Workshop: Style, Self Analysis and Goal Setting

In this workshop, we discussed style and goal setting, but there are some prompts in the PDF booklet for you to work through to help you analyse your photos and where you’re at, and what you might want to work on going forward.

I recommend setting aside a bit of time to dig into the prompts when you’re not stressed, distracted or multitasking. 

As I say in the workshop, I personally don’t think it’s necessary to “nail down” a style – I certainly didn’t spend any time thinking about or worrying about mine, I just created what I liked, and when I saw things I liked, I tried to create them too. It surprised me when people were like: “Oh I knew this was yours, I can spot your style immediately”. That was the first and last thought I gave to my own style until working on these lessons and courses.

But, since it’s such a “pain point” for many students, and a potential source of stress, if the advice to just create what you love and to continue learning isn’t enough for you, then maybe these tools will help.

But at the end of the day, I truly don’t think having your style defined or labelled is useful. If you create what you love, it will show through in your photos. If you get too locked into creating certain photos or in a certain way, you might find yourself stagnating and getting stuck.


Last point:

with the goal setting exercise, I give you permission to dream big. Seriously. We are often told our goals need to be achievable, or we (especially women!) tend to feel like we’re not allowed to want too much. 

Be audacious. Put down the biggest thing you want, even if it seems like “too much”, or that you aren’t deserving… you are. You’re here, you’re showing up for your craft, you’re investing in your education. You are totally deserving of whatever big dreams you have. Why not? But the only one who can make them happen or at least set the wheels in motion, is you.

And trust me when I say that I know this, better than most, having somehow managed to achieve some massive dreams in my life so far. But nobody else did it for me. If I hadn’t dreamed big, grit my teeth, and made it happen… nothing would have happened. 

As I said in the workshop: I would love for you to share your little galleries, your thoughts on style, and to hear about you taking action steps toward your goals. I want to celebrate your success, and you never know how your small wins could inspire others!

Video recording coming as soon as my computer lets me export it.

15 Minute Techniques: From Grey Winter to Golden Backlight

A very (very) quick lesson on changing this boring white/grey bokeh into something else.

This is not a full editing tutorial, I don’t do my basic edits or mask the dog out properly. You’re going to need a decent understanding of photoshop – I move through the techniques here fast

I just wanted to give you a variety of ways that you could create a fake backlight effect if you were working with this kind of image that has a lot of white bokeh.

This probably won’t work on photos with large areas of open sky, or potentially with difficulty on images with blown out areas in the background. 

You don’t need to use all of the techniques shown. Pick and choose what works for you.

And of course, you might not want to go for the golden look. Most of these techniques can be used simply to add some colour to the background in some way, so you could make it more of a blue or grey – though blue would require more careful masking of the white areas, since blue sky doesn’t spill out into the whole background and change the light temperature the way golden light does.

As always, try to keep it natural. The more you learn about how light works, the better you’ll be abl to fake it.

How To: Use Overlays

Using overlays, eg., bringing in an outside image element to your photos, can be a way to make them feel a bit more complete, to add to the story, or to create a special effect. 

There are many kinds of overlays you can find both free online (be very conscious of copyrights if you’re using the photos for commercial purposes, eg., to advertise your business or to sell to clients), or on websites like Etsy.

Some of the most common overlays include:

Once you start using overlays, they can become a bit addictive, because they are a very obvious way to “fill space” in your image, and to really hit your viewer over the head with the story you’re showing, and in my opinion, once you “feel” that, it’s hard to create more empty, less obvious photos again.

For example: it’s autumn.  You create a beautiful autumn photo of your dog amongst the colours and fallen leaves. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this photo, it’s beautiful. You add a falling leaf overlay, and BAM it’s like someone has punched you in the face with the autumn-ness of it, and suddenly every single photo following feels empty and incomplete, so you have to add falling leaf overlays to them too.

Same with sun flares/lens flares. You add this one time, and the photo feels warm and magical. Suddenly every photo following feels a bit cold and empty, so you end up adding an overlay to every photo whether the sun makes sense or not. 

And maybe there’s nothing wrong with this, and it’s your style to really punch your audience in the face with “the scene”, or maybe you use overlays to complement your style and fill in space. My main advice is to not use them as a crutch or in place of good photography skills or taking a good photo in the first place. 

Generally, with my photos, I am considering if I’ll need to use an overlay as I’m taking the photo.

Is the scene/location a bit empty in the foreground, but the background, light, location otherwise is absolutely perfect? Ok, then I might need to use a blurry foreground overlay to just “fill in” the lower part of the scene.

DSC03669 DSC03669-Edit

In the photo above, I loved this moment looking out on a favourite lake/pond that these two used to go to all the time… but the actual spot was pretty “blah”. I’d never been to the location before and had no opportunity to scout it out beforehand so had to roll with what I could find. This spot in particular allowed Dusty to have a little break, and for me to capture some moments of them together (he was very sick and old)… but I knew the scene would be too “open” in the foreground for me, especially once I saw the photos.

I wanted this to feel like a very intimate moment. If the two had been facing the camera and smiling, I don’t think it would have needed the foreground to be “closed in” with an overlay.

As always, whether you use an overlay or not can go back to the kind of mood/feeling/story you’re aiming to create, including some of the things we covered in the pose/expression workshop.

My point here is… be mindful and purposeful when using overlays. Don’t just use them because they’re trendy, or because you “should”… use them to enhance your photo – and sometimes, that means to only use them carefully and subtly. 

Downloading & Bringing them to PS

Most overlays are simply image files, usually .png files. They might have a transparent background, or maybe a black background (in the case of sun/light flares). 

When you download them, you may need to unzip them. I usually just keep them in an “overlay” folder.

When it comes time to use them, I go to the folder, find the overlay I want, and drag and drop it into PS. 

PS will put it as a new layer on top of your image, and it will be a smart object. You will be able to resize it. Hit enter/return when you’re happy with the size & rotation.


Here, I've dragged & dropped the overlay onto my image. There are handles around the outside of it to resize it.

Resizing & Depth of Field

Depending on your overlay and the effect you want to achieve, and even how realistic your overlay is, you may need to do quite a lot of work to make it look like it fits in with the scene, or potentially none at all. 

Usually, you will need to stretch your overlay, as they aren’t made to fit on our larger image files.

You may also want to mirror them or flip them. To do so, go to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal or Flip Vertical.  You might also want to click and drag the edges to rotate it around so it fits better. 

If your overlay has some kind of lighting (like the leaves I’m using above) consider any lighting reflecting off other objects already in your scene. You should try and get the lighting to go in more or less the same direction, unless you’re going to be significantly blurring the overlay. Same with the growth direction of leaves. Try not to have some leaves with the shiny part facing upward, and other leaves with the shiny part facing downward because you flipped them.

In the case of sun flares/lens flares, you will want to look carefully at where the light actually was, and where any lens flare would naturally go. Remember, there probably shouldn’t be two suns in your world. These overlays usually have a black background. If so, set the blend mode to “screen” to remove it.

There is no scientific formula here for what is “correct” in terms of how big or small you make your overlay. You may need it bigger or smaller depending on what you’re using it for. One leaf in the corner might be enough, or you may need to stretch it really big in order to distort the perception of the depth of field. Remember if you’re photographing something and there is a branch or fern or something directly in front of the lens, it appears BIG.

Once it’s the size you want, think carefully about where it is, and the depth of field you’re using. If your photo has a very narrow depth of field (eg., only the dogs’ eyes are in focus), then anything in front or behind the dog should be blurry. The further away the object gets from the dog, the blurrier it will be. If we are using the leaves above as an example, and we want the perception that they are extremely close to the lens, they will need to be extremely blurry. If I wanted them to look like they were closer to the dog, they would still need some blur. 

Some overlays are already blurry. Some don’t need anything added to make them look like they are very close to the lens. Again, there is no scientific formula here. You have to look at your scene, the depth of field you created, and consider where you want your overlay to be, and how blurry something in that location would be. 

Then, we’ll go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian blur.

Here, you can adjust the settings of the blur to make it blurrier, or sharper. I can’t give you a number range to use, because the settings will depend on the factors I mentioned above.


Here, I want my leaves to be a very soft, blurry foreground element. Any sharper and there’ll be too much going on. I want it to look like they were right up against the camera lens. I’ve stretched them, rotated them, and added a lot of blur to them.

Making it Natural

One thing to note is that when you add gaussian blur, all the noise will be stripped away – or there may not have been any to begin with on your overlay.

While this sounds like a great thing, you now have a part of your image that is unnaturally silky smooth, especially compared to the rest of the image. 

To keep it tied in with the rest of the image, we’re going to add some noise.

Zoom in on your photo so you can see part of the original image and how noisy it is (no judgement here. It is what it is) and part of the overlay.

Go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise.

You want to choose a % that matches up the overlay with your original image. It will probably only be between .5-4% at most.

Next, we need to make sure that the colour, light and so on match the rest of the scene.

Again, depending on what you’re adding to your scene, you may have a lot of work, or not much work to do here.

If you’re adding a butterfly to your very backlight scene, you’re going to have to think carefully about how the light is going to hit and frame the butterfly.

If you’re working on a scene with a lot of sparkly rain getting hit by light, you’re going to need to think about how your leaves are also reflecting light.

Unfortunately there are way too many individual scenarios you may encounter to cover them all here, but everything you need to do can be done using various adjustment layers, especially in regards to colour and light. 

To make sure that your adjustment layers don’t affect the whole image and you don’t have to mask in just the overlay, we are going to use clipping layers. This will “clip” the effect to just the overlay layer and only affect it. 

You can use as many clipping layers as you need to get the image to fit in. You need to be thinking carefully about the white balance in the scene, about how light or dark it is, where the light is coming from (you can still mask things in or out with clipping layers!), the colours of the other elements in the scene and so on. 

I would say it’s much easier to blend in a blurry foreground element than it is to colour/light/DOF match something like a butterfly, fake owl, fake branch which is in focus and so on. The less detail we can see in the overlay/addition, the less perfect our matching needs to be. 

Here I’ve applied a selective colour adjustment layer but as you can see it’s really made my whole photo turn red. I COULD mask out the leaves at the bottom, or I could use a  clipping mask. To do this, right click on your Overlay layer, and choose “create clipping mask”.

Here you can see the selective colour layer has a little arrow down to the overlay image. This means they are clipped together.

And you can see how none of the rest of my image is affected, only those green leaves, which are now fitting in quite well with a yellow/orange tone.

The last thing I will do with this overlay, will be to reduce the opacity just slightly. Often when we shoot through some leaves or have them very close to the lens, they become hazy and a bit see-through, rather than solid like this.

Advice on Making things Realistic

I am aware that this lesson has been full of non-speciic advice. But as I said, it is impossible to cover every single situation, from leaf overlays as blurry foreground elements all the way to butterflies as a second subject.

The best advice I can offer you to be able to make your overlays realistic, is to take as many photos as you can and observe.

Observe how the light works on branches in the foreground and background. 

Observe what happens when you have leafy branches very close to the lens, a bit further away, or behind the dog. 

Observe how butterflies move and land, how the light hits them in certain ways. 

Observe how very strong light leaking into your lens creates natural flares, how strong the rim-light is, how the tops of grasses become bright and sparkly. 

Observe how you see your dog through falling snow – most people make the mistake of erasing the snow off the whole dog, but snow just doesn’t work like that. It falls everywhere, in front of the dog, on the dog, behind the dog. 

Observe the fog. Is it a grey blanket? Does it move in puffy clouds? What happens when it is closer to the camera, or far away behind the dog? Think of your depth of field.

Observe the subtle shadows thrown by a leaf close to the face,

The more you observe, the more natural you will be able to make your overlays and additions.

Changing Colours Workshop

In this workshop, we will be learning several methods to change the colours of your photo.

The recording of the workshop is available below.

There are many times and situations where we might want to change some or all of the colours in our photo. In this workshop, we’re going to look at both the how and why of changing colours, as well as covering multiple tools in both Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop in order to create the effects we want.

We will be looking at:

  • Options in Lightroom:
    • HSL Panel
    • New masking features
  • Options in Photoshop:
    • Selective Colour
    • Hue/Saturation
    • Using your smart object
    • Colour Balance
    • Gradient map
    • Gradient fill

We have two RAW files for this workshop. One, we will work on together, and the other you will have a chance to edit at the end of the workshop in your own time. 

There are actually 5 RAW files there. We will work on “Colour Change-1” together in the workshop to turn green to autumn. You can then download any of the Journey files you like, and work on making it a more deep, rich mossy green.

Please remember: you are welcome to edit and share your edits to Social Media, but they must link back to me, and not be used for commercial purposes.

There is also a downloadable .pdf workbook in the folder 

Workshop: Shaping the Light

In this workshop, we will be discussing Shaping the Light. 

This is a technique used by many pet photographers to draw attention to their subjects through careful use of a range of editing techniques. By “shaping the light” we can create natural spotlight effects on the dog, add shadows and darkness where needed, and really tell a story or create a mood.

In this workshop, not only will we be looking at the tools to shape the light, but we will be discussing how, when, and why we should use these techniques.

We have two RAW files for this workshop. One, we will work on together, and the other you will have a chance to edit at the end of the workshop in your own time. 

There is also a downloadable .pdf workbook in the folder.

Pre-workshop assignment

Before the workshop begins, I recommend downloading both the raw files, and getting them “set up”. That is to say, correct the white balance, bring a bit of clarity to the dog’s face, work on eyes, reduce distractions or anything else you might normally do to get the photo to a “neutral base”…

You don’t have to go overboard, but as the workshop won’t be a full editing workflow, we won’t be spending much time on these basic initial steps.

Workshop: Fixing Backgrounds

In this workshop we’re going to look at a variety of methods to make changes to the background of our image including:

  • taking part of the background, flipping it and masking it in
  • using the clone stamp tool
  • using content aware fill
  • using content aware crop to extend the background
  • using content aware scale to extend the background
  • things we might want to consider (when we might/might not want to mess with the background)


Workshop: Editing Rationale

This workshop aims to be very interactive and “hands-on”. We will likely use a combination of my photos and photos uploaded to the Google Drive. 

The aim is to discuss and answer the question:

How do I decide how to edit a photo?

Many people take beautiful photos then get stuck with what to do with them. After all, our editing programs are FULL of tools. We could darken, lighten, raise blacks, increase contrast. We could make the photo more cyan, desaturate it, make it orange. We could add light flare, haze, or completely blur the background. Sometimes the possibilities are overwhelming.

So, while keeping in mind that there is no right way to edit a photo, we will look at some guiding principles and things to think about when you open your photo up. Things like:

  • What needs to be done to draw the audience’s eye to the subject?
  • What mood can we already see/feel?
  • What shapes are naturally in the photo (curves in the foreground etc)
  • What colours are naturally occurring?
  • What style are we working with? 

As a group, we will look at a variety of photos, with different moods, in different locations, with different lighting, and you will help guide me through what edits you think we should use – and discuss as a group why this might work (or not), what we need to consider when making those edits, and what we’re trying to achieve. Once we have a rationale behind why we edit the way we do, we will be able to choose more intentionally from the editing tools, styles, and options available to us. 

If you have a photo that’s driving you crazy because you don’t know how to edit it or where to begin, keep it handy!! It would be great to be able to have a look at some of those images and discuss as a group what you might do with it and why.

15 Minute Tutorial: Face Contouring

I had some questions about contouring/dodging and burning the face, knowing where to dodge/where to burn.

Below is a quick video explanation of my method of learning how to do it, which should be helpful even if you can’t see the highlights and shadows on the dog’s face due to their fur or coat colours.