Lean Mean Green-Screen Machine?
Last weekend Bounders were at Edition Dog Live, near Coventry. This was the first dog show hosted by Edition Dog Magazine (check them out hereody) and we had a really fabulous time meeting lots and lots of new pups and their owners, photographing around 120 dogs for the organiser’s competition! It was surprisingly popular, with queues right around the corner of the stand, and people waiting over half an hour for their pooch’s moment on the red (err…green) carpet. Nobody seemed to mind the wait as they watched me work with dog after dog.
This was the first time I’d ever photographed dogs at a show, having resisted it for years. It never seemed to me to be a good environment to work in, and not enjoyable for the dogs, who can often become overstimulated and sometimes outright scared at these events. My hunch proved to be right for some of the pups, but with plenty of patience, love and play, most of them finished up with a nice photo in the end.
We had our advertising roller banners and TV monitor off to one side, showing my usual outdoor work, which perhaps confused a few people into believing what we do is all fake, a little Pixar perhaps. One punter asked “So do you just photoshop the backgrounds in later?” “Do we get to choose the scene?” asked another.
This is not the first time, and I’m sure it won’t be the last, that my work has been mistaken for green-screen.
I don’t think it helped very much that, just by chance, the backdrop I was working against at the show had a large green area in the middle!
So, like the inexplicable appointment for a Mr D. Cummings at the Barnard Castle branch of Specsavers, I figured I ought to clear up any confusion...
I do not, nor have I ever, used a green-screen.
I’m going to be completely honest with you now. If you asked me to use a green-screen, I wouldn’t know where to start and the whole idea fills me full of fear. I’m pretty old school, I only use Photoshop to edit, and even then the post production is fairly minimal. The finished portraits are very similar to what is seen on the back of the camera (as any of my clients can verify).
So how DO I make it look like that?
Firstly, I use flash, which is where I differ from a lot of outdoor dog photographers. (I also work alone, predominantly off-lead, always engage with the dog and don’t look through the camera, but they’re all topics for another day). Secondly, I've spent over two decades dedicating my life to photography, becoming a student of light, trying to turn each photograph taken into a work of art. Now, ‘art’ and ‘press photography’ aren’t words that are often uttered in the same sentence, but in my five years as a press photographer I regularly had to make things look better than they were in the short time frame I had on each job. Out of necessity I quickly became very proficient with a flashgun, as I found this was the best way to improve the quality of my pictures, and indeed make them more…well ‘art’ like.
If I didn’t have good light, I simply made good light.
Thankfully, when I turned my back on the press/commercial world that I’d come to loathe, these lighting skills transferred over to dogs seamlessly. Another major factor is my subjects. Putting them in a place they love to be (outside), and giving them the time needed to become comfortable in front of the camera, letting them express themselves and have fun, goes a long way to producing great portraits.
So, I hope that's a little clearer than Dominic's explanation. Maybe it's just me, but I think it’s a lot easier to produce great portraits of dogs in the real world, without the use of the dreaded lean mean green screen!