Based in beautiful Brisbane, sunny Queensland, awesome Australia (yeah, I love where I live) I’ve been working as a pet photographer for eight years. When I first started out, it was an uphill battle trying to convince people that such a specialist field in professional photography existed, but over the years pet photography has become increasingly popular.
I shoot with natural light only and while that might seem limiting to some, it has forced me into a deeper understanding of how to use light best for my furry subjects. I also love not having to drag around extra lighting equipment – I think it allows me to be more flexible and quickly change setups and shooting spots – as animals are never predictable and don’t always respond to direction. I shoot outdoors almost all of the time and am quite selective about weather, I love the sun and will usually reschedule a session if there is cloudy weather forecast.
Though my first digital SLR was a Canon 350D, I soon realised I’d need something more capable so upgraded to the original Canon 5D when I launched my business in 2007. After being burgled and having all my gear stolen in 2010, it was replaced with a Canon 5D Mark II which I used until finally upgrading to my beloved Canon 1D-x in 2013.
Photographing dogs (which comprises about 90% of my work) is actually quite demanding and I firmly believe a high end professional body is a must. Since dogs move so quickly and randomly, I rarely shoot below about 1/500 sec which means high ISO performance is a must, and I usually shoot wide open. I use manual exposure full time and my camera is always set to AI Servo (continuous focusing) using the back button focusing method. This allows me to switch between shooting portraits and action with minimal setting changes.
Shooting action requires an excellent autofocus tracking system that’s highly configurable. The Canon 1D-x is an absolute dream for all of these things! The only downside to this body is the weight – I usually have a hand strap fitted for extra support, as I’m often holding the camera one-handed.
My lens collection has evolved and grown over time, but I’ve always shot with a combination of zooms and primes.
A medium to long zoom is essential for tracking and shooting action, so my Canon 70-200mm /f2.8L IS II is my go-to lens in those situations. It’s also fantastic for long-range portraits and shooting in cluttered locations – cutting through distractions and isolating the subject on a narrow slice of background.
For working up close directly with the dog, the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II is just awesome. The focal range is perfect for dogs of all sizes and it’s super sharp and really quick to focus.
If I only had to have two lenses, the 24-70 and 70-200 would be the ones. Being such modern lenses, they work amazingly when paired with the 1D-x.
The Canon 35mm f/1.4L my absolute favourite prime, I love the perspective and shallow depth of field. It’s also super sharp (yeah, I’m one of those chronic pixel-peepers) and while it can exhibit some pretty chronic chromatic aberration, it’s easily fixed in Lightroom. It’s a great lens for photographing kittens and cats, light enough that I can use it one-handed while using toys to lure and play with the other hand.
I love the 50mm focal length but I’ve been through all the lens options and not found one that I like – in terms of image quality, sharpness and speed of focus. Hopefully one day Canon will update their 50mm lenses!
A couple of years ago I worked as a wedding photographer for another photography business. For the ring and detail shots, I needed a macro lens so purchased the Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro. It was an unexpected love story! Not only amazing for the macro work, I love the sharpness and image quality of this lens and find it a great prime lens for working with smaller dogs. It’s only issue is that it tends to hunt for focus when shooting with backlight, which I do often. Since upgrading to the latest Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 (from the old non-IS version 1), I’ve been using it less and less.
The Canon 135mm f/2L is my latest addition. After a couple of issues getting a sharp copy, I am starting to really love this lens and am using it more and more. It’s great for long, setup portraits in landscapes. The depth of field is amazing!
In laying out my gear for the photo, I decided to include just the gear I take on a typical dog photo session. Not pictured is my Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite (mainly for weddings and personal shots), monopod, tripod and my extensive 35mm and medium format vintage film camera collection. That’s a whole other story!
I take all my camera gear in a Lowepro Flipside 400 AW backpack. I’ve been through a few different backpacks and bags but have had this one the longest. It seems to fit everything I need (except I have to choose between the 100mm and the 135mm, have a guess which one has been winning lately) and is super comfortable.
I like the way it opens from the back too – it means I can lie the bag down on mud or sand and not get dirty when I move on, as the straps face upwards. I’ve toyed with the idea of a roller bag, but I go over sand and rough ground so often, I keep coming back to the backpack as the best option. It’s also a really handy size to take on planes. If I upgrade, it will probably be to the Lowepro Flipside 500 AW, to fit an extra lens.
All the pet paraphernalia goes in a separate bag – nothing special – but it does have little horses all over it and is pretty cute. Included in that one is a selection of leashes and collars (plain black, in case they come wearing something old and daggy), a retractible lead, a long lead, insect repellant (a must when shooting outdoors in Queensland, especially in summer), a selection of treats, toys, squeakers and other noisemakers, a collapsible water dish and usually extra water. Oh, and poo bags, not pictured, but a definitely must! Occupational hazard I guess!
I also have a pet photography learning website where I sell my e-books, offer free editing tutorials and promote my mentoring services – www.learnpetphotography.com.au
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