When I first found the BZ Training blog I instantly fell in love with Henry and Zachary . The two Golden Retrievers seemed to be able to do anything from answering the phone, to setting up complicated science project in front of the camera – and although they were almost impossible to tell apart they always managed to look fluffy and cute too.
After a while I really started to appreciate the quality of the photographs, the though that went into the set ups and the patience and training involved in getting the two dogs to behave so well in front of the lens – and I had so many questions about how it was all done!
I got in touch with Kathleen who is the human behind the camera and she kindly agreed to an interview here on Alfie’s blog and sharing some of her favourite photos.
(All the photos on this page are ©bztraining.blogspot.com )
First of all, please tell us a little about your love for dogs, blogging, photography and combining the three.
Although I’d been owned by cats for decades, I didn’t get into dogs until fairly recently. My first dog, Beau, was a wonderful Golden Retriever who “suffered” from severe Obsessive Compulsive Friendliness Disorder. Training was a must to keep him from leveling all his Long Lost Best Friends, especially those he’d never met before. A few years later baby Zachary joined the family. Blogging followed to keep me motivated in Training. Zachary’s love of clicker training made me look like I knew what I was doing. Photography came along to illustrate the Blog.
The first Flickr challenge group (The Daily Shoot) started as way to put the training to use. By then the boys were Zachary and Henry. I figured I would do do the prompts for a few weeks and then move on. But the boys quickly grew to love their treat filled sessions, and I fell in love with Photography.
Henry and Zachary must be the most well behaved doggies in the world. I wish I could get my Alfie to do at least some of the poses you ask them to do for your photos, but my monster is more of a run at full speed type of guy.
How do you get your dogs to look this or that way and sit perfectly still for your photo shoots?
The direct answer is that I trained a solid sit, down, stay, and “Leave it!” (don’t eat the treats) using clicker-training before I ever got interested in photography, and those skills have served me well. While the first three are the most important for every day living, the last one is how I get the poses I want.
In the beginning, I treated the camera click just like a clicker’s click. A click = a treat. But my boys are pros now, and I’ll often take several shots and then reward them with multiple treats.
It doesn’t hurt that they are Golden Retrievers, which in general seem to have a high tolerance to repetition – at least so long as they are getting “paid” for it with treats – and if your dog is eager to do the same thing over and over and over again, then you stand a pretty good chance of capturing what you want through sheer luck if nothing else.
But perhaps a better (and shorter!) answer to your question is that I try to work with their strengths, with what they give me by their nature and their whims that particular day. The dogs you see in the pictures are, for the most part, the dogs I see when I’m not taking pictures. Well, except for that paint can shot.
If I had dogs that delighted in running, then I would be thinking of ways to incorporate a lot of motion into my shots.
What’s the most difficult part of photographing Golden Retrievers and what’s your best tip?
Without doubt, it’s the drool. Since I use a lot of treats during shoots, I get buckets of drool. The only tips I can give are to keep a soft rag on you, wipe muzzles right before shots, use a remote so you can get the shot right after wiping, and get good with the clone tool during post-production.
Your photos are not only well lit, perfectly exposed and composed – but they are also a whole lot of fun! Where do you find your inspiration (and all of those hilarious props)
My inspiration often comes from the daily challenge prompts of the Flickr groups Daily Dog Challenge (which I co-admin with Bunny’s mom), Our Daily Challenge, and the monthly Scavenge Challenge. It makes each day an adventure, as I never know what combination I’m going to get. Sometimes they go well together, other times I feel like a chef on the Food Network show Chopped, who just opened their basket to find they need to make a desert from croutons, chewing gum, and a pickle.
As for props, some of the best things have come from my Son’s room and Son-and-Hubby’s camping supplies. The fabric backdrops all from the local fabric store, almost all purchased when on sale. When it comes to special-purchased things, Party City is hard to beat. It’s a fun store, full of cheap items that are often in kid sizes. I’m particularly fond of their hats, and have purchased bowler, cowboy, pirate, construction, straw, and top hats from there.
I’m really curious about your camera gear – please tell us what’s in your camera bag.
I have a Nikon d7000, the 18-200mm kit zoom lens it came with it, and a NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4 prime lens. That 50mm is an awesome portrait lens, perfect for low-light indoor conditions, and produces beautifully sharp images. It’s definitely my favorite, although the zoom seems to have more responsive autofocus for action shots – particularly with the boys outdoors running toward me.
When shooting outdoors with either lens, I use a circular polarizing filter to cut down on glare. I also keep the wireless camera remote tucked in there. Next to the bag in my Speedlight SB-700, which I always bounce off the ceiling so I’m not flashing the dogs. I also have a spare battery pack for the camera when I’m using it on the tripod.
It looks like you have a professional studio set up at home, but I seem to remember seeing what’s behind that backdrop once!
Please tell us a little about your ‘home studio’, the gear, the space and the set up.
The basic “Set” is a pair of white cardboard Tri-Folds, like kids use for Science Fair backboards, plus four Binder clips to hold them together. Unless I’m just planning on shooting the dogs laying down, I need to clip one board to the other to add another foot of height to create a solid backdrop. This is placed against the kitchen cabinets, and I loop a rubber band around a clip and then around a handy kitchen cabinet knob. Repeat on the other side, and now you have a very stable backdrop for just a few bucks.
The fabric gets draped over the backboard and another pair of small binder clips is added to the top to keep things from slipping. The last step is the pull each end of the fabric reasonably taut to the side, add another binder clip to the edge, and tuck it in a drawer to hold it firm. The whole thing goes up in less than a minute.
Hubby bought me an inexpensive Studio in a Bag for Christmas, so I also have a pair of light stands, CFLs (nice because they don’t heat up much) and umbrellas. They are set out to stage left and right to provide even lighting.
Finally, I have a nice, sturdy tripod. The tripod means I can use the camera remote. The remote lets me move around and get the boys focused where I want them. Since it’s just me, no assistants, the remote is an absolute must.
What’s the biggest difference between shooting dog photos indoors and outdoors? (Are you using different techniques/equipment and so on)
I don’t tend to put much planning into my outdoor shots. I grab the camera, a Lacrosse Ball, and some treats (to keep Henry happy), a couple dogs, and out we go. Zachary’s a natural obsessive retriever, and if I throw it, he’s going to bring it back. All I have to do is crouch and wait. He’s 100% focused on the ball, and I get the best ears-up shots with him by using the ball just as I would use treats in the house – ball under my foot, ball visible out of a pocket, ball held high in my hand…
How do you plan your shots?
My shots are usually planned to fulfill the challenges. I also want them to work for the blog, if possible. My goal is to end up with 4-6 shots that I can piece together to tell a “story”, although I’m still experimenting with the best ways to do that and I fail much more often than I succeed. I’m working on a page on BZ Dog Journal to remind me what I want to include – specifically my Six P’s: Purpose, Plot, Place, Pose, Props, and Processing – but it (like the site) is still under construction.
What type of post editing do you do if any?
I shoot RAW, so at the very least I have to hit the Auto Enhance wand. I’ll clone out drool spots or sprinkler risers (depending on if indoor or out) and crop as needed. When shooting indoors with the umbrella stands, I almost always add a vignette. This darkens the edges that would otherwise appear unnaturally light due to the light stands.
What do you wish you would have known about dog photography when you first started out??
Hmm… hard one. I think part of the fun has been the learning process, so I don’t think I would want to skip over that.
I do wish I had trained Zachary’s “Leave it!” a bit differently. He was trained to avoid – actively move away from – the food, which is the norm for “Leave it!” training. The idea is the your dog has come across something toxic on the ground and you want them to back away from it. Makes perfect sense, but for Photography I want the treat to be a magnet, a lure, drawing him close and directing his attention.
With Henry, while I also trained him not eat the treat until I said OK, I left off the “avoid” part. Zachary has transitioned to that definition over time as a side-effect of the photo shoots, but he’ll never be as relaxed about it as Henry is, and I can spot that in the pictures. With Henry, it’s perfectly natural to have a cookie millimeters away. With Zachary, it’s “acting”.
When it comes to equipment, I would definitely have bought the camera remote and a tripod immediately. I find both to be indispensable – especially the remote. There isn’t a single better way to spend $20 on your camera, IMHO.
Thank you so much Kathleen for taking the time to answer all of my questions about dog photography! I hope our readers feel just as inspired as I did after reading your interview.
I especially loved Kathleen’s point about using your dog’s strengths to get the best photos – which one of Kathleen’s tips will you use in your next photo session?
This interview is part of our Friday Foto Fun Project - with dog photography tips every Friday.