After our whirlwind photoshoot with Will, the expert behind Staffordshire Phodography, we just had to find out more about this amazing photographer and get some tips for taking pawsome pictures...
"What Do I like most about being a dog photographer? Dogs! I just absolutely love dogs. I have always had dogs, and used to own and run a boarding kennel, so they have always been a part of my life. There’s something very special about dogs - they love unconditionally. I get to spend all my time with them and because I love being outside I get to combine two things that I love. That being said, I also enjoy creating happy memories for people to cherish for years to come. It’s so easy to just snap a photo on your phone and then never do anything with it, or worse lose it, but having a high quality framed photo on your wall cannot be beaten!" - Will, Staffordshire Phodography
Do you have favourite dog that you’ve enjoyed photographing?
I don’t actually have a favourite because they all have their own unique personalities that come out on the shoot. Some dogs are easier to photograph than others but that’s what makes it interesting and keeps me working on my skills.
Where is your favourite location for photoshoots and why?
By far my favourite place is the Roaches. As you can see from the photos, it’s absolutely stunning. There are endless spots up there to take very different photos. Generally it is pretty quiet so you don’t get interrupted by many people but occasionally a happy dog comes along and wants to get in on the photos too! Some dogs can’t be let off the lead if there are other dogs about, so the Roaches is perfect for that because you can see from a good distance away if anyone is coming. I am happy to photograph elsewhere though if people can’t travel to me or are not too steady on their feet and even if their dogs aren’t doing too well either!
What has the high point been in your career so far?
I would have to say being recognised by The Kennel Club in their Dog Photographer Of The Year for 2017. I placed 3rd in their Dogs At Play category which can be viewed on their website here. I was so shocked to receive a phone call from them! I was invited to an awards ceremony and meal at The Kennel Club gallery in Mayfair, London in September 2017. It was a very special day indeed!
Do you have a favourite dog friendly place in Britain?
My favourite place is currently Sutton Hall near Macclesfield. There is lovely walk nearby then you can end with a gorgeous pub, relaxing next to an open fire and very tasty food! The staff there are very attentive and polite!
A close second is The Roebuck in Leek - lovely food and beer. A great place to go after walking around dog friendly Leek or even the Roaches.
What general advice do you have for readers who want to get the most out of the photographs that they are taking with their phones/point and shoot style cameras?
This is a tough one. For phones I would download an app called Snapseed. This is a great little app which allows you to edit your photos in greater detail to get the most out of them.
For more professional editing I recommend Adobe Lightroom. This may be a little advanced for beginners at first so go on to Youtube: there’s a great tutorial called ‘Learn Lightroom 5 - Part QuickStart (training tutorial) by Anthony Morganti. Even though it’s professional editing software, you’ll get to learn about highlights, shadows, clarity and contrast etc which you can use in Snapseed, or even Instagram, to really improve your photos.
If you're using a point and shoot camera: put it in ‘M’ mode (manual exposure) and learn about aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Understanding these three things will vastly improve your photography. One thing that I often see people doing (which is not a good idea to do) is using the flash on their camera in daylight. You can use flash but getting the correct technique is quite advanced and requires more advanced equipment. The flash on your camera won't be that good. It's also worth noting that a flash will unsettle some dogs too.
What advice do you have for anyone who wants to take the next step and upgrade their equipment?
Do a lot of research but don’t give yourself information overload. Go into a reputable camera shop, speak to someone who can give you lots of advice and try out different cameras to see what fits your needs. I would stick to independent camera stores too because, not only do they give lots of advice, they often have second hand gear that is just as good but at a reduced price!
Setting the Scene
Where are the best types of locations to take photographs of your dog?
There many different places. Personally I look for very scenic locations with lots of different foregrounds and backgrounds to play with to get varied photos. If your dog isn’t good with other dogs or gets easily nervous around lots of people and dogs, try somewhere quiet and open so you can see if anyone is coming. With all this being said, you can even take nice photos in a town centre if you get creative!
Where should the focus be when we take a picture?
Always focus in on the eyes. If your camera has the ability to move the focus point then move it on to their eyes. We communicate through our eyes so when doing a lovely close-up portrait take the time to get the eyes sharp, it’ll really make the photo 'pop' more!
Is the lighting important?
Lighting is probably the most important factor when taking a photo of your dog. If you have poor light you are really going to test your camera and if it’s not brilliant at working in lowlight situations then your images are not going to come out well. Always shoot away from the sun, unless you learn how to use flash to shoot in to the sun and over power it (that is a little more advanced). If you can avoid taking photos of your dogs in direct sunlight I recommend that too. Dogs will squint and it also gives a funny look to their fur. Use the clouds as a natural sun diffuser or get into some shade!
What’s the best way to get a dog’s attention?
I use various tricks such as making funny noises, using a squeaker, rustling something like a crisp packet or blowing a kazoo, duck call etc. I buy little mini squeakers that go in toys and hold them in my mouth so I can keep both hands on the camera. If possible, do all these things yourself because you want to the dog to look directly down the lens. Getting their eyes looking straight at you makes all the difference to the photo. If there’s anyone else with you ask them to stand directly behind you and sometimes kneel down behind you too. If they are slightly to the side there’s a chance the dog will look at them instead. Being in a quiet location will also help to stop your dog from being distracted.
What’s the best way to frame a dog in a photograph?
This really is personal preference but understanding the rule of thirds will help you to frame properly to make the photos more interesting. I generally like to frame the dogs right in the centre or to the far left or far right if I am using the rest of the photo to fill with a lovely background like I often do at the Roaches. Try to avoid distractions in the background such as tree branches or half a bush that would take away the focus from the dog.
Get low. Getting down to a dogs level will make a huge difference to your photos.
Never shoot downwards towards the dog. The only exception I make is when I get up close and get the dog looking straight up to me, this is a very cute shot but something that I only do once per shoot for a client.
Wear suitable clothing. If it’s wet make sure you wear waterproof trousers and a coat. Getting wet will become very uncomfortable very quickly and will discourage you from getting those great shots because you need to be on the floor 99% of the time.
Make sure you make it enjoyable for your dog(s). A dog's attention span generally doesn’t last long so bring treats and/or toys. Give them a chance to carry on sniffing and running around in-between shots. Giving them a good fuss also helps. Don’t shout at your dog or force it into positions that it feels uncomfortable with. Even if you get them to do what you want with force, the dog won’t be happy and this will show in your photos!
Some dogs don’t mind being tethered on their lead. I often bring a spike so that the owner doesn’t have to keep them on a lead. This gives you the chance to focus on getting the best photos, especially if you are on your own. Alternatively find something safe that you can tie their lead to.
Blurring out the background for most shots will really help to make your dog 'pop' in the photo. If you don’t have a lens that will go to an aperture as low as 2.8 or less (to help to blur out the background) a good trick is to zoom quite far in and shoot at F5.6. This makes sure your dog nice and sharp overall but compresses the background to blur it out! I personally find, on my particular lens, shooting at 135mm and at F 5.6 gets me plenty of blurred background but a good amount of the dog in focus too!
If you are wanting to take your photos to the next level and have a half-decent camera, watch the tutorial video (mentioned above) and download Adobe Lightroom to edit your photos. Also, shoot in RAW and not JPEG if you can. This will allow you to bring out more detail in your images and really make them sing! Don’t worry though when you see a RAW file on your computer, the colours are meant to look flat. It’s bit like processing film back in the day - it’s your job to bring the colours out!
More About 'The Man Behind the Lens'
Before Staffordshire Phodography came into existence, Will owned and ran a popular boarding kennels where he would take photos of the dogs in his care and post them on Facebook for the owners to see how their dogs were getting on. Soon he found that people started choosing to bring their dogs to him just because of the photographs he was taking during their stay! It was at this point that he started to seriously think about turning his hobby into a full-time profession!
Will is actively involved in supporting local charities including Greyhound Gap where he takes photos for their annual calendar. He also volunteers for Moorlands Dog Rescue, where his photographs showcase the unique personality of each dog and help them find new homes.
Will has owned several dogs, but the most recent ones have included a Rhodesian Ridgeback called Gamba (pictured above). Gamba lived to the age of 11 & 1/2 years old but sadly passed away in June 2017. Will speaks very fondly of him: "He was like a best mate to me. He was very protective but a softie at the same time and also a very handsome dog!"
Will also fostered Layla, a working Cocker Spaniel, for Moorlands Dog rescue but ended up adopting her in March 2017: "She's a typical spaniel, mad as a hatter and full of beans! I also have a Parson X Jack Russell called Dolly. She's the feisty one of the pack! She's in charge and enjoys bossing Layla about. They're both full of character. I loved taking photos of Gamba and continue to of Layla and Dolly. Now that we have lost Gamba the photos are even more important to us. Having lots of gorgeous photos of them really pushes me to work hard to get special photos of other dogs so that their owners have something to cherish forever."
Photos courtesy of Staffordshire Phodograpy