Dean Mortimer is a professional freelance photographer based in Wiltshire and most recently won first place in the assistance dog’s charity category of the Kennel Club Dog Photography competition of the Year 2018.
Title of image: Reassurance
Dog: Rocko, German Shepherd
We’re lucky enough to have Dean as the We Love Pets photographer, he never ceases to amaze us at how effortlessly he captures so many pictures of our franchise owners with pets, here are just two recent ones he’s taken:
Have you ever tried to get a human and an animal to behave at the same time? Dean has the power and shares five of his top tips so you too can capture a ‘winning’ shot
I have been photographing animals since I was a boy but have always had a particular passion for photographing dogs. I grew up with dogs and we had a lot of friends and family that also had dogs, so I was always spoilt for choice.
Dogs are one of the most popular pets all over the world. Just having a dog around makes people feel happy, their unconditional love and loyalty brighten any situation.
As a boy I would find myself sitting and observing dogs for hours. They could be eating or playing, sleeping or running, each dog had different characters just like humans which is what helps make them such excellent subjects.
Taking that winning photo, capturing that certain moment in time was not just exciting for me but enabled me to show everyone what I could see…..Dogs are and always will be man’s best friend!
I’ve been asked on many different occasions, “How do you capture a good shot of a dog with their human?” This is always a tricky question to answer as many things come into play when photographing dogs, especially when they are all so different. So, I’ve been asked by We Love Pets to give a few pointers to anyone wanting to capture a photo of their canine friend
Number one, The camera:
To take a photograph it is always useful to have a camera. Now, everyone has their own opinion on what’s best, or more often what’s not. There are many different cameras out there these days, from a camera on your mobile phone to thousands of pounds worth of professional camera and lens combinations. All of these can capture an image but it all depends on what you want to do with that image. Always have in mind what your needs require before making the leap.
I started my journey off with a Canon A1. This is a 35mm film camera but as I took my journey to the next stage I needed something that was quicker and easier to process my photos.
The revolutionary digital camera came out and in my opinion changed the game for a budding professional photographer. There was no need for a large bulky dark room with all the associated equipment and chemicals needed to process film. Plus the chemicals smell funny. Digital gave you an instant view of your photo allowing you to check images were at least in focus and exposed correctly. You can take hundreds of images on one memory card with no worry about changing films half way through a photoshoot. The processing of images is simpler too, it can now be done sat on your sofa with your laptop, dogs by your side in front of the fire. To me this sounds ideal.
My requirement at the start of my profession was to have a camera that could capture good quality images of animals. Digital was a no brainer for me! But what camera was the question and this is like navigating a minefield, blind folded. So many to choose from, all with different costs and qualities.
If I was to give my opinion now on what to look for when purchasing your camera it would be covered by these few pointers.
– Camera, Buy a camera which allows you to change lenses, for example a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) This enables you to adapt your camera to different situations to achieve the shot you are looking for
– Quality, Purchase the best quality camera you can afford that is within your budget.“The best quality camera” can refer to a few things. Build quality is always key, so do some research and get a reputable brand that’s tried and tested. Secondly, the more mega pixels you have the better quality image you will produce.
– Lens, Not all of your image quality comes from a high mega pixel count camera!
Lens quality also plays a massive part in this. You are better off spending a good proportion of your budget on a high quality lens and then purchasing the best camera body you can afford with your remaining budget. I know this sounds silly but everything you photograph is captured through this lens. The better the quality of the glass in this lens the better the quality of your photos.
For example, my first serious camera and lens combo was a canon 20D with about 8 million megapixels and a top of the range canon L series 70-200mm lens. The lens cost more than the camera, but the results were incredible. I now use a canon 1dx and still mainly use my 70-200mm canon L series lens. This fits my requirements for almost every situation.
Number two, The location:
Choosing a location is always tricky but with careful thought can be the key to a great photograph. The location doesn’t aways have to be an amazing view with mountains and brightly coloured scenery, it can just be in the back garden or even the living room. It all depends on what you want to achieve with the photograph.
The dog also plays a key part in choosing the location. It might be a border terrier that loves to play in water so a river shoot would be ideal, or it could be a Labrador that loves it’s ball so the playing fields or back garden would be an excellent location for the shoot.
Once you have chosen your location try and think outside the box when capturing the shot. In a crowded town which could potentially make your shot too busy, perhaps try finding a brick wall which has a great pattern to enrich your background and is neutral in it’s nature. Likewise you might not want a forest scape as a backdrop or a busy park so use the bark of a tree to add texture to your shot. This works closely together with my next point…
Number three, The composition:
Well, what actually is composition!? I could say something like it’s the arrangement of certain components to form a unified, harmonious whole… But that would still leave you and I confused when applying that to a photograph. I like to think of it as simply capturing the essence of the subject in its environment.
I try and achieve this by getting down on the level of the dog. In getting down on the dog’s level you achieve a few things. You show a perspective that we don’t normally see from our upright position, which makes the shot new and interesting. It has the power to pull an individual in and grab their attention. If taken in the usual upright position this tends to make the dog seem small and detracts from the main point of the photograph, rendering the image flat and will most likely lead to an uninterested viewer.
Once down on the dogs level, it opens up a different viewpoint, you are immersed in the world that the dog sees, the grass feels like its as tall as the trees, the bushes and flowers fill spaces you didn’t even know were there. Everything is bold and jumps out at you making even a flat field come alive.
When photographing a running dog or a dog not looking directly at the camera, pay attention to the direction they’re moving in. Try leaving more space in front of them than behind to show the direction of intent for a more dynamic photo. This also provides some “breathing space”, shows off the dog’s environment and stops the photo from looking like a mundane portrait shot.
Number four, Sharp and focused:
You can set up the best shot, in the most amazing setting with the worlds best camera and lens but if you don’t achieve a sharp and properly focused photo you would have been better off staying at home in bed with a cup of tea.
Getting your point of focus correct is key. So try and focus on the eyes. Eyes are the gateway to the soul, therefore I feel they are the most important part of any portrait style photo with a living model. It’s no different to talking to someone, you look at their eyes not their feet.
There are a few things you can do to help ensure you have the shot in focus, on an auto focus camera there is normally a setting that will not allow the camera to take a photo unless the camera has achieved a focus. If you do not have this option it is very easy once the shot has been taken to quickly check your image on the back of the camera to make sure you are happy with the focus, if you’re not, readjust and retake. I recommend you do this after every shot anyway to make sure that you’re not only in focus but focusing on the correct point of the subject.
Number five, The editing process:
Last but not least, there is always a certain amount of processing behind the scene. It can be as simple as uploading your images from camera to computer and saving them, or more advanced processing where you can edit through editing suites like Lightroom or Photoshop.
Everyone has their own vision in mind when it comes to a finished image, I personally like to put my stamp on my photos and edit to my style, I feel it brings the best out in my photos. There is no right or wrong way in this process, it’s entirely down to what you want your photos to look like.
You can also make any minor adjustments that might not have gone to plan on the photoshoot, for example, correcting exposure. Making a photo a bit lighter or a touch darker is a very simple procedure but this can make or break an image.
At the end of the day, enjoy the camera and snap away. Don’t let anyone deflate your passion for capturing your perfect image regardless how different it might be from the so called ‘norm’.
I hope that some of these points help, and if any of my experience can help even a little bit then we are half way there. I say “Practice, capture what’s there and perfection WILL follow.”
These are my personal top tips to hopefully point you in the right direction. If, like me, you share a passion for photographing dogs then this could be the starting point to capturing some lovely images of you own.
Thanks for reading
Take a look at some of Dean’s other superb shots on his website http://deanmortimer.photodeck.com and also on Instagram.
If you’re on Instagram, tag him in, he’d love to see your photos: https://www.instagram.com/proformatphotography