Our new “Five Questions” series asks pro photographers to share some tips and tricks of their trade. Today we talk to Gerrard Gethings, professional portraitist and creator of Dogonomics, about the challenges of photographing dogs. Read the interview below, get his book, and then check out his site for more tips, pics, and behind-the-scenes photos.
Blurb: Let’s talk gear. What do you shoot with, and what’s your studio setup?
Gerrard: The gear I use is pretty much all Canon. A 5D MK11 and L series zoom lenses. I would ideally use fixed-focus glass but the animals move around too much and a good zoom gives me much more chance of capturing what I need. I always use flash in the studio and three lights is usually enough. I try to use as few as possible because they need to be very portable and with a few well-placed reflectors you can get the effect of many more.
Blurb: How do you approach capturing the personalities of your canine clientele?
Gerrard: Capturing the personalities of the animals is always the goal. They are all different so creating an environment within which you have total control of the light is the first thing. It needn’t be huge, maybe a few square feet. The owner should always be there to calm and control things. Putting up a backdrop is a good idea, as this will reduce distractions in the final image.
Next, you get down low; you should always be on the dog’s eye level. Get the dog’s attention and you’re away. It is also a good idea to have the dog in the room as you set up the equipment because bringing a dog in to a newly reorganised room can really confuse them. Oh and fire the flash randomly as you do this, so the dog gets used to it quite naturally.
Blurb: Do you bribe them with treats? Really, how do you get them to do what you want?
Gerrard: Getting the dog’s full attention is key. There are obvious traits that some breeds have which can be utilised. Terriers like things that squeak, sight dogs, such as whippets, will lock on to movement. This does require a certain understanding of dogs in general but, if in doubt, then “plan b” is to get out the treats. I have never met any breed that wouldn’t jump through hoops for a piece of cheese. Again, this is something that the owner can advise you on.
Blurb: How do you get good action dog shots?
Gerrard: There are many ways of representing action. You can use slow shutter speeds so that there is blur in the image. Running alongside the dog with a shutter of about 60th of a second (and very steady hands) can give you some great results – but it can be hit and miss. The other way is the complete opposite. Shutter speeds above 1,000th of a second will freeze every bit of action, but focussing can be a problem.
I set my camera to manual and as I am out walking I change the exposure constantly to fit the conditions. This way, when something happens you can shoot without thinking. The auto settings just aren’t quick enough. It’s also a good idea to zoom into the action, even cropping some of the action out. This gives the impression of quite explosive action which can’t be contained within the frame.
Blurb: How many shots do you generally take per pup?
Gerrard: This really depends on the situation. Generally, in the studio, I probably take a lot less than when I’m out and about. Maybe 150-200 in the studio because I’ve carefully set up the lighting so I know what’s going into the camera without having to check constantly. Outside, with constantly changing conditions, things are a bit more hit-and-miss so maybe this could be doubled.