Monday, August 8, 2011

Pet photos 101: Lighting, yadda, yadda, yadda

So, hopefully at this point, you have spent the whole weekend with your pet, your flash-free camera and a lot of treats. And your animal is actually starting to look forward to the camera showing up!

(And we both know I'm probably talking about your dog; cats are either camera-hogs or, if they're camera-shy, TOO stubborn to change their ways after a mere pathetic weekend of treats. There's a reason Pavlov worked with DOGS.)

If not, there's always the stealth approach, which I also favor; using auto-focus and whipping the camera out when your pet is least expecting it. Do that enough and eventually you'll get SOMETHING that's usable!

Anyhow, here are some specific tips around lighting that will help with your pet photos, whether they're shot on the fly or not.

The photos here are a close-up of my painting "Shown Actual Size" and the photo of the Great Dane that I used as its reference.

Because the animal in question here was BLACK, I had to treat it specially. With other animals, using a flash or a bright overhead light has its drawbacks. But for me to adequately see what’s going on with a black animal, bright sunlight or a flash photo can really help.

I photographed this dog on a hot, bright day at around 1 in the afternoon, and, because the light was so intense, I could see planes on the dog’s face that I wouldn’t have been able to see in less bright light.

So that's the case for black animals.

Here are more general tips for lighting your pet photographs:

1--The best possible light for you to use in photographing your pet is outdoor, natural light. This is the case even for indoor pets – but, of course, safety is paramount. So if you are stuck with taking photos inside (say it's freezing out, and you have an iguana, for instance), try to have your pet close to a large window. If possible, have natural light coming in from behind you or to your side as you face your pet.

2--Of course, look out for your SHADOW, or ANY other strange shadows that might fall over your pet in this, or any scenario. I have taken a bunch of photos that I thought were EXCELLENT at the time, only to find that Percy had tree-shadows COVERING his face, making him look like the vein-y Borg queen from that 80’s Star Trek series instead of a happy Golden Retriever!

Now, for everything EXCEPT black or extremely dark animals:

3--The perfect lighting is outdoors, during a bright but overcast day. Direct sunlight can alter natural coloring and increase the contrast so much that the artist can miss key planes in the animal’s face or body. I use photo correction software in my work, so I can adjust the contrast somewhat, but I'm still limited by the original photo.

4--If you can, avoid flash photos – they will, of course, give your pet the notorious demonic red-eye look or the retinal burn. And they can distort your pet’s true coloring. Again, I can correct for this somewhat, but it's better to have something that actually captures what the animal's eyes look like typically -- because that's what you're going to want in a portrait.

So just remember, the more detail you can capture in your photograph, the more I can capture in the painting. If your best photo of Fluffy is of a fuzzy black blob with laserbeam eyes, probably the best portrait I can do will be of a similar quality.

So if it comes down to a choice between finishing a painting for a birthday gift or getting a better photo and missing the birthday, I’d SERIOUSLY suggest you wait for the better photo. You’ll have a better painting. And time is just an arbitrary thing...

Um, that's probably enough for a Monday morning, so I'll hold the rest until the next post, when I’ll be covering angles, focus, and positioning of your pet! Right now I have to dash off and buy some birthday presents for my brother, whose birthday, ARBITRARY THOUGH IT IS, is TOMORROW!


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