Limited Location

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!

This 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. 


Here are some other things to keep in mind when choosing a location for your photos:

  • 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Panorama Challenge

This challenge aims to get you into the habit of taking additional photos of the scene to build or fix composition, remove a handler, or simply have a softer, blurrier background by being closer to your subject. 

On location, take your “Main photo”/take your photos as normal. If/when you need to take EXTRA photos of the scene, move/angle your camera wherever you need the extra photos, eg lower it down, point it up, or angle it to one side. DO NOT REFOCUS. If you’re using Back Button Focus, great! Just take your thumb off the back button and don’t press it again until you’re ready to take more photos of your dogs.

If you’re using shutter half press to focus, you’ll need to switch either the focus mode, or the lens, to Manual Focus. Otherwise, as soon as you press the shutter, the camera will try and find something to focus on. Since your dog likely isn’t in the scene (or maybe just his legs are) it’s highly likely that the camera will focus somewhere else.

REMEMBER! Not every photo will NEED additional photos of the scene. But! It’s important that you recognise when a photo DOES need you to take some additional shots. For example:

  • You got too excited about taking the photo as soon as you got into position before you realised that you were way too close to the dog (happens to me ALL the time)

Classic example here. I crouched down in position, realised I was too close, but Hijinx was staying like a superstar and looking so cute, so I quickly grabbed about 4-5 photos of his top  half, then one of his legs and ground. 

  • the dog looked in an unexpected direction to what you had planned and you figure the composition might actually work ok. The dog could look to the side, or maybe even up.

What I had planned *with extra photo for the ground/foreground blur

What ended up happening…

The extra photos…

The panorama courtesy of Lightroom, and cropped to size.

  • You like part of the background from nearby better and think it would look prettier if it was included in your photo. FOR EXAMPLE. Sometimes I’ll take a photo where the dog will unfortunately look into a darker area due to a tree trunk in the background. Just outside of the reach of the original photo was some pretty bokeh. If I take an extra photo to the side, including that pretty bokeh, I can mask it in over the tree trunk so now the dog is looking into light, rather than into a tree trunk. You can see this in the image below.
  • You need a handler/person/hand/arm/leg in the photo as the owner needs to be close to the dog to stop him moving. In this case, it’s less of a panorama and more of kicking the owner out of the photo in order to take a photo of the scene without them in it.

Above: the original SOOC that I took, and the two extras I had to work with, both the scene without Saffy, and one frame to the right. I could have simply used the photo without Saffy…

But then I didn’t like how Fume was looking into this kind of darker area of trees, rather than into that pretty bokeh. But, by using the photo one more frame to the right, I gave her a real trail of light to look up into, and closed the right-hand side of the image with the trees. It also meant I didn’t need to try and fix that top right-corner where the extra image didn’t reach. 

How to do it

You can find more information about this technique as well as video instructions here.


Make sure all your photos that you’re using have the same global adjustments (white balance, etc).

In the develop module, hold ctrl/cmd and click the photos you want to use in your panorama, so they’re all selected.

Right click on the main one and select Photo Merge > Panorama.

Try different options with Perspective, Spherical, etc. Make sure your dog isn’t warped. Hit OK.

Note that sometimes LR will choose a weird photo as the subject, eg., it might be a weird expression, or out of focus, etc. The only way around this is to mask it in manually in PS.



There are multiple ways to make panoramas in Photoshop, from completely automated like Lightroom, to manually lining up the different parts of the photo and masking them in. 

Here is a part of a recent Q&A session where I demonstrate both the LR technique, and one way to do it in PS.

So now you know the how, and the why, it’s up to you to go and practise!

This technique not only allows you to save photos where the composition might be off, it means you don’t need to panic trying to move the focus point if the dog looks in a different direction, and you can expand yourself creatively by using different parts of the nearby scene to slightly change the background.

Remember to read the Challenges rules, and good luck! Can’t wait to hear how it goes for you!

Snow Behind the Scenes

In this 2.5 part series (because the third part is a YouTube video… there IS more footage from this particular day for you guys but it will have to wait until I have time to edit!), my boys and I head out into the woods during a snowy week here in Germany.

I talk about all thing snow related:

  • exposing for highlights
  • what to do with twigs and sticks or having nothing in the foreground
  • snow eyes
  • rules to break when it’s snowy

As well as a TON of general location scouting and shooting advice:

  • how I check a location before my dogs get involved
  • what I’m looking for in a background, foreground, visual interest
  • why some locations work, and some don’t
  • even thoughts on mental health and not feeling like every location needs to be SPECTACULAR – even if I’m cynical and jaded!
So even if you don’t have snow ever, or you’re watching this in the middle of summer, I highly recommend you still watch. I can almost guarantee you’ll enjoy it and learn a thing or two. And if not, you know where the comments box is. 😉

Part 1

Part 2

YouTube Snow Video

All About White Balance

White balance is the overall temperature and tint of your image. I personally try to keep mine relatively “true to life”, and there are a number of ways you can go about getting the correct white balance in your images, from camera settings to editing.

Keep in mind though that:

  • nobody cares as much about the WB as we do about our own work. Don’t drive yourself crazy with it. 
  • WB can be shifted in one direction or another for artistic reasons/choices. 
  • The WB can be “wrong” because of the light temperature making everything warmer. This is ok.  

White Balance Mania

You guys uploaded 20+ images and I went about fixing the white balance on all of them, discussing what I’m looking for and at in order to set the right WB, tricks I use to help me, things to consider, and even what to do about colour casts.

Note that although I used Lightroom for this, you could easily use Adobe Camera Raw. I would not recommend using just Photoshop or working on a jpeg file. Why? Because all the subtleties of the RAW data has been lost, so instead of making small, subtle changes, you’re smashing your WB with a sledgehammer. 

Any questions? Ask below!

Two 15 Minute Autumn Edits

Do you feel like you need to spend over an hour on every single photo, whether it’s for your social media or for a client?

I sometimes get the sense that in Pet Photography world especially, we are a little obsessed with long, fancy, gruelling edits. The more layers, the more time, the more effects we apply, the better. It is a phenomenon I see only rarely in other genres of photography, where the photographer might apply an action, put a fake sun somewhere, do a bit of dodge and burn and skin smoothing and call it a day. Wedding photographers edit 800 photos in an hour. Meanwhile, we are here, agonising over every tiny detail, spending 3 hours on a photo so we have the most perfect gradients known to man. For what?

I’m not saying attention to detail isn’t important. I’m not saying we should slap a preset on everything and call it a day (you might know by now how I feel generally about presets). I’m saying that for the sake of our mental health, we should not feel the need to struggle. What we do, this process of creation should not be a struggle. If you love editing and it feels like a kind of therapy for you, by all means, edit for as long as you want.

If you don’t enjoy it, if it feels like a chore for you, if you’re creating photos only for your social media (because I would recommend putting a bit more time into client photos, IF you’re offering full service. If you’re doing Shoot & Burn for €10 per photo, you need to really carefully consider how long you dedicate to each photo.) then don’t spend hours on it. You can get perfectly good, artistic photos in 15 minutes.

What I wanted to do here, was to edit two photos as quickly as possible, to remove this idea that you need to spend hours on each edit.

Were my masks perfect? Nope. Would anyone on IG notice? Highly unlikely.

Do I know what I’m doing/my process/the steps I want to take? Yes. And of course this will make it much faster. 

Is the photo “perfect”? Probably not. But I honestly doubt anyone on social media would notice.

The point is… you do not need to spend an hour or more on each photo… Unless you want to. Making art is one thing. To truly get lost in an image and want to make something beautiful from it.

Churning out content for social media is another thing. There is a huge expectation on SM to post consistently, every day. If you can edit for 1-3 hours and keep up with that demand, power to you. If you are finding that it stresses you out, consider this your permission to sometimes take a bit less time, worry a bit less about perfection, focus on the photos that inspire you and that you want to put your heart and soul into. Find a way of working that you enjoy and that brings you joy.

Below are the two edits. I’ll include the RAW files for you too because why not. You’re welcome, as always, to share them on SM with credit/tags back to me, and not for commercial purposes. I didn’t narrate these edits because there would be no way for me to explain the process and go as fast as I wanted to. It’s my normal process in any case, just with less attention to detail. 

Autumn Loki

Autumn Journey

LR Update: Masks, Masks & More Masks!

In this lesson we’re going to be exploring how Lightroom’s new masking features, discussing ways we might want to use them, and what to do if we don’t want to use them (hint: you don’t have to do anything differently, if you don’t want to!). We’ll also be talking about some of the traps or pitfalls that we could stumble into if we rely too heavily on the “select subject” feature (hint: do you want your dog to look like a sticker?) and how we can hopefully get the most out of this update for our editing work!

Check your masks

Before moving on to more extreme edits, or exporting your photos, do a good, thorough check of your masks if you’re darkening the sky/background and brightening your subjects, especially if you’re using the “Select Subject” tool. Often, it can miss small bits and pieces (see below example!) and these can look very strange and out of place!

Watch out as well that the new masking features don’t just blur furry parts of your subject, or parts where some fur meets the background and it has a hard time finding the edges. You will want to fix these masks up.

Below: before & after. If you see these blurry edges, just use the brush tool to either add or remove the effect from where it’s blurry.

Mask blurred edges Mask blurred edges 2

Workshop: Pose & Expression

We often forget that one of the most crucial elements in our photo is..

the subject!

And yet, so many photos I see have a dog plonked into a sit somewhere, the ears listening in two different directions. 

There is so much we can do with our subjects to create photos with strong moods and stories, and yet I think they are one of our most under-utilised resources! 

In this workshop, we’re going to explore different expressions and the feelings we might get from them, how gazing direction can change the feeling or story of the photo, and how we can use different poses for different purposes.

Download the .pdf booklet below.

Dog Point of View & Body Language

In this lesson, I’m going to ask you to consider a photoshoot from a dog’s point of view.

I often get asked what to do with “difficult” dogs. These are dogs who:

  • don’t want to look at the camera, they’re always looking away from the camera
  • are over-threshold or too excited to do what we’re asking them to do
  • just aren’t interested

There are a couple of things I want to discuss in this lesson in regards to our dog models. One, is that what we are doing is rather strange for most dogs. If you consider our day to day life with dogs, and consider how we act and behave when we’re taking photos of them, we suddenly act very weirdly. 

Think about it. We’re crouching or even LYING on the ground (usually a signal that we want to play, or cuddle, or interact with our dogs), we have a weird black “eye” in front of our face, or we’re looking down at it and not at them (and most of us spend a lot of time looking at our dogs). We’re making weird noises, maybe even calling their name, but they’re not allowed to move.

In the case of a client’s dog, this might be even more bizarre! Who is this stranger?! Why are they doing this?! Why does my owner seem so tense?! Why do I have to sit here? Why am I not allowed to move?

If someone you’d never met (or even someone you loved and trusted) started acting this way, what would your reaction be?

Classical Conditioning

Let’s say your dog now has a history of you taking photos of them. And for that whole history, they have been given a bit of food for staying still (if they stay still!) or they’ve just run off whenever they’ve had enough of staying, and you’ve been getting more and more stressed about the fact that they won’t stay, or they won’t put their ears up and look at the camera. 

They now have a very conditioned response to photoshoots.

Have you ever heard of Pavlov? He’s not my favourite scientist ever but he did these experiments on dogs. Each day, just before they got fed, he would ring a bell. Then he would feed them. They found that soon enough, when the dog heard the bell, it would begin to drool. Bell = time for food. A conditioned response. 

Have you ever picked up your dog’s leash and it starts going crazy? Leash = time for a walk. A conditioned response.

The same can be said for less positive responses. For example, if I pick up anything that’s designed to kill flies of mosquitos (a fly swatter, a rolled up newspaper, one of those electric tennis racquet things) Loki will run and hide. Fly swatters = violence. (Not against him, but it’s scary enough). Same as how Journey now sees Ana get out the drying rack for clothes and comes and hides. Ana + Clothes = Scary noises when she shakes them violently before hanging them up. These are conditioned responses. The drying rack in and of itself means nothing. It’s the knowledge of what’s about to happen that elicits a response.

What does this have to do with our dogs and photoshoots?

If you’re working with your own dogs, think about what their conditioned response to the camera is. 

Maybe, like Loki, their eyes light up and they are excited and pushy, ready to work. Camera = work + treats! Woo hoo! A great conditioned response.

Maybe, like Journey, it’s a little more complicated. Camera = work (great) but pressure (bad). So while he’ll very happily pose, the more pressure he gets to look alert or look at me, the less happy he looks. 

Maybe, they see the camera and have to almost be coerced into position, and the minute they get a chance, they leave the scene to go do something else. 

Operant Conditioning

All creatures, humans included, work on the principles of Operant Conditioning.

That is the theory that all behaviour stems from either reinforcement, or punishment. Both can either be positive (added) or negative (removed). 

For example:

  • Positive Reinforcement = something good/pleasurable is added, to increase the behaviour. Giving a treat, playing with a toy, getting a bonus at work, being given a sticker for getting a right answer. 
  • Negative reinforcement = something bad is removed to increase the behaviour. In humans, this could be the annoying noise your car makes when you forget to put your seatbelt on – the noise stops when you do the desired behaviour. In dogs, it could be using an electric shock collar (to be clear I don’t agree with these at all but it serves the purpose of this example) and shocking the dog until it does the desired behaviour.
    • Obviously this doesn’t have much place in what we’re doing unless you consider this: Say that the experience of having their photo taken is a bad one. The dog doesn’t like it. If they move themselves away, refuse to stay, or run off, they have enacted negative reinforcement on themselves. The benefit of removing themselves might outweigh any kind of positive punishment, or positive reinforcement you might offer as a consequence for leaving or for staying. They have removed the negative stimulus (being in front of the camera), so the likelihood of that behaviour occurring again increases.
  • Positive Punishment= something unpleasant is added, to decrease the behaviour. This is scolding the dog, hitting the dog, choking the dog with a choke chain, or punishing the dog in some way. Remember, “positive” here isn’t talking about good or bad, it’s talking about adding or removing. Positive = adding. 
  • Negative punishment= something/a stimulus is removed to decrease the likelihood of the behaviour. Say a dog is jumping up to get your attention, and you turn away and leave – removing a stimulus, with the intention of the dog jumping up less. Or those situations where someone puts their hand near a food bowl while the dog is eating. The dog growls. The food is removed. The intention being that a stimulus (food) was removed in order to decrease the behaviour (growling). Obviously this is problematic for a number of reasons, but it’s there for an example. There isn’t really a great photography example for this that I can think of right now. 


So, if we’re thinking about the above, in terms of our dogs and how they act and react when having their photos, can we find any patterns with their behaviour? Have their experiences mostly been positively reinforced? Positively punished (even in small ways, like you sighing in frustration when they move, or simple being stressed can be enough for some dogs for it to be a bad experience), or maybe they’ve negatively reinforced themselves by continually removing them from the situation?

Let’s have a look at the video below. I filmed several scenarios from a dog’s point of view with both me as a bit of a stressed-out new photographer, and being a lot calmer, faster, and more easy going. 

Is the dog stressed?

Knowing, reading and understanding dog body language and expressions is critical to what we do. Not only from a photographic point of view, but also for the dog’s welfare and wellbeing.

We are lucky to have Olivia Moore (MRCVS) in the LC, and she prepared this downloadable .pdf guide on seeing and understanding dog body-language. 

What to do if your dog doesn't like photoshoots?

Honestly, this is a bigger, longer question than we can really cover in a photography course.

Personally, I would:

  • Make sure I knew and understood my dog’s currency
  • build a good working relationship with my dog outside of photography (tricks, dog sports, interacting on walks etc). I’m talking about more than just going on walks together and living together. 
  • made sure by using principles of conditioning, that my dog associated the camera with good things
    • you can do this quickly and easily when you meet a client’s dog. Sit down with it and press the shutter, reward immediately. Shutter, reward, shutter, reward, shutter reward. Soon, the camera noise = reward to come!
  • train whatever behaviours I needed (stay etc) away from photography and photoshoots until they were really solid, comfortable and happy in the behaviour
  • use a leash if they don’t stay, to eliminate my own stress of them moving or running off
  • keep poses fast. Have your settings dialed in already before the dog gets into position. Take a burst of photos, verbally praising the dog for being great. Clearly release the dog, reward.
  • be careful and conscious of unintentional cues that could be taken as punishment especially by sensitive dogs who are very in-tune to your emotions
  • release pressure from the dog. Don’t demand or continually ask for their attention. Sit down and relax with them. Let them choose a pose. Get attention in creative ways and celebrate them when they offer that attention.

Variety Challenges: All about the dog

Here you’ll find a collection of challenges, originally written as “mini challenges” to be spread across the month. However, they work equally well as individual stand-alone challenges so will each count as one challenge toward your Snoot Awards. Each challenge counts as 1 challenge point toward your Snoot Awards. 

These challenges are designed to spark your creativity, get you to step out of your comfort zone, or to give you something to focus on if you’re feeling a bit lost and overwhelmed.

These challenges are designed to help you capture our subjects, their personalities and their stories in a different way to the typical posed portrait in a pretty location.