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Building A Dog Family Portrait

It feels so long ago now, but back in the Summer I spent an incredible morning photographing the most adorable whippet puppies and their Mam for their dog family portrait. The puppies were due to be going off to their new homes a few weeks after the session and their human wanted to capture some special memories to cherish before they left for their new adventures.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly nervous about photographing 12 puppies (yep, that many!), especially because the ultimate aim was to capture a family portrait of all of them together with Mam. The word CARNAGE may have come to mind, but it was a challenge I wasn’t going to turn down.

I really wasn’t exaggerating when I said carnage! We had a hilarious attempt at photographing all 12 puppies inside a vintage trunk. Picture this, if you will…12 pristine, angelic puppies all posed perfectly, curled up with their chins resting on the edge of the trunk. That was the vision in my head. What we got was a slapstick comedy scene, followed by the Great Escape! I don’t think I’ve laughed so much at a session before. The puppies were so full of beans and absolutely nothing was going to keep them contained in that trunk.

whippet puppies photographed in a vintage trunk

To give the pups (and us) a rest we decided on some individual shots next. I’d brought a vintage child’s chair with me so we popped each pup up in turn for them to have their moment to shine. We may have had a couple of comedy moments and photo-bombs here and there. And at one point I was trying to photograph one puppy, whilst one sat on my lap, one stuck its head in my face and another was trying to dangle off my ponytail – how I wish I’d had someone recording behind the scenes footage at this point!!

whippet puppies photographed sitting on a red chair

With the puppies tired out a little, it was time to re-attempt the family portrait. This time, with the help of some plant pots to contain the wriggly little buggers. Add in some intricate planning and we managed to pull it off.

I won’t lie, Photoshop was very much my friend for this shot. With twelve puppies to contend with it was nigh on impossible to get them all looking in the same direction at the same time, and knowing that we had some escape artists on on hands too (did you see the trunk fiasco?!), the most sensible thing to do was to photograph three pups in a pot at a time and then I spent an hour or so in Photoshop building a dog family portrait. I was little gutted as it would have been epic to have been able to get this done in camera in one perfect shot, but I know when it’s more sensible to call on my editing skills instead, and this was definitely one of those moments.

whippet puppies and mother photographed in plant pots for a dog family portrait

Rua & Harper

Red Setters in the Woods, the Dunes & the Sea

Location: Llanmadoc

Time: 7am

I had the immense pleasure of photographing two absolutely stunning red setters towards the end of the Summer. Their human was very kindly given a Pet Photography Gift Voucher for one of my sessions by her colleagues (they have amazing taste in gifts!).

After a bit of planning we decided that Llanmadoc would be a perfect location for them, so that we could make the most of the woodland and also enjoy the beach as well. With the weather forecast looking sunny, we made a plan to meet at 7am so it wasn’t too warm, and also to make the most of the beautiful morning light.

There’s a bit of a stroll down to the woods from Llanmadoc, so the girls had a chance to sniff around and get any pent up energy out after their car journey. Then it was on to business. The woods has a perfect wide path running along the south eastern edge which means the morning light illuminates it beautifully. We knew one of our aims was to capture a classic portrait of the girls together and this was the perfect time and place. I absolutely love this portrait of them, they look so regal, but also slightly comical at the same time. For me, it oozes their personalities: Harper trying her best to get that perfect pose, and Rua there serious as can be, but with her derpy little lip curl. Luckily, their human feels the same way and this image is currently being printed nice and big and will be custom framed before heading to its new home. It’s going to look absolutely stunning.

After nailing the portrait, it was time to have some fun, so we let the girls rip with some action. This pair tackled action shots with so much enthusiasm (as you can probably see). We then wandered from the woods over the dunes and towards the beach, the girls were both in their element bounding through the long grass, and their fur looked beautiful shining in the sunlight. At this point it was getting surprisingly warm, so we stopped for a water break and then headed for the sea. The tide moves incredibly quickly on the North Gower Coast, so we actually had a fair walk to the sea itself. Rua isn’t quite so enthusiastic about the sea as Harper is, so she was happier on the wet sand at the shoreline, whereas Harper was straight in the water. Needless to say, both me and the girls’ human got a bit soaked by the sea. But it was definitely worth it.

After our dip in the sea it was time to head back, while taking a slight detour to hunt for my GoPro that I’d managed to drop somewhere on the beach. It’s credit to the girls as hunting dogs that we actually managed to find it! Then there was one last stop off for another posing session before we called it quits for the day. I’ve been experimenting with more epic landscape shots recently and I knew I wanted to try one of Harper & Rua in front of the woods and with the cliff in the distance, so we gave it a go. This is the result of 44 images stitched together, and I’ve got to say that I’m pretty pleased with how it’s turned out.

If you think you’d like a session for your own dog, or are thinking of gifting a session to one of your favourite people, then give me a shout and we can have a chat about all things dig.

Voodoo in the Studio

ferret photographed in the studio on a yellow background

So, this was a first for me – ferret photography instead of dog photography! Voodoo is a beautiful long haired ferret who joined me in the studio earlier this year, and I had so much fun with him. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect to be honest, but he was the sweetest little thing, not to mention ridiculously handsome. I’ve been lucky enough to source some amazing props from Viva la Frida, a fantastic little vintage shop in Swansea (you should definitely check them out if you’re into your vintage/retro stuff). So, armed with vintage scales, a retro cat bed and an amazing basket we started our quest for ferret portraits.

Ferrets aren’t as obedient as dogs, but they do work for treats (or at least Voodoo does). His human had brought fish oil along to use as his bribery to stay in one place, and it worked incredibly well. That, coupled with elevating him up on props so he couldn’t wander away easily, resulted in some gorgeous photos of him that I’m super proud of. I especially love the shot of him poking his head out of the basket. This shot actually helped me place in the Top 100 in the Open category of this year’s International Pet Photographer of the Year Awards.

I won’t lie, he did make me work hard for these shots as his attention was rarely on me for long, so getting images where he’s engaged directly with the camera did take some doing, plus his movements are a lot more erratic than a dog’s so I did have quite a few shots just missing that crucial focus on his eyes. But, that being said, I’m over the moon with how well the final images turned out.

If you’re contemplating your own ferret photography session, or any other pet for that matter, then give me a shout. I’m always up for a challenge!

Denis at Burry Port

Denis’ Dog Photography Session at Burry Port

Location: Burry Port Harbour

Time: 7am

Burry Port is fast becoming a favourite place for my dog photography sessions. Denis’ Human has already had a studio session with me (which Denis absolutely rocked by the way), but decided this time round that she wanted a session in one of their favourite places.

Everyone must know by now that my favourite time of day for location sessions is either early morning, or late evening. With summer well on its way, and beautiful weather forecasted, we figured that early morning would be our best best as it would likely be a lot quieter than closer to sunset. So we met at 7am in the harbour, with a cloudless blue sky above, and started our adventure.

First things first, we headed on to the beach as the tide was well on its way in and I knew I wanted to make use of the wet sand to try and get some reflections of Denis and the lighthouse. I hadn’t realised how fast the tide comes in at Burry Port, and whilst lying prone on the ground, camera up to my face and concentrating purely on Denis, I didn’t quite register the yells of “Sarah! SARAH!!!!!” quickly enough and may have gotten slightly soaked by the incoming tide. Luckily, I’ve got my priorities straight and managed to hold the camera up in the air in an almost yoga-like pose (except lacking any kind of elegance!). I always get covered in dirt or sand at a session, and I’m glad I did again this time, because I love the series of shots of Denis on the beach.

wire haired fox terrier on the beach at Burry Port

Next, we made our way up onto the path and made fools of ourselves trying to get Denis to pose nicely in amongst some wild flowers. Then we headed over to the Lifeboat Station, which is constructed of beautiful sandy coloured stone. The sun was so bright at this point (even though it wasn’t even 8am yet), that we had to swap over to the shady side of the station to stop Denis from squinting. I spotted some wooden bollards by the station and wanted to try a perspective shot of Denis peeking out between the bollards. Luckily Denis and his Human indulged me and this has ended up being the image that will be printed nice and big on aluminium.

wire haired fox terrier in wildflowers and peeking through bollards

Lastly, we were focusing on Denis and Burry Port Lighthouse. We wandered to the edge of the harbour wall and got some shots of Denis standing across the water from the lighthouse. Then we walked round the harbour to get a much closer view of the Lighthouse. I love the low angle view with all the grass in the foreground and Denis looking so proud. We called it a day not long after this as the sun was getting stronger and we could really feel the heat intensifying.

wire haired fox terrier at Burry Port with lighthouse in the background

If you like what you see and think you’d fancy a session with your dog, then please give me a shout.

Every Day’s a Learning Opportunity

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest” – Benjamin Franklin

Every year I dedicate time (and money) into furthering my knowledge and skills. I feel that it’s really important to not become stagnant and to always push myself to improve, whether than be on the business running side of things, or the creative artistry. So far this year I’ve attended courses on finance, marketing and (most excitingly) have been taking part in a six month long pet photography challenge with other pet photographers from around the world. Every fortnight we’re given a new challenge with a specific brief that we have to shoot towards; this helps us to think more creatively and critically as photographers. All the submissions are judged by two of the most well known and admired pet photographers in the world; they whittle them down to the Top 20, and then the final Top 10 are decided from those.

We’ve just passed the halfway mark (6 done, and 6 to go) and I’m ridiculously chuffed to have placed in the Top 20 for 5 of the challenges, and gone on to place Top 10 in 4. I should really have been blogging these each fortnight, but I’m useless, so you’ll just have to have a six month round-up instead.

Challenge 1 – Colourific

The brief for this was to photograph a dog in an area of bold colour, but keeping colour harmony in mind for the final image. I was lucky enough to be photographing Teddy the chihuahua at the time of this challenge and his human very kindly agreed to extend his studio session a little and joined me on a quest for colour around Swansea city. We found a fantastic wall full of colourful graffiti, popped Teddy up on a box (because he’s so small) and shot away. The image below didn’t make it into the Top 20/10, but I’m still really happy with it as it really pushed me out of my comfort zone. You can have a browse of the amazing Top 10 entrants, if you fancy.

chihuahua photographed against a graffiti wall in Swansea

Challenge 2 – Get Down

The challenge was to shoot from a very low angle, ideally with the camera on the ground. This challenge was right up my street to be honest as I spend a lot of time in my sessions lying down in the sand/mud in order to get the shot I want. I was lucky enough to place in the Top 10 for this one with this image of Susie the cockerpoo walking towards me with her ball in her mouth:

black cockerpoo running with a ball in mouth on th ebeach at Llangennith

Challenge 3 – Composition 101

This challenge was all about symmetrical and centred compositions, with both the dog and the scenery showing elements of symmetry and the dog centred in the frame. I used Dexter for this challenge and had a plan that involved getting up at 5:30am and heading off to a reservoir for an early morning session. However, my car had other ideas and decided to throw a wobbly on route. So we settled for a stop off at Penllergare Woods instead and managed to take this shot of a slightly wet and bedraggled Dexter on a stone bridge, which placed in the Top 10 for the challenge.

wet border collie lying on a stone bridge

Challenge 4 – Dogscapes

This has been my favourite challenge so far, partly because I love shooting dogs in a natural landscape, but also because I used an entirely new technique to get the final image (this will form a blog post all of its own shortly). The brief for this challenge was to photograph a dog within a natural or man-made landscape showing features of that landscape to give a sense of place, while still featuring the dog as the main subject. This was another early start featuring Dexter. We ventured up to King Arthur’s stone at about 6:30am and managed to capture the below image. I was super lucky that the weather was playing ball with dramatic clouds and also beautiful morning sunshine breaking through. This image placed in to the Top 10, and is probably one of my favourite shots of Dexter.

border collie sitting on a rock at King Arthurs Stone on Gower

Challenge 5 – Up Ups

This involved photographing a dog elevated up off the ground on something and shot from below. I combined these last two challenges together and got a close up, wide angle shot of Dexter standing on the stone. It’s not often that I bust out my wide-angle lens – I really should use it more often. This image placed in the Top 20, but didn’t make the Top 10.

border collie standing on a rock at King Arthurs Stone on Gower

Challenge 6 – Soul Searcher

This challenge was to capture that quintessential “puppy dog eye” look. So the brief was to shoot from a high angle looking down at the evenly lit face of the dog and attaining precise focus on the eye. Again, I used Dexter for this one. He loves to play “peek-a-boo” where he pokes his head between your legs so I knew I wanted to try to get this as my entry. It was a little bit difficult because I’m so short, so I had to hold the camera above my head and hope that I was aiming in the right spot, luckily I was and managed to capture this shot of him, which I’m really chuffed to say placed in the Top 10.

border collie looking at at owner

I’ve really been loving these challenges. They’re helping me to think outside of the box and to analyse what makes a good image. I can’t wait for the next six now! I’ve linked all of the Top 10s in each section, so if you’ve got five minutes you can go and have a look through them all at all of the wonderful submissions.

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