/1.8, and the 70-200 f/2.8 (non-IS). My favorite is my 35mm and I use it about 75% of the time. This focal length is great for my style because I can still work closely with the dog and include as much or as little of the environment as I like. I also use the 70-200mm on a regular basis. Often, I pull that one out for shy dogs and action shots. 

Q: Do you prefer fixed lenses over zooms?

A: Yes I do! Not sure of all the technical stuff, but I find that prime lenses are sharper and have better color rendition and contrast. Plus, I love shooting wide open around f/1.8 and that just isn't possible with a zoom. Keep in mind, primes don't fit everyone's shooting style and I definitely recommend renting some before you make the leap.

Q: Do you use any actions when editing?

A: Nope. I currently use Adobe Camera RAW to tweak exposure, color balance, etc. I then bring the image into Photoshop to do other adjustments (usually Curves), clean-up, and sharpening. That's it! (I'm a little old school and don't use Lightroom.)

Q: How would you describe your style?

A: I shoot what I consider a modern style pet portrait. I love golden, warm light and tend to shoot in the evenings into the glow of the sun. I try to always do some "posing" but for the most part, I pre-visualize a situation, put the subject in the proximity of that scenario and let whatever happens happen!

Q: Where are some of your favorite locations to shoot?

A: The two most important things in choosing a location are 1) is the dog comfortable? and 2) is there good light? Those two things can make or break a session. If those things are good to go, then we can consider the aesthetics. I really LOVE to shoot in fields with some scattered trees nearby. The filtered light is gorgeous and you can do a ton in a very small space. These locations are everywhere and just take some quick location scouting to find. 

Q: Do you have suggestions on how to get started in pet photography?

A: You've heard it a thousand times - practice, practice, practice! A great way to do that is by volunteering for a local rescue. They all need great pictures of their adoptable dogs so its a win-win for everyone. You will quickly learn how to read dogs' body language, how to handle all personality types, and tips and tricks to getting the shot you want.

After that, start practicing on friends' and family's pets. Treat their sessions just as if they were a client - in a professional manner from start to finish. Between your volunteer work and your practice sessions, you will have a nice and well-rounded portfolio. Most importantly, you will have obtained quite a bit of experience with all types of dogs in all types of situations.

Q: Do you ever allow someone to watch/shadow your sessions?

A: I do not. During a session, I have to have the pet's full attention. Throwing another person into the mix can create a huge distraction. I also must direct the pet and the owner and make sure I'm getting the very best images possible. It makes things more complicated when I have to work around another body.

Q: Are you a self-taught photographer? Do you think formal learning is essential?

A: I began studying photography when I was in seventh grade and even took classes throughout college (including 3 semesters of Photoshop). I don't think formal classes are essential but you have to be very disciplined to learn everything like the back of your hand. Having a teacher test you, push you, and give you honest feedback is very important in my opinion. I guess I'd rather know too much than just enough to get by - especially when it comes to Photoshop and post-processing. You can read more about this here.

Q: Do you teach photography or have workshops?

A: Not at this time. I'm a horrible teacher and often confuse myself when explaining things - so sad! Lol! However, if you are just starting out, I recommend the Fundamentals of Digital Photography class available on Creative Live as well as one of the courses about your specific camera. You can find those classes here.

Q: What are some basic settings you use on the camera?

A: I have everything set to manual (except focus - I'm not that fast!). That means I manually set my aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Usually I love to shoot with a very shallow depth of field so I start with setting my aperture to around 1.8-2.8. From there I decide how much movement I need to stop. That will determine my shutter speed. I always try to stay faster than 1/500sec with dogs because they usually have wiggly bums! If I'm shooting an action sequence, I never go slower than 1/1000sec. Lastly, I set my ISO. This is the last part of the equation but I try to keep it as low as possible to avoid noise in the image. It's all a balancing act!

If all that was a little too much info, try experimenting with AV (aperture-priority) mode or TV (shutter-priority) mode. There are several uh-maz-ing photographers that shoot in those semi-manual modes!

As far as focus settings go, I always shoot on auto focus with one-point selected. I move the point around as needed. I keep my camera on AI-Servo all of the time and use back button focus. It works great for me!

Q: Do you use flash when working outdoors?

A: I have played around with using flash outdoors and, while I love the look, it doesn't work well into my normal session flow. That being said, if I were to use flash outdoors, I'd use an off-camera flash with a modifier that would give a round catchlight...a beauty dish, octobank, etc. Round catchlights mimic the look of the sun and seem more natural to me in outdoor images.

I hope this Q&A session has helped answer some of your questions. If not, let me know and I'll try my best to add them on soon! :)