Challenge Instructions: START HERE!

Challenges are a fantastic way to keep you accountable.

New challenges will be added often, and will cross all learning topics, so whether you’re beginning, or deep into your business, there will be challenges for you.

Once a month, choose a challenge, and focus on completing it by the end of the month.

To complete the challenge, follow the instructions below:

  • Choose your challenge, read through the information and guidelines. Check the Challenges topic in the Learning Community for examples of people who have entered the challenge already!
  • Take/edit the photos for the challenge. Unless stated otherwise, photos should be new, and taken for the challenge! The point of (most) of the challenges is to learn and improve, and you won’t do that by submitting photos you took 3 years ago. 
  • Upload the photo to the “Challenges” topic of the Learning Community. (if you haven’t joined the Community yet, you’ll need to do that first by clicking here)
  • Tell us which challenge you’re entering – use a hashtag! And give us some information about your photo! What challenges did you have? What went well?
  • Comment on 1-2 other photos already in the Challenges topic. 
  • Mark the Challenge lesson “Complete”. 

Bronze Snoot Award

When you’ve completed 5 challenges, you will be awarded the “Bronze Snoot Award”. 

The system to get your Bronze Snoot is a bit complicated because I just can’t find an elegant way to set it up, and my IT guy calls this kind of system a “practical Em solution”. 

  • Once you’ve submitted your 5 challenges, and commented on other people’s challenge entries, return to this lesson.
  • You will find the “Bronze Snoot Award” attached to this lesson as a quiz. 
  • Go into the quiz. Read carefully. Remember, this is the honour system. Nobody is going to leap out and arrest you if you haven’t done 5 challenges but lie and say you have, but let’s be honest, doing so would make you a rubbish human being. 
  • Submit the quiz. Hint: there’s only one correct answer. 
  • Your Bronze Snoot Award will be available to download (it should even be emailed to you!)

Silver & Gold Snoot Awards

As above, once you have completed 10 Challenges you can complete the “Silver Snoot Award” quiz (again, based on the honour system) and download your Silver Snoot Award.

The Gold Snoot Award is available after 15 completed Challenges.

It’s likely that as we add more challenges going forward, there will be more snoots available. Platinum, Diamond, Carrot…

“Joy” Challenge

The “Joy Challenge” is all about capturing the essence of joy in your pet photography. Even the most serious dog can show joy in the right circumstances, and there’s nothing better than looking back on joyful photos.

Here are some guidelines to get you started:

  1. Focus on the dog’s expression: The key to capturing joy in a pet photo is to focus on the dog’s expression. Look for moments when the dog is relaxed and happy, with an open mouth, raised ears, and bright eyes.

  2. Choose a bright and happy location: To enhance the joyful mood, choose a bright and happy location for your photo shoot. Beaches, flowers, and plenty of bokeh can all create the feeling of joy. Avoid deep dark forests, solid backgrounds and places that feel a bit “closed in”. 

  3. Interaction can create joy! Get your dog moving! Interact with your dog or have your owner interact. Prompt them to cuddle, play and be silly. Be natural with your dog and muck around. These will create genuine moments of laughter and joy together. 
  4. Use a fast shutter speed if you’re working with more candid moments and movement: To capture your dog in motion and to avoid blurry images, use a fast shutter speed, over 1/1250 sec. This will help to freeze the moment and capture the essence of joy in your pet’s expression.

  5. Edit for brightness and color: In post-processing, edit your photos for brightness and color. By going dark and moody, you likely won’t be supporting that bright, joyful mood you want to create. Remember as well that warmth has more of a feeling of joy than cooler temperatures.

Get to it! Make sure you check out the Challenges rules before you get started. Can’t wait to see your joyful photos!

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!

Editing Pets & People: Ike & Cecilia Tutorial

in this tutorial we’re going to work on this photo of Ike & Cecilia, cuddling in the green woods.

DSC06712 DSC06712-Edit

You are welcome to edit along, but I’ll ask you not to share this one on social media! Thanks!

After I finished recording, I went and cooled down the image a bit, as it finished feeling a bit too yellow/warm for me. Other than that I don’t think I changed anything afterwards.

Creating a Flower Photo with Alessia Monaco

We were so lucky to have Alessia join us live to talk us through the process of creating this gorgeous photo of the dog in the wattle flowers.

Hands up if you thought these photos were created by finding the most perfect flowery bush and getting your dog to stick his head through the branches? 

Prepare to have your mind blown. 

All you need to create this kind of photo is:

  • Your camera and lens (Alessia used an 85mm lens)
  • An assistant or two
  • A patient dog
  • A branch or two or bunch of flowers
  • A lot of patience in Photoshop!

I would love to see everybody’s attempts at these photos in Inspawration Connect, so make sure you jump over and share them! Feel free to tag Alessia too if you run into trouble.

And, of course, make sure you go give her a follow on Instagram!

How To: Dogs in Landscapes

I will preface this lesson by saying that my speciality is not landscapes, nor dogs in landscapes – if you’re here, you are hopefully familiar with my photography style already! But hopefully this lesson will give you some information about getting the most out of epic landscapes, next time you find yourself in one! 

About Dogs in Landscapes

Finding a balance between showing off a landscape scene, and not losing your dog within it can be a challenge. Unlike our normal portrait photography, where all the focus is on the dog, his expression, his pose, with a smaller emphasis placed on the scene around him (usually), dogs in landscapes seek to show us both the place, and the subject within it, often in equal parts. 

Some landscapes can be smaller or more intimate: think waterfalls, ferny glades or glens, a foggy mossy forest. 

Others are huge, and we want to strive to show the magnitude of the mountains, or the far reaching distance of an endless horizon, or the stretching white sands and blue sea. In this case, playing with the size of our subject within the scene can help to alter our perception of the size of the landscape. Mountains can dwarf our subject and make them feel small beneath them, or our dogs can be conquerors of them. It all depends on how we show the scene.

These two photos above were taken at the same place, and are very similar in terms of pose, weather, etc… however in one, we get the feeling of the magnitude of the scene, the grandness of the valley and Journey’s insignificance within it. The photo on the left may have been interesting taken from a lower perspective so he wasn’t getting so lost against the background but he stood himself there and this was a split second candid shot. 

The photo on the right still feels large,  but the emphasis has shifted (in my opinion) to Journey. Neither of these are right or wrong necessarily, it is just worth considering as you’re setting up your own landscape photos.

Both are only very lightly edited, so it’s possible with working the light a bit, that I could draw more attention to Journey particularly in the photo on the left.

Almost any outdoor space can become a landscape. The difference to our normal portraiture is our focus. As mentioned above, our normal portraiture aims for compressed backgrounds, pretty soft bokeh, and a very narrow depth of field, blurring out most of the scene.

Landscapes will aim to show much more of the space the dog is occupying, probably (though not always) with more detail, a wider depth of field, and a smaller emphasis on the dog alone. That being said, as you can’t make a photo of a dog sitting on an empty field particularly exciting, you probably can’t take a photo of a normal, relatively unexciting landscape and expect to make it epic. There is a reason we have to climb mountains for the best views.

Also, keep in mind that simply using a wider lens, or narrower aperture in order to capture more of the “landscape” when in a heavily wooded forest, probably isn’t going to get you the results you’re after (except in some specific circumstances!) as all that extra detail, all those criss-crossing branches, bushy undergrowth, tangled weeds, and tree trunks will suddenly make your scene much busier, rather than more epic. Dead straight trees with less “busy” undergrowth (I’m thinking redwood forests or pine woods with pretty ferns) will work better…. but will still probably be best when straddling the line between “landscape” and portraiture.

I would argue that this photo ALMOST begins to work like a landscape photo.... but the scene isn't quite big enough, and he is still very much 90% of the focus of the image.

If you’re in the Learning Journey, make sure you check out Exploring > Editing Tutorials, for a full editing tutorial of a landscape photo

Image SOS: Composition

There is something really bizarre going on with this video right now so if it appears tiny, I apologise. I have no idea what’s wrong with it, or why it’s so far down the page. Let’s just be happy it works at all at this point. Scroll DOWN to see the video (for some reason)

How to: Fix your composition on location (and in LR & PS)

This is a technique I use very often, especially when photographing Journey, or any dog who has a tendency to look all around. 

Rather than try and continually move my focus point, or just hope that Animal Eye-AF will actually work, I minimally move my focus point and instead concentrate on just getting the shot. 

I want to get THE photo, where the dog is engaged, ears up, expression soft but alert. If I’m constantly trying to recompose the shot with my focus point, I’ll likely miss dozens of great expressions and possibly the perfect moment.

My process is usually: 

  • pose the dog with an intention for where/how I want him to look, and with that composition planned (eg., have my focus point where I want it)
This is how I intended the composition to be, so it's how I set up the shot, with my focus point over to the right, over his eye.
  • Journey will then usually immediately look somewhere else. Possibly in the opposite direction, possibly up. I DO NOT move my focus point (or maybe only very slightly) but if he’s looking alert, I continue taking photos!! I want to get THE MOMENT. 
  • When he stops being alert, relaxes, or disengages, I remove my thumb from the back button* (this is important!!!) and take photos of the surrounding area, AS NEEDED.
  • Below, you’ll see the when he looked around and the composition I had for those photos, as well as the extra photos I took. Because he looked to the right, and above, and because I felt like I’d chopped his legs off, I took photos to the right, above him, and below him.
  • If your dog leaves the scene or changes position, IT DOES NOT MATTER. You already have your photo of the dog in the perfect moment. All you need now are parts of the scene without dog! As long as the dog doesn’t take three steps to the right when you need to take photos of the scene to the right, then you’ll be fine. Just keep them out of the parts of the scene you’re building.
*You MUST make sure your plane of focus does not change. If your camera will refocus when you press the shutter, you must either: change to Back Button Focus, turn the focus mode to Manual, or flick the switch on the lens from AF to MF (if it has a switch). Otherwise, as soon as you press the shutter, the camera will focus on the background, and you  will not be able to make a panorama from your images, as the focus area will be completely different.

Keep in mind when looking at these photos, there might be 10 photos of just the dog looking all around first… and when he relaxes, THEN I take the photos of the surroundings.

Keep in mind that it doesn’t really hurt to have extra photos of the surroundings and it can be a good habit to get into if you are often cutting off toes, tails or ears. Unless you have a super tiny SD card (why) then when you import the photos, if you find you don’t actually need them, just delete them. I would always much rather HAVE these photos and the real image data from the location, than to ask Photoshop to create pixels using AI.

From there, it’s relatively simple in either Photoshop or Lightroom to combine the images. 

In Lightroom, simply select the photos you want to use in your panorama, right click, and select Photo Merge >  Panorama

This is the panorama Lightroom created for me using the above images. I could obviously crop this to wherever makes sense! I don't need all that space behind him!

Note! Sometimes LR will choose the “wrong head” if you have two or three photos which feature the dog’s head, so keep a careful eye out for that. You don’t want it to choose an out of focus version.

  • Otherwise, do your normal base edits (mine are in Lightroom)
  • Open all the layers in Photoshop (however is most convenient for you. I usually open all as smart objects).
  • Bring each layer into a single file (I use the “main dog image” as the base layer)
  • Crop to expand the canvas
  • Mask each layer in.
You’ll see this process in the video above.

Photoshop also has a “Merge as panorama” tool but I don’t believe it works with Smart Objects so I don’t use it. 

More examples of this technique in use!

Here, you’ll see I had planned for Journey to look to the left again, but he started by looking forward. No big deal.

THEN he looked to the left, which I was ready for…. until he looked UP.

Knowing I love photos of him looking up, but that I would need more space for him to look into if I wanted to edit the photo, I took 3 extras: one slightly up, then higher, and higher off to the side (probably to the left). 

At the end, you’ll see the combined & edited photo.

SUPER typical Journey sequence here. Straight forward, right, left, less left, straight, left, up!

So, I just took a whole series of photos basically around Journey: to the right, to the left, above and below, so I could build a canvas in basically any direction I wanted, if I decided there was one worth editing. 

Very simple one of these two howling wolfdogs. 

When I took the photo, I thought I would probably want to change this into a portrait-orientation photo, since they were pointing upward, and didn’t have a lot of space above them – plus I wanted that pretty golden bokeh in the shot, so I took a photo just above and merged them together in Lightroom.

This is an interesting sequence, especially since I never shoot portrait orientation but was here. 

We started with Fawkes in the middle, looking at me. He changed to look to the right, so I took those photos and started to “build the panorama”…. but then he looked at me so alert and so serious that I took the photo quickly! Of course, the composition was COMPLETELY off, I don’t even know how I managed to get that photo…

I grabbed another couple of shots of the scene: one above and one below… and ended up needing to merge a few together because the one I wanted to use was the one with the worst composition 😂

Same location as above. I think I’d been aiming for a similar photo as Fawkes from before – looking straight at me, but of course Journey had to do his own thing and looked to the right.

I grabbed two more photos to the right, thinking I would need quite a bit of extra space (I didn’t need QUITE that much, but it really never hurts to have more!) and I took some above as well, which I didn’t end up using, as the photo worked better as a landscape photo in the end.