Hi everyone, and welcome back to the Adventure Pup Photography knowledgebase! My goal is to be a good resource for people that are considering professional photography for their pets and are seeing if it’s right for them. I’ll add my own particular perspectives on pet photography (and photography in general) in the future, but for now, I’m continuing to build a “foundation” of things for people to consider.
In the last installment, I discussed the importance of using a professional photographer versus folks using “standard photography,” which I define as include images taken with cell phones and ‘point-and-shoot’ cameras. The main topic we covered was the difference between image/file types (JPEG vs RAW) and editing capabilities, and how they ultimately determine the quality of the final image presented.
For today’s installment, I want to talk specifically about capturing a good composition. For those unfamiliar with the term, the composition is the collection and arrangement of visual elements that create an overall image. If you want to get technical, composition elements include lines, shapes, forms, textures, patterns, and color. When all of these elements are in harmony, you have a great composition.
From my own observation, I see that a lot of “standard photography” photos lack a lot of these elements and instead focus solely on the subject. If you were taking a picture of your dog this means you’d only be worried about photographing your dog and not accounting for all the other space within the image. Depending on the type of shot you’re trying to achieve, most of the time only focusing on your dog won’t produce great results.
Any professional photographer worth their weight will be able to produce great results, though. These folks have studied, trained and practiced, gone through countless reviews, and generally mastered their craft in order to produce a great composition. That means they’re not only considering the subject (for our case, a dog) but the other elements that will be captured in the photo as well.
In practical application, the setting will dictate what the composition calls for. There are essentially two settings – studio and outdoor – that will determine what compositions are available. There can be some overlap, but I’ll discuss what these two settings entail.
If you were in a studio setting, there is a lot of flexibility in different elements you can introduce for the shot, but ultimately you are confined to a certain space. There are typically two setups available in a studio setting – plain and prop setups.
Plain setups are beneficial to put the focus solely on your pup and primarily use color to set the composition’s tone. A plain setup is usually an open space that has a colored backdrop using a cloth or a pulled-down screen (think of the screen used for an overhead projector). Dark grays are good for a sleek and elegant look, while vivid colors elicit feelings of being fun and vibrant. Typically colors will be dictated by the mood you’re looking for, as well as your subjects color tone.
Prop setups are beneficial to creating a controlled feeling and are a good opportunity to introduce hand-crafted elements to convey a certain theme. Prop setups can create more intimate setups that use props like rugs, wagons, pup beds, and even vintage crates. There are endless possibilities when it comes to themes and there is a ton of creative control you can leverage. Overall, studio sessions might seem less adventurous, but if done correctly they can do a really good job of telling a particular story.
Outdoor settings are much more flexible for determining locations and provide a lot of different options for natural compositional elements. While you’ll likely rely on the natural compositional elements of your setting, you do still have the opportunity to introduce props to help enhance the shot. Using an outdoor setting requires a little more creativity to identify ideal posing locations, but the payoff (in my opinion) is much greater with more epic views and compositions.
Outdoor shots can also provide a lot more compositional elements for lines (buildings, fences, sidewalks, mountain ridge lines), textures (rocks, trees, waterways), and color. Color in nature is one of the best elements to play with as a photographer because you have a lot of natural tones to help enhance the overall photo. These are often determined by your location (forest vs desert vs grassy plains), season (spring blooms vs summer greens vs winter snowy whites), and even lighting (morning/evening light vs mid-day light).
When you work with a professional photographer, they will have the knowledge and experience to provide you with the best composition for your shoot. Not everyone will work in both a studio and outdoor setting (some folks only work in studios, some folks like me only work outdoors), so you’ll want to do a little bit of homework when looking for a photographer. As long as you know what kind of shot you’d like, this will be an easy task. If you don’t know what kind of shot you’d like, though, contacting any photographer will be beneficial as they can guide you through some thought exercises in determining what it is you’re looking for.
To tie this back to the initial subject, a professional photographer will know how to produce the best overall composition for the shot you want. This means they’ll focus on more than just the subject – they’ll identify what would create the best overall composition.
Until next time, I ask that you again go through the millions of pictures in your cell phone and rate their composition. What’s the subject? What does the image look like beyond that subject? Is the image interesting or does it leave you wanting more? Does it tell a story, or is it just capturing a moment in time without any context? Ideally you want a shot that you’re willing to print out and hang on your wall. Once you start giving a more critical eye to your photo, you’ll begin to understand just how important basic fundamentals of image composition plays in the larger scheme of the shot.
Happy Adventures, friends!
-Chris, Adventure Pup Photography