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.