So many people say to me that I must live in the most magical place, to be able to take so many amazing photos. But it’s just not true! I live in the north-east of england, where barren, windswept hills are the norm. I’ve found a few pockets of woods and use them to my advantage, because the trick isn’t in having some magical location, it’s in knowing how to use what you’ve got!

Our November challenge is therefore all about location. Knowing what to look for, how to use it, and how to stretch your creativity. Ready to get started?

This challenge closely reflects how I choose locations for any of my shoots, and will hopefully help you to develop your “eye” for places that will be suitable for pet portraits! I want you to go to some nearby natural area: park, woods, bush, whatever. Choose a small area, about 10m in diameter. This is your working area.

Things to consider when choosing a location (not just for the challenge!):

  • Enough light falling on the dog’s face from an open area overhead
  • Good light in general (not harsh midday sun, or backlight with only shadows in front of the dog)
  • Some “visual interest”. This may be moss, ferns, rocks, logs, grasses, flowers, branches, leaves, interesting colours, shapes or textures in nature. Basically anything beside plain mown grass. 
  • A few options for variety.
Don’t spend ages searching for the “perfect” spot. Find somewhere that checks the above boxes, don’t overthink the “visual interest” element, and just go for it. As you’ll see on the video and my example images, my spot wasn’t super glamorous or fancy. I was falling over in mud, standing my boys up next to trees that had a little moss on them. But with good light and a bit of editing, they can become beautiful portraits.

Once you have your small location, get shooting! Take photos with as much variety as possible. How many completely different photos can you take in this one small 10m area? And I don’t mean just changing the pose, or whether it’s a full body or headshot. How can you use this location in as many creative ways as possible? As you’ll see in my examples, each photo was taken at a different “spot”, even though they all have a similar theme and feeling to them. 

When you have your collection of photos from your limited location, head home, edit them however you like and upload them (however many you like. One is fine, ten is fine, it’s up to you! 😂) to your Instagram feed and/or story. Make sure to use the hashtag #inspawrationchallenge and tag me (@breathofwildair) in the actual image so I can find it. At the beginning of December, I’ll compile all the entrants and provide feedback, and choose my favourites!

Here are some other things to keep in mind when choosing a location for pet photography:

  • Give depth to your photos by having a foreground, midground and background. The foreground and background will ideally be soft and blurry from your lens. 
  • Consider adding context by including some foliage in close-up headshots (as above).
  • Look for “tunnels” between trees or bushes, or small narrow paths.
  • Always consider the light!!
  • Do some cleaning up and gardening in your location to remove annoying sticks, twigs and distractions before shooting. 
  • Think about framing your dog: either using tree-trunks, overhead branches, trees either side of the frame, and so on. 
  • Look for interesting shapes in trees or bushes where you can position your dog so your eye is drawn to the subject.
  • Try not to have anything covering their face (usually. Rules are made to be broken!)
  • Some photographers don’t like things covering the dog’s feet. I don’t mind it, as I think it gives additional context and really anchors the dog in the scene. 
Below, you’ll see the examples of the location, taken with my iPhone, and what I managed to capture and create with my camera and editing techniques. 
Journey in the ferns. Really a simple photo. I love how delicate the fern is curling up under his chin, and of course the perfect backlight bokeh

Image #1

Journey in the ferns. Really a simple photo. I love how delicate the fern is curling up under his chin, and of course the perfect backlight bokeh

Loki by the green tree. His face was toward the light this time. I love using a tree as part of the images frame. Although he's looking straight forward here, I like how it's off-centre as well

Image #2

Loki by the green tree. His face was toward the light this time. I love using a tree as part of the images frame. Although he's looking straight forward here, I like how it's off-centre as well

This was at the base of the tree Loki was standing beside, but on the opposite side, lower down, and having the light behind Journey, instead of in front of him. And of course my leafy boi is holding a leaf. Cute little ferns curl over him to embrace him within the photo, and again, the tree as a side frame.

Image #3

This was at the base of the tree Loki was standing beside, but on the opposite side, lower down, and having the light behind Journey, instead of in front of him. And of course my leafy boi is holding a leaf. Cute little ferns curl over him to embrace him within the photo, and again, the tree as a side frame.

This one made a lot of use of backlight, with Loki being the leafy boi this time, playing on golden tons, and using the hanging branch as a frame.

Image #4

This one made a lot of use of backlight, with Loki being the leafy boi this time, playing on golden tons, and using the hanging branch as a frame.

This was the one where Journey was lying by the black stump. I ended up cutting out most of the stump and adding some extra negative space for him to look into. One of the more "plain" images of the series.

Image #5

This was the one where Journey was lying by the black stump. I ended up cutting out most of the stump and adding some extra negative space for him to look into. One of the more "plain" images of the series.

A simple puppy-dog eyes/looking down photo of Loki getting into the autumn feeling. I actually did some work to shift the green moss tones toward brown/red for a really monochrome look here.

Image #6

A simple puppy-dog eyes/looking down photo of Loki getting into the autumn feeling. I actually did some work to shift the green moss tones toward brown/red for a really monochrome look here.

7

This image was taken with me basically falling in the creek. Another with the tree as a side frame, a little visual interest from the surrounding ferns, and pretty backlight.

11

Loki peeking around the tree. This was taken with the light on Loki's face as well, but at a different angle around the tree. Once again using the tree as a frame (are you sensing a theme yet?) with the added visual interest of the moss texture.

4

Loki on the log. This was a close up image of a pretty plain log. I took some further away as well, but I know instagram likes the super closeups so here we are. Backlight bokeh and a monochrome colour palette to finish the image off.

10

This one isn't my favourite of the series butt hat's fine. This was taken near the large mossy tree, so it's still making a frame with an interesting texture. Journey just looks a little bit intense, but he's so cute with his leaf. Orange/red autumn tones are tricky with him as he tends to blend in too much.

5

Journey standing on the log. A bit of a further away shot, making use of the little mossy stump, the fern detail, and of course the gorgeous backlight.

If you want more resources on finding locations, make sure you check out our photo walk, where I explain why I chose each location and what I was looking for.

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  1. Pingback: November Challenge Feedback & The Cutest December Challenge Ever (Hint: Puppies!) – Emily Abrahams Photography

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