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Shooting Pets in a Family Portrait Setting: A few words on the subject...


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At this time of year, I get asked to shoot family portraits as we get closer to the holidays.  Families often have strong ties to their pets and so often times I end up shooting a family portrait, and then doing pet portraits at the same time or after.

This is Harley, who was terrified every time my strobe popped, and made it very difficult to include her in with the family.  So once we gave up trying to get her to cooperate with the primary family portrait, I was asked to make some separate images of Harley by herself.

This took many attempts and a lot of coaxing but I managed one shot where everything worked and this is it.  This is slightly cropped from the original 2:3 image.  I most often export images from family shoots in the 4:3 format as it’s directly proportional to 8x10 and the larger print sizes that are most common.  This is also the exact proportion of a magazine cover so sometimes I will even change the format to 4:3 for an entire shoot.  That Sony cameras give me the freedom to do this is great and it makes my life that much easier.

So this image was shot with the Sony a7CII, which has become my primary camera for everything save for sports assignments.  I love its lack of size, bulk, and weight and it’s easy to carry all day long when I need to.

I chose the Sony FE70-200mm f/4G II Macro lens so that I could use the long end of the telephoto to blur the background but still keep all three faces sharp.

Last, I am a big fan of the Westcott FJ400 strobe system, especially now that they have a unique trigger for Sony.  I used a single FJ400 into a 25 year-old Elinchrom Rectabank, which is  a large square 57” x57” modifier where the strobe points into the back of the bank, which evens the light out considerably.

Once I made the transition from people to “Harley,” I added about 1.5 stops of output power from the strobe so that more light hit her.  This is really important because human skin reflects way more light than a dogs face full of fur.  I had to open up shadows a little bit in post but not too much, then I added a little contrast for the pop I like, and finally cropped from 2:3 to 3:4.

Could contain: Animal, Canine, Dog, German Shepherd, Mammal, Pet

Getting in front of groups of people, even small ones, is fun.  Shooting family portraits is always a good time.  Just remember, dogs are usually easier than toddlers and babies.  They can be a real pain and rain on your parade!

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