WE LOVE THE animals that share our lives and, as part of the family, they’re obvious subjects to turn the camera on. They’re not always the easiest of subjects to photograph, however, since, a bit like children, they’re full of life and don’t tend to take direction too well and the chances are that you’ll have to work around what they’ll choose to give you.
Persevere, however, and you’ll have a wonderful subject to work with that will reward you with pictures that you’ll treasure. From a commercial point of view, for those that have the skills, such as this month’s expert Yulia Titovet, there will also be a steady demand for high quality pet portraits as well, so it can be quite a lucrative genre to gravitate into.
There are as many ways to photograph pets as there are varieties of animals that fill our lives. The smaller creatures, such as mice and hamsters, might call for a macro approach, and you’ll need to devise ways to keep them still for a few vital seconds. Cats will inevitably do their own thing but there are lots of opportunities to capture characterful moments, while dogs will try to please you, but might not always be up to speed on what you want!
This is where understanding the individual character of the animal you’re photographing will pay huge dividends, and the better you know them the more chance you’ll have of shooting successful pictures. Take time to study their moods, have the camera set and ready for action and grab those special moments when they arrive. It’s great practice if nothing else and will help you to hone your ‘decisive moment’ skills to a high level!
If you’ve been following this series you’ll know the ground rules by now. We’re running Pro Academy in tandem with the excellent Nikon School and overall we’re setting a total of six testing challenges to see what you can do. You’re cordially invited to enter just one or to go the whole hog and to take part in all six.
We’re inviting you to send across your best single shot from the assignment to our expert team at Professional Photo and, if you’ve met the required standard, we’ll send you back an e-certificate to prove the fact. Successfully complete all six assignments and you’ll receive a further e-certificate to confirm that you really are an excellent all-round operator! It’s not a competition, there are no prizes to be won but you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that your skills have been recognised and it’s a chance to dip into some fresh genres.
How to Take Part
You don’t need to be a professional photographer or a Nikon user to take part in Pro Academy, and don’t feel shy about sending in the best shot you’ve been able to achieve, even if it’s perhaps not up to the high standards of the work you can see here. It’s all about learning and rest assured we will be making allowances for newbies! Enter your photo below by clicking on the green submission box.
Challenge number Five
WE’RE LOOKING FORWARD to seeing your very best images of pets of all descriptions and, as always, the brief is deliciously open and you’ve got our permission to take whatever approach happens to appeal to you. So, you might choose to set up a formal pet portrait complete with backdrop and lighting or you could be looking for a more natural approach, where you shoot pictures of your chosen animal in a candid style, perhaps while they’re relaxing after a long walk or in the middle of a boisterous game.
You’ll see from this month’s expert photographer Yulia Titovet’s images that she doesn’t have one single set approach and will adapt to suit the situation, even resorting to techniques that a sports photographer might be familiar with when she’s looking to capture highaction shots of dogs performing at events such as agility trials. You’ll know your pet’s character and moods better than anyone and this will help you to anticipate the moments when something photogenic is likely to happen. Much of Yulia’s success comes from her intimate knowledge of working with dogs and it’s given her a valuable insight into her subject and allows her to set up photography sessions that are guaranteed to be fun and stress-free for everyone involved. The wonderfully natural and characterful pictures that result are exactly what her legion of clients will be looking for.
Technical Tips with Neil FreemanIF
YOU’RE PHOTOGRAPHING AN animal that has a very light or dark coat then if you’re relying on automatic exposure, you could find that the meter will be trying to compensate and the result will be whites that don’t look clean and a black coat that looks grey.
“We come across this quite a lot when the Nikon School runs dog photography classes in conjunction with the Kennel Club,” says Neil. “The remedy is to either shoot in Manual or Aperture Priority in conjunction with exposure compensation. For light coats you would need to increase the exposure, for darker coats you need to stop down a little “Depending on the amount of ambient lighting around, I would suggest starting with two-thirds of a stop to a full stop, and then checking to see if you’re getting the result you want and adjust from there. You could also set your camera to bracket your exposures, so that you automatically get a selection of exposures each time you press the shutter.”
The other main issue to be raised by delegates on courses is how to capture action shots and again Neil has some suggestions. “The first thing is to make sure you’re setting a shutter speed high enough to freeze the motion of the animal and to ensure there’s no camera shake,” he says. “Then set the camera to AF-C, which adjusts focusing continuously to keep a subject in sharp focus. With the Z-Series cameras there is also now Animal Eye Detection AF on board, and this will lock on and track your subject through the frame.”
Submit your photograph here.
Learn with the Nikon School
WITH MANY OF its courses now online, training via the Nikon School really is open to everyone, with a wide range of well-priced learning available to photographers at all levels and using any brand of equipment – although Nikon users will get particular value from the content. Head to the Nikon School website to take a look at what’s on offer and to see what you could sign up for, with everything from lighting technique through to running a digital darkroom, mastering as particular piece of Nikon gear, filmmaking and even one-to-one tuition all available, along with location courses and experience days in the UK and overseas
Yulia Titovets – Pet Specialist
Each month, we’ll feature a top professional from the genre we’re covering to get some idea about what they find so compelling about their chosen speciality.
Over the past 18 months Yulia has moved over to Nikon Z Series cameras in the form of the Z 6 with an assortment of lenses. Most of her travel and day-to-day ‘on the walk’ photos are shot with a Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S, while her work photos (sports/agility/shows) utilise a Nikkor Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S. For portrait/art style shots she might work with an AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 G with FTZ adaptor.
IT WOULD BE impossible to photograph dogs well if you didn’t have a natural empathy with them and, for Yulia Titovets, they were an ideal subject. She loves being around them and has made it her mission to record beautiful pictures that are cherished by owners.
“At the moment I’m enjoying taking on outdoor shoots in stunning locations,” she says, “incorporating dogs in landscapes, in the mountains or around water, always looking to get the best out of sunrise or sunset light. I also really enjoy agility photography, all the excitement of the event, the speed, the accuracy, the sheer joy that the dog and its handler share during their competition run or training.”
While specialising in dog photography, Yulia is equally happy to work with horses, cats and other animals whenever the opportunity arises, and there are definite factors that cut across all aspects of pet photography. It’s crucial to have some experience and understanding of the behaviour of the animal you’re photographing and to get the best results out of a photo shoot you need to make sure that everyone is happy and calm, that stress levels are down to the minimum and there is no pressure or other restrictive factors to worry about.
“Patience, and a lot of it, is really important,” says Yulia. “Animals pick up on human emotions very easily and if the photographer and/or handler are stressed or rushing around it is highly unlikely you’ll be able to get the shots you’re after. Particularly when you’re undertaking studio or commercial photo shoots, it’s all about the balance. You need to give your subject enough time to settle but not to get bored or tired. Usually if there is a professional handler involved the photographer’s life is much easier.”
Where dogs are concerned it’s not always necessary to have the owner to hand, but it is an advantage to have basic dog training experience and good people skills too. And if a dog is shy in front of the camera or is scared of the equipment, you’ll need to do your best to work around it, not stress out and force the situation.
“Give the dog time to settle,” advises Yulia. “Move the equipment out of the way as much as you can and use treats or toys to make a dog comfortable. Unless owners know what they’re doing and have experience of handling dogs during photo shoots they might not be able to help you shows, competitions or sports events, it’s important to have the owner or handler involved and often they’ll be wanting to be in front of the camera as well.”
Capturing action is something Yulia has to master in the course of her work, and she considers that it’s a similar challenge to photographing human sporting events. “Very few dog photographers actually do action, most just stick to studio or portraits on location,” she says. “Even at the confirmation shows the photographer will often only do static and staged shots of winners, rather than cover the movement of dogs in the ring. I always loved a challenge and definitely prefer action shots to static, outdoor photo shoots to a studio, and whenever possible try to include movement in my photos.”
For those looking to learn better dog and general pet photography skills, Yulia is a regular teacher at the Nikon School and she’s currently looking forward to cohosting more dog photography workshops next spring and is already planning her next on-location workshop, which will focus on gundog photography.
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