All posts by jon

How to Take Baby and Young Child Portraits

Words by Jenn Gidman; Images by David Guy Maynard (source: tamron-usa.com)

David Guy Maynard is best known for his commercial photography and the photo workshops he leads around the country, but when he sticks close to home in Tampa Bay, Florida, he also offers services to locals such as senior photos, wedding and event photography, and baby and child portraits. And when it comes to the latter, David doesn’t do “standard” (i.e., stagnant and static).

“I don’t ever want to take ‘regular’ portraits of babies and kids,” he says, citing Anne Geddes as an inspiration for his work. “I’m looking to capture an artistic, fairy tale view of whatever stage we’re photographing. I try to offer up something unique to each set of parents that marks their child as separate from everyone else’s. And that means I go all out when it comes to stocking my supplies: You wouldn’t believe what you can spend on baby props. I’m constantly ordering from all different countries, and Amazon has become my best friend—the UPS guy must think I have 14 kids.”

To achieve his baby and child images, David uses the Tamron SP 70-200mm VC, SP 24-70mm VC, and SP 85mm F/1.8 VC lenses for a versatile range of focal lengths and photographic creativity. Read on for some how-to tips from David that can help make your own baby or child photo session a success.

Meet before the session to get to know each other.
This is an important step for a few reasons. First, even though clients who come to me have usually already seen my work, they want to get to know me and my team as people. And from my end, chatting with the moms, dads, and other family members that can sometimes even lead to them giving me a great idea that I work into the session.

But mostly these meetings allow me to gauge what the entire family is all about, which I can then bring into the images. The child you’re photographing is a part of that family, and because that family has certain things attached to it that will influence the child as he or she grows up, you want to know about that. I photograph a family that loves balloons, for instance, and so we often include balloons in the photos. If you can pull out that “feeling” and tie it into your images, when the family is looking at the photos years down the road, they won’t only be saying, “Wow, these are beautiful photos.” They’ll also be saying, “That’s our family. This makes sense. This is us.”

Involve the parents.
I’m somewhat selective in whom I accept as a client—it takes the right kind of parent to work with me. We actually have a contract the parents sign that gives them a list of things we expect, including what they have to do beforehand to prep. For example, you have to make sure the baby is fed or not fed, depending on what type of photo you’re looking to get. If you want an artistic image of you breastfeeding your baby (and that’s a popular request), you can’t come in with a baby you’ve just fed and expect to get that shot.

The photo of the baby on the crate, for example, was a challenge. We had to work quickly to capture that sleeping baby image. The infant was eating small amounts at a time and was somewhat irritable. My assistant was off to the side of the crate, and the mom was behind the crate on her knees, breastfeeding just enough to get the baby to fall sleep. As soon as the baby nodded off, the mom put the baby into position on the crate and everyone scooted out of the picture. I snapped a couple of frames and then everyone rushed back in because the baby was already awake again.

Don’t always put a time limit on a shoot.
A session lasts as long as a session lasts (schedules permitting). I don’t go into one saying, “OK, you get 90 minutes.” I look at what we need to accomplish, and I’ll do what it takes to achieve that where possible, no matter how long it takes. I’ve had sessions, especially with multiples, when it takes a full day. The goal is to get what we set out to get.

Keep lighting to a minimum.
Lighting babies, especially newborns, is very different from lighting adults. When I’m working with a fashion model, for example, I might pop in 500 w/s of light—the models will blink or water up a bit, but they get over it. Babies, however, are very light-sensitive. They have, after all, been in the dark for nine months. If you rush into a hospital room and start bombarding a newly arrived newborn with light, they won’t like you much.

If I use any light at all for the first-day shots (images taken in the hospital right after the baby is born), I tend to use a single speedlight. I’ll have an assistant holding the light off to the side and bouncing it so I can get the shadows and highlights where I want them. If I have natural light coming in through the hospital windows, I’ll try to use that. Many of the hospital delivery sections I’ve been in are kind of dark window wise, which always creates a challenge, but indirect lighting is still best when they’re so little. When they’re older and I’m able to get them in the studio, I can use a little more lighting. The shot of the baby on the crate, for example, is a single light with a softbox on it against a white paper backdrop.

Be willing to be as goofy (and flexible) as possible.
To be effective in this type of photography, you have to be able to relax. If you’re uptight and go into a shoot thinking about your quarterly taxes or an email you have to send, the child senses that disconnect and you won’t get the best portrait.

It also helps if you can portray an almost childlike mentality yourself to photograph babies and kids. The baby eating the birthday cake, for example, which I took with the Tamron 24-70: I was sitting relatively close and just taking photos after we gave her this cake and she went to town with it. But I needed more animation in the shot. So I leaned in and said in a very animated tone, “Baby, can I have a bite? Num num num, yum yum yum.” The baby loved it and offered me some cake, and that was the exact moment I captured the photo.

Also know that you’re going to be on the floor a lot with baby and child photography. If you’ve got a bad back or a knee that won’t let you get back up once you go down, you might want to stick with other types of photography!

Go for expressions and emotion.
Every baby is different, but you can usually evoke expressive faces with some classic techniques: rattling a set of keys, acting silly, and so forth. The baby shown in the basket here had an extra advantage: She’s my granddaughter. Her dad (my son) was also an expressive baby. All I had to pull out was a periodic “Boo!” to get some kind of response and keep her entranced and focused on me.

When you’re dealing with slightly older kids, it gets a little easier—though, believe it or not, a 1-year-old can be easier to deal with than a 2- or 3-year-old. For this baby playing under the blanket, I just placed that blanket over the baby’s head and started saying “Peekaboo!” over and over. You just need to set them up, show them what you want them to do, and then allow them to naturally respond to it. After that, it’s up to you to time the shutter right.

There are also some technical tricks. A woman in Oklahoma who attended one of my workshops last year gave me a gift that I now use all of the time. She crochets lens wraps, and she offered me one that looks like a little ladybug—it’s bright red with little dots on it. All I do is wrap it around my lens, and it catches the babies’ attention so that they’re looking directly into my lens for most of the shoot.

As for sibling photos: It’s not as hard as you might think, especially if the older child is of an age where he or she can really understand what you’re directing them to do. For this pair of sibling images, all I had to do was ask the older sister if she loved her new baby sister, then tell her to go over and give the baby a little kiss. It’s a scene with sweet emotion that their parents loved. The photo where she’s looking away, however, was simply a luck shot. That was after a kiss, and she was getting fidgety. She looks like she’s in contemplation, but she was really just getting distracted.

Account for spontaneous additions to your original blueprint.
Even though I like to go in with a plan, not everything goes according to plan—and you have to be prepared for that. The photo of the little girl with the wings dancing, for example: That wasn’t a planned moment. She had her entire family there: her mom, sister, aunt and uncle, and grandmother. The grandma was egging her on and putting her in her comfort zone, and she just got to the point where she felt compelled to start dancing. Even though for many of my images I know exactly how I want an arm to be placed, or what expression I’m looking to get, there are also images like these that I take as they come. You have to work spontaneity in along with your more targeted and precise photos.

Realize some kids will be easier to work with than others.
I had a client come in with a son and a daughter, both cute kids. The son opened right up to me—I remember we were joking around about Transformers. You have to meet them at their level and talk to them about things they’ll understand. Their real personality flows at that point. The sister, on the other hand was very shy: It was the first day she’d met me, and she was a clamshell. I couldn’t get her to open up. The second time they came she was no problem, but that first time—sometimes you have to know when to admit defeat and acknowledge you’re not going to get what you want that day. Maybe choose to relax and get to know each other that day instead.

Make newborns look their best.
Because we tend to photograph babies nude, or nearly nude, when they’re first born, their skin is going to show—and many babies still have the bruises, scratches, and other marks from the birthing process. But I take a fine-art approach to documenting that child’s journey, not a photojournalistic one, so as far as I’m concerned, those marks are getting edited out. We have enough real life to contend with every day. When we’re showing the sweetest things in our lives, we’re allowed to be a little fantastical about it.

Another physical challenge with newborns: temporarily misshapen heads. It takes a little time for the head to equalize in most cases. You can use hats, of course, to mask this issue, but you can also control the outcome with your lens. if you use a wide-angle lens and get real low on a human subject, the head looks like a pin but the body is really big; if you go up high, the head looks like a bobblehead and the body gets small. That’s focal distortion.

I was photographing a newborn four hours after he was born and dealing with this very issue. I used the Tamron 24-70, which has an extraordinary minimum focusing distance that’s wonderful for child photography, to allow me to get really close to the baby. I was able to find the angle where I was getting just enough distortion and bending it in my favor to make the head look less cone-like.

Prep for the unexpected.
Some of these newborns may come in with siblings who are toddlers or preschoolers, so you have to watch your gear. They could be running in circles or dancing, and they can be very inquisitive. You could end up getting cameras or other equipment tipped. I don’t even use a tripod. We do use light stands, but I put sandbags on those so there’s no chance of them falling over. I don’t want anyone getting hurt, so we’re very cautious about that kind of thing.

Another challenge in this line of work: It’s the first and only shooting situation where I have to regularly clean my props and backdrops from a baby doing its business. A couple of weeks ago, I was doing a session with my assistant, Sammi, who was holding the baby as we were switching the backdrops and the props. Sammi had set a camera down on a short stand and was standing holding this naked infant in between where the backdrop stood and where the camera was. Then the baby started peeing, and she had to choose which way to go and which equipment to spare (she saved the camera and let the backdrop bear the brunt of it). You do have those funny moments, and you have to be ready for them.

Don’t view time with your clients as a one-off “session.”
That’s not how we approach it, anyway. The way we try to position it is that we’re there for the whole shebang. One of the more elite items I offer, for instance, is a book, which starts with a portrait of Mom and Dad when they first find out they’re having a baby. We document the entire pregnancy, from the belly swelling to preparation photos taken in the nursery, then tastefully done images of the birth itself and artistic first-day portraits. After that we’ll check back in to take photos monthly up to a year. By the time the book is complete, those clients may have been a part of my life for nearly two years.

And that can lead to repeat, long-term customers. The 1-year-old I photographed eating the cake, I’ve been photographing different members of her family for eight years now—four different generations in all. They’re like my family. In fact, during that shoot, she kept running over to where I was sitting on the floor taking pictures, wanting to sit in my lap.

Embrace what you personally take away from this type of photography.
Some of the most important moments of my life were the births of my children. I cried every time. And I kind of re-live a little bit of that each time I photograph a birth. I marvel and chuckle at the differences in the kids: One baby may emerge with no hair, another one looking like they’re ready to join Motley Crue. It’s so interesting to see those juxtapositions. The most gratifying thing about this job, though, is when I sit with the parents in front of the computer screen and show them the photos and they are so happy they tear up. Then I know I did what I was supposed to do.

To see more of David Guy Maynard’s work, go to www.dmaynardphotography.com.

 

3 STEPS TO SEEING IN BLACK & WHITE

Words and images by Olympus Trailblazer Jamie MacDonald. (source: getolympus.com)

If you have been into photography for any length of time you’ve probably had some interest in shooting black and white images. And if you have started to learn about it, you’ve likely heard the phrase “seeing in black and white.” This is a wildly popular phrase in the photography education world – with workshops, books, and countless blog posts discussing “how to see in black and white.” But this blog post is not going to be about the hypothetical – it’s about literally seeing in black and white using your Olympus mirrorless camera. And not only will I show you a few ways to do it, I’ll also give you a few tips on getting the most from it.
 
WHY

Whether it is the sweeping grand landscapes devoid of color that Ansel Adams created, or the iconic Depression Era work of Dorothea Lange — one thing is certain — a well done black and white image can stand the test of time. Photographing in black and white not only creates a timeless look, it is also an incredible way to make the patterns and textures of the world around you stand out. When you remove color from the equation, all you are left with is textures, contrasts, and light. Black and white can also be used to remove the distraction of bold colors from a scene to make your subject stand out against a sea of distraction.

WHEN

When should you shoot in black and white? For me personally there are times when I know I will be shooting in B&W based solely on past experiences with shooting a particular location or environment.

A good example is street photography, and especially at night after it has rained. There is something to be said for a street photo that is in black and white. And although there are always clues as to the era in which a photo is shot, the emotional connection is what we refer to as timeless. Nothing in the scene feels like it has to be a part of an era, it is just life at any given moment.

Another time I like to shoot in black and white is when I want to create a dramatic and emotional image that color will not contribute to. See if you can find a scene that doesn’t need color to make it dramatic. A good example is the photo to the right – a storm rolling in.

HOW

The “how” is so easy you won’t believe it, and it may just make you shoot black and white photos more often!

The first thing we are going to do it set your camera to shoot RAW+JPG. The reason we do this is so that you get a black and white image that represents what you see in the camera (the jpg), and you will also get a color raw file. Now, there are several JPG settings we can use, and I prefer to use the LN (Large Normal) or LSF (Large Superfine).

To get your camera into the RAW+JPG. mode the first thing we do is navigate to file type setting on the back of the camera. Start off by pressing the OK button, then navigating to the file type on the back of the screen. Hit OK again to open the selection menu, scroll over to the file type you wish to use.

Once you have selected the settings you want, hit OK again to choose it and set it.

Now that we have selected our RAW+JPG mode, we can move on to setting the camera up in Monotone (B&W) mode. Start by hitting the OK button again, navigating to the Picture Mode option in the upper right hand side of the rear display. Hit OK once you have it highlighted to open the selection menu. Here you will choose the MONOTONE setting. Hit OK and then you’re ready to start shooting.

There are two additional ways to take black and white images. The first and most obvious is to use Art Filters. The images below were shot using the grainy film Art Filter and the Dramatic Tone Art Filter set to Monochrome Mode.

The last way to shoot in monotone is to set you Custom Picture mode to monotone. I do this so that I can have my monotone picture mode set to one look by adjusting the sharpness, contrast, etc.

ABOUT JAMIE MACDONALD

Jamie MacDonald is a nature and stock photographer and social influencer living in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. A husband and the father of two boys who are widely featured in his work, he describes his love of photography as one that is “rooted in the desire to move people to see the world around them in new ways.”

Web: jmacdonaldphoto.com
Blog: http://www.jmacdonaldphoto.com/blog


 

 

Backyard Photography is for the Birds

Words and images by Olympus Trailblazer Peter Baumgarten. (source: getolympus.com)

Bird photography is a growing passion among enthusiast photographers. It can be quite exhilarating to capture an eagle in flight, an owl perched in a tree, or a heron spearing a fish for dinner. This type of photography, however presents a number of hurdles to overcome – travel, time, skill level, and cost. For aspiring wildlife photographers who don’t want to go traipsing into the wilderness, setting up a bird feeder in your yard can provide great photo opportunities to capture the smaller members of the avian community. With a bit of planning and the right camera settings you can capture some great bird images, all while remaining within quick reach of a fresh cup of coffee. (click images in this post for more information on getting the shot!)

THE FEEDING STATION

Backyard birding can occur at any time of year. When autumn hits I turn my attention to prepping my yard for winter and one of those chores includes setting up a few bird feeders. Like most people I set them up in front of my larger windows so that I can enjoy the various birds that frequent the Northern Ontario winter. Although I love watching them, my real aim is to photograph them.

My main goal is to make the final image look as though it really was photographed in the wilderness, not in my backyard. As such, the location chosen for your feeder will have a big impact on the quality of your bird photos.

  • Set the feeder up near a tree or shrub. Birds will use these branches to perch on in between feeding. An old stump and a few pine boughs can make for an interesting setting close to your feeder. It also provides a number of options for placing seeds.
  • Think about where the dominant light will fall when you set up your feeder. The low angle of the winter sun could cause some harsh silhouetting if your feeder is backlit through most of the day.
  • Add some ‘props’ to help improve the natural look. I usually place coniferous branches and gnarled pieces of wood close to the feeder.
  • Birds are creatures of habit and will return to your feeder as long as there is an ample supply of seed or suet. Keep your feeders well stocked.

In the Spring, I begin looking for the newcomers that have returned to nest or are enroute to more northerly climes. My favourite Springtime visitors are the hummingbirds. As such, I will switch things up in order to capture them feeding on the nectar of new flowers and my strategically placed feeders.

CAMERA SETTINGS

The exposure triangle is never far from my mind when photographing wildlife of any kind. I am looking to balance a fast shutter speed with a narrow depth of field. Given the speed at which these feathered friends can move, I generally aim for a shutter speed of around 1/2000s or faster in order to freeze the action. As lighting conditions change or in recomposing a shot, I may have to adjust the ISO in order to maintain that speed. The 2×2 switch on the OMD E-M5 II and E-M1 are perfect for making quick changes to settings. I never have to take my eyes from the viewfinder.

Although I am not a huge fan of shooting in bright sunlight it can be the perfect conditions for capturing the action around the bird feeder.

Here are my typical settings:

  • Camera: OM-D E-M1 Mark II, E-M1 or E-M5 II
  • Lens: 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO with the 1.4x teleconverter or 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II
  • Mode: Manual
  • Shutter Speed: 1/2000s or faster
  • Aperture: f/4 or f/5.6 – A larger aperture will help to keep your background soft.
  • ISO: I will adjust this to keep the shutter speed and aperture within the range mentioned above.
  • Continuous Shooting Mode
  • Focusing: S-AF
  • EV: +0.3 – +1.0 in order to brighten colors and the snow
  • Pro Capture: The new E-M1 Mark II has the ability to buffer images while you are depressing the shutter release half way. This is perfect for capturing those “faster than the speed of sight” moments when a bird takes off, lands, or has a disagreement with his neighbour.

COMPOSING THE SHOT

Your goal should always be creating the best composition you can. You may notice the definite absence of the actual bird feeder in all of my images. This is a conscious decision.

  • Determine the best angles for shooting and frame your shots before the birds arrive. Look for and avoid distracting elements like fence posts or hydro lines that will take away from the
    photograph.
  • Many species of birds can be quite skittish so if you shoot outside they may require time to become accustomed to your presence. You can also construct a simple blind through which you can shoot.
  • It is possible to get good results by shooting through your picture window. Just make sure it is clean and that you shoot at a 90° angle to eliminate glare. A polarizing filter can also aid in this regard but will slow your shutter speed.
  • Generally, I don’t use a tripod for my bird shots. I want the freedom to move the camera quickly and capture as much of the action as possible. There are a couple of exceptions, however. If I notice that the birds always return to a particular perch, I may use the tripod to help compose the shot. This way I can take my eyes from the viewfinder and begin shooting once I see a bird approaching that location. In this case I will use the remote cable release (RM-UC1) to trigger the camera. The other situation is when I want to capture the birds in flight as they approach or fly away from the bird feeder.

ABOUT PETER BAUMGARTEN

Peter has been a dedicated Olympus shooter for over 30 years, and he has found a way to combine his passion for photography with his love of teaching to develop photography and graphic design courses at the high school level.

Web: http://www.creativeislandphoto.com
Blog: http://www.creativeislandphoto.com/blog
Twitter: @creativeisland4

Photographing Elegant Still Life Images

Words and images by Olympus Trailblazer Peter Baumgarten. (source: getolympus.com)


As a nature/landscape photographer the quality of my images is very much dependent on the whim of mother nature and the light she decides to present to my lens. It can be a real disappointment to head to a great location only to have poor quality light spoil the scene. I’ve grown to accept that and cherish those moments when the light is perfect. There are times however when ‘bad’ light seems to lead to the best results. This ‘black velvet’ project is one of those cases.

The key elements are quite simple; a still life subject, muted natural light and a piece of black velvet. Although other fabrics will work, black velvet absorbs almost all light and has little to no sheen. It tends to pick up lint easily so having a lint roller handy will save some post-processing work later. Practically any subject will do but I tend to like using natural subjects from my garden. It’s a nice change to be able to have greater control over the elements in your photograph. As far as lighting your subject, it may seem counterintuitive, but I find I achieve the best results under rather dull, early evening, overcast lighting – the type you would normally avoid.

The setup is incredibly simple and the results can be stunning. Here’s the basic recipe:

INGREDIENTS:

  • Black velvet cloth – 2 square yards should be plenty for most images.
    A table to work on.
  • Something to drape the cloth over to create a simple backdrop. I used a stool that I placed on the table.
  • Your subject – a few flowers, bowl of fruit, or anything else you want to shoot.
  • Natural light from a window, but not direct sunlight.
  • Tripod – an absolute must.

STEPS:

  1. The table I use for this project is near an east-facing window so I always shoot during the late afternoon or early evening, thereby avoiding harsh light from the sun.
  2. Pick a subject, but keep it simple. You don’t want to clutter your frame. After all we’re aiming for simplicity here.
  3. For flowers use a vase, floral foam or other method of keeping your blooms upright.
  4. Now comes the composition. Before I attach the camera to the tripod I usually like to ‘free hand’ it a bit. Try to fill your frame, balance the positive and negative space and determine the best vantage point. With some subjects it’s nice to view them from directly overhead so having a tripod with an articulating neck can make this a little easier.
  5. Attach the camera to the tripod and fine-tune the position.
  6. Let’s get shooting.

CAMERA SETTINGS

If you had a close look at the settings for the apple blossom photo to the right, you may have noticed a few things. First, even though I was shooting in dim light I used a low ISO. Secondly, I utilized a fairly small aperture (f/16). I was using a relatively long shutter speed (2s), and finally, I brought the exposure value down by two stops. Let’s look at those settings in greater detail.

Aperture – Although I will shoot with a variety of lenses, when dealing with a macro lens you need to be aware that they have notoriously shallow depths of field so I will often shoot at f/11 or smaller. I typically shoot in Aperture Priority and with the subdued lighting and small aperture you can expect fairly long exposures. For some shots I’ve had shutter speeds of 10 seconds or more. I would encourage the use of a cable release or delayed timer. Just don’t bump the table!

ISO – Keep noise to a minimum so use a low ISO – 200 is good.

Exposure Compensation (EV) – This is the most important setting. The black background will trick your sensor into wanting to overexpose the shot. You have to tame the beast within by seriously stopping down the aperture. For most of my images I will stop it down by about -2 stops. This should properly expose your subject and helps to reduce the appearance of any small wrinkles in the velvet or any of the slight shine that may appear.

POST-PROCESSING:

The thing I like the best about this technique is that you can achieve great images straight out of the camera with little to no post-processing. The single light source with create some nice shadows that add dimension to your subject, and the dull light will maintain great colour saturation.

For those shots that need a little bit of work it usually involves the following;I may add a slight curve adjustment in Lightroom or Photoshop in order to improve the contrast.

If you are like me and need a new prescription for your glasses you may have missed a few bits of lint on the velvet. Use the Healing Brush or Cloning tool to make these small spots disappear.

FINAL WORDS:

The technique demonstrated within this post is only one way of shooting still life images. I really like the elegant look of a black background and velvet is by far the best choice since it reflects very little light compared with other materials. That said, it doesn’t work for every subject or situation. For the whimsical shot below, a black background just wouldn’t work so instead I used a roll of white studio paper.
 
MORE BLACK VELVET SHOTS BY PETER:

ABOUT PETER BAUMGARTEN:
Web: http://www.creativeislandphoto.com
Twitter: @creativeisland4
Peter has been a dedicated Olympus shooter for over 30 years, and he has found a way to combine his passion for photography with his love of teaching to develop photography and graphic design courses at the high school level.

 

How to Photograph Pets and Wildlife

Written by Jenn Gidman. Images by Alex Cearns. Brought to you by Tamron and Looking Glass.

There’s nothing predictable about photographing animals, so Australian photographer Alex Cearns is always ready for the unexpected when taking pictures of pets and wildlife. “They sometimes react in unexpected ways to a movement or action, which triggers a response,” she says. “Animals have done their business on me, chewed on me, jumped on me, scratched me, knocked over lights, and wrecked props. Some animals like to push the boundaries, others are just overly exuberant. Safety is always my first priority, and for the things that go astray, I simply laugh, dust myself off, and get back to it. To be honest, each incident makes for a great story.”

Alex taps into the Tamron SP 24-70mm VC and SP 70-200mm VC lenses for her pet photos. For her studio animal portraiture, she goes straight for the 24-70mm. “I also use this lens for natural-light wildlife photography when I want to bring the environment into my image,” she says, citing its fast focusing ability, crisp colors, and moisture-resistant construction. For most of her wildlife photos, Alex uses the 70-200, namely for its speed, ease of use, light weight, and the bokeh it offers when she’s shooting at F/2.8, her preferred depth-of-field.

Alex generally shoots handheld and rarely uses a tripod, which means the Vibration Compensation (VC) feature on both of these lenses is always on. “I mostly use studio lighting for indoor shoots, and natural light outside (and I always use my lens hood outside),” she notes.

Read on to see how Alex photographed her furry and feathered friends, as well as for tips for your own animal sessions.
 
GET CREATIVE BY USING YOUR ZOOM LENS TO FILL THE FRAME.
Lucky the elephant is a resident of the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center in Cambodia. She’s been in care since she was young, so she’s used to human contact. I love to zoom in close and crop my subject “in camera,” showing little environment and filling the frame with their faces. This works well with large animals when you want to remove the background.

Lucky was standing in a jungle area, filled with branches and leaves. My first aim in taking her portrait was to go for an uncluttered shot. By zooming in with the 70-200, I was able to eliminate all of the distractions around her. Had Lucky not been so accustomed to people, using a zoom would have been handy to avoid any unsafe interactions, providing me with enough distance from her, yet allowing me to zoom in and capture the image I wanted.

My second aim was to emphasize Lucky’s eye. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul, and it’s no different for animals. Elephants are old souls, and they express a lot of emotion and character through their eyes. I also wanted to be creative and go for something off-center.


© Alex Cearns using the Tamron 70-200mm (145mm), F/4, ISO 400, 1/640th sec.
 
WORK THROUGH ALL OF YOUR COMPOSITION OPTIONS BEFOREHAND—AND BE PATIENT.
Images tell stories, and by planning the story I want to tell through my photos, I’m more likely to capture everything I need. I think about what I want to shoot and why that angle or scene might be interesting. Do I want to do a close-up? Full body shot? Have lots of background in the picture? These are all things to consider and experiment with. Taking the time to plan your shoot and the images you see in your mind’s eye is useful. I often jot down the poses and expressions I’m keen on capturing, and I keep shooting until I check them off my list.

Learning to be patient is a crucial factor when taking portraits of wildlife. You don’t have any control over where they’ll go, how they’ll look, or what they’ll do. This majestic tiger was captive but wild, rescued from the illegal wildlife trade in Cambodia. He lives in a large fenced compound filled with native vegetation. The compound has a small 3-by-2-foot wire window on one of the side fences, which is used as an access window for photography and filming.

Curious by my presence, the tiger walked toward the window, stopping about 45 feet away. I wanted to fill my frame with his face, but every time he looked straight ahead, he was surrounded by distracting vegetation in the background and a patch of dappled light, which wasn’t giving me the result I wanted. Noticing the pattern of stripes on his side, I waited until something piqued his interest and he turned his head to his left. This gave me a frame filled with his face and body only.


© Alex Cearns using the Tamron 70-200mm (170mm), F/5.6, ISO 250, 1/125th sec.
 
SHOW THE ESSENCE OF THE ANIMALS IN FRONT OF YOUR CAMERA. (use treats if necessary).
These adorable greyhounds, Ray and Gretel, were photographed for a client in my studio. The background is a black curtain hanging on a rail, and I had two lights positioned at the front, slightly off-center. The dogs are lying on a soft square ottoman, which just fits two pooches of their size.

Most dogs are won over by either toys, treats, or both. Once I decide which motivator my subject will respond to the best, I use that to get their attention. Greyhounds by nature generally relax quickly in new environments and are pretty happy to lie down and be horizontal as soon as they can. Ray and Gretel jumped up on the ottoman for me and sat down; then I showed them a treat and slowly pulled it away from their faces, in the direction I wanted them each to lie. They complied and I was able to capture a chilled-out shot with an out-of-the-box pose, showing their true character.


© Alex Cearns using the Tamron 24-70mm (31mm), F/13, ISO 100, 1/200th sec.
 
WORK IN SOME TRICKS TO GET AN ACTION SHOT.
Before every dog photo session, I ask owners if their pooch does any tricks. Then I warm the dog up by asking it to do the trick for me a few times. Once they realize that if they do the trick, I reward them with a treat, I start taking shots and try to capture them in action.

Some dogs will raise their left front paw, which often crosses over their face as they lift it up. I have to time the image right to make sure I don’t catch the moment their face is blocked. If they raise their right paw, it’s easier for me to take a clear shot, featuring both their paw and face, so I often work toward this. Some dogs get bored pretty quickly and will only raise their paw once or twice once I have my camera in my hand. I have to make sure I’m ready from the get-go for those.

This sweet Rottweiler was still a puppy and loved performing for treats. My favorite type of paw shot is where you can see the whole pad underneath, with the leg held up high. He delivered!


© Alex Cearns using the Tamron 24-70mm (24mm), F/13, ISO 100, 1/200th sec.
 
SHOW RELATIONSHIPS, TELL A STORY.
You can often relay a story without having to show the entire scene. This photo was also captured at the Phnom Tamao center, where wild macaques jump the fence to get in. They know they’re safe from hunting inside the confines of the sanctuary.

This baby macaque was sitting with her mother on the top of a fence. The mother was holding her close and had wrapped her up with both arms. I approached slowly but was able to stop at a safe distance as I was using my 70-200. Mother macaques are very protective of their offspring, and I didn’t want to get too close to them for fear of alarming them.

The baby was quite curious and began reaching her hand out toward me—it made for a great shot, but her mother was looking around and wasn’t facing me. It made the scene look disjointed because their heads were facing in different directions. So I zoomed in and cropped the mother out, still leaving her hugging arms in the frame and the baby fully featured, reaching out.


© Alex Cearns using the Tamron 70-200mm (200mm), F/2.8, ISO 640, 1/400th sec.
 
TAKE A TRADITIONAL PORTRAIT (much like you would a human) BY PUTTING THE ANIMAL AT EASE.
The simple key to relaxed pet photos is to create an environment where your subject is relaxed and happy. Making sure your subject feels safe and at ease is the key to capturing that perfect split-second moment. The easiest way to work with pets is to first make friends with them. I always maintain a calm, even energy, speak in a soft voice, and move in a slow and deliberate manner, which helps my subject to relax quicker.

When Cosmo came in for photos, he was a bundle of fluffy puppy—he was very happy to be the center of attention. I sat him up on the studio ottoman with his body positioned slightly parallel to me, then waved a treat in front of his face to draw his head toward me. I shot several images in this pose: mouth closed, mouth open, tongue out, tongue in. This one was my favorite, as it looks like a cheeky smile, with an almost human connotation to it.


© Alex Cearns using the Tamron 24-70mm (50mm), F/13, ISO 200, 1/200th sec.
 
KEEP THE BACKGROUND SIMPLE TO EMPHASIZE YOUR SUBJECT.
I think Australia has some of the most adorable and unique native animals, and so when I was photographing Luwanna the koala, a resident of Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary in Hobart, Tasmania, I wanted to photograph her in a studio setting to eliminate any distractions. I set up a makeshift studio in the sanctuary owners’ attic, consisting of a white paper roll, one light positioned at the rear right, and one light at the front left. I was sitting on the floor and shooting from the front. If you don’t have a studio backdrop to use yourself for a photo like this, you can isolate your subject against a blue sky, green grass, or even a textured wall.

We arranged for a branch on a stand to be positioned in the center of the backdrop. Luwanna was carried in by a handler and placed onto the branch. Studio lights don’t tend to have any impact on native animals, so Luwanna wasn’t fazed by the flash. However, she wanted to visit me, so she kept climbing off the branch onto the ground and walking over to me, then putting her paws on my knees and looking right into my face. The first time this happened, I burst into tears—she was just so beautiful. Once I composed myself, we encouraged her to climb back onto the branch and waited until she was settled. When I saw her drop a paw forward to reach for me, I knew that was the shot.


© Alex Cearns using the Tamron 24-70mm (24mm), F/13, ISO 100, 1/200th sec.

To see more of Alex Cearns’ work, go to www.houndstoothstudio.com.au.