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Tips from Pet Photographer Alex Cearns of Houndstooth Studio

A few weeks ago we at iLHP featured the renowned animal photographer, Alex Cearns of Houndstooth Studio. As promised, Alex agreed to share some of her animal portrait tips with us this week.

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iLHP: Hi Alex, thank you for joining us again. What inspired you to become a photography tour leader and can you tell us about your trips?

Alex: Thank you for having me! I’m a huge advocate for getting out and seeing the world. I love that most places in the world are accessible within 24 hours – you just need the time and funds to get to them. Travel has opened my eyes to the way other people live. I’m humbled to see those who have less than we have here in Australia. I think travel broadens a person’s mind, and exposes them to circumstances and situations that fire up the soul and senses. The first thing I always want to do when I get back from a trip is to go again.

My partnership with global tour company World Expeditions is all about creating well planned tours for people who, first and foremost, love animals, with daily hands-on tuition from me for those who want to improve their photography skills. Each tour is designed with ‘animal people’ in mind, so you don’t have to be a photographer to come along. But if you do bring a camera, I’m there to provide advice and tips and guarantee you will return home with a fabulous set of images.

We aim to choose locations sometimes overlooked for animal experiences, hidden natural gems you could call them, for a fantastic, affordable price.

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The trips are ‘one in, all in’, so there’s no splitting of the group where the photographers have a special activity while everyone else waits around or is left behind. We all participate together equally as a group each, ensuring everyone has the fullest experience possible.

After a successful tour of India in 2015, I’m now planning future trips with World Expeditions and we have tours of Antarctica, Cambodia and Sri Lanka in the works for 2016. As a company, World Expeditions are ethical and professional and they liaise with me on all aspects of my tours and I’m able to hand pick hotels and write itineraries. Working with them to plan these adventures is always fun and exciting – which is exactly what the trips will be.

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iLHP: Wow sounds exciting! Can you share three things you always take with you when travelling?

Alex: I never leave home without my pillow. It’s one small comfort from home which can mean the difference between a good night’s sleep and a bad one.

I also always pack my laptop, mostly for the flights to and from destinations and for any sleepless nights adjusting to jet lag and time zone changes. It’s also useful to back up my images and edit them while I’m still away, leaving less work to catch up on when I return home. It’s also handy for keeping up to date with social media and emails.

And lastly, I would never leave home without my camera. My travel images replace souvenirs, as visual reminders of my holiday. But have to confess, rarely do they contain images of the places we stayed or the restaurants we dined at. Instead there will multiple images monkeys, shots of street dogs and photos of birds and chickens.

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iLHP: I completely understand and can relate. How do you feel about being a female professional animal photographer?

Alex: I really value what I do and all of the animals I work with. I love the creative process of capturing that split second when the true personality of any creature shines through. The commercial side of my business washes back to support our philanthropy – conservation and animal rescue underpins everything I do.

Gender is no object or barrier. There are wonderful male photographers out there and there are wonderful female photographers out there. It’s all about passion and commitment and there are endless opportunities to help in conservation and rescue and to continue to try to perfect my craft.

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iLHP: Can you please share with us some of your pet photo tips?

Alex: Sure! There are plenty of places to practice your skills with animal photography. Firstly, start with a location familiar to your pet like your house, backyard or local park.

No matter where you are, the number one tip of pet photography is patience. Taking your time when you take photos means you end up with a relaxed subject, who is more likely to give you the poses and expressions you know and love. You can’t force or rush them to do what you want. Learn as much as you can about your pet’s behaviour and habits, and spend time with them before you start snapping. Do they tilt their head when you make a certain sound? Do they do tricks on command? If so, these are fabulous things to capture with your camera.

Plan before you snap. Think about what you want to shoot and why that angle or scene might be interesting. Don’t rely on your camera to do all the work. It is just a tool and the photographer is the storyteller. Do you want to do a close up? Full body shot? Have lots of background in the picture? These are all things to consider and then experiment with. Taking lots of photos is easy with a digital camera, so you can keep trying until you get the look or feel of a shot you like.

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Think about your pet’s point of view. Pets are closer to the ground than we are, so think about getting down to their level. By crouching on your knees or lying on the ground you suddenly see things from their perspective. Take photos from their eye level to create fun and interesting angles that add a whole new dimension to your photography. You can even sit them up on a bench to get them off the ground, which allows you to aim for creative angles.

Be creative and experiment. Wait your pet is asleep and take an ‘up close’ shot from their height. Move back for a wider angle shot or move around to shoot from a different side. If your dog is feeling playful, throw a ball, lie down and take shots as he or she runs it back to you.

On an angle.  Sometimes the most interesting images are off centre. Think about trying different angles and other effective ways of framing your pet within the borders of the picture. Perhaps focus on the nose or the feet for an interesting perspective, or angle the horizon so it’s not in the middle of the frame.

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Think about your background and the objects that surround your subject.

  • Interesting elements that fill the whole picture can make a great shot.
  • Unwanted objects or clutter can be distracting.

Aim to shoot in front of uniformly coloured backgrounds or objects you’ve planned to be in the shot. Make sure things like poles, chairs or brightly coloured objects positioned directly behind your subject do not ruin the shot.

Take lots of photos. One of the best things about digital photography is that you can take as many shots as you like at no cost and delete the ones you don’t want later. While you may not want to take loads of photos of the same thing, you can experiment with lots of different shots, subjects and styles and watch your photography skills improve.

Work at the pace of your animal subject to ensure they feel comfortable, safe and happy. If you have their favourite toys and treats on hand you can increase the chances of your pet enjoying their photography session and create lots of interaction with you, meaning more wonderful to catch in a photo. If things are not going the way you’d like, put the session off for another time when your pet is feeling more playful. It’s worth it! Happy pets make the best photos. 

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Practice, try new things and don’t give up! It’s OK if you don’t get the perfect picture the first, second or third time. Keep trying until you are happy.

Remember to have fun. Taking pictures is a great way to express yourself and to connect with your pets. Enjoy your time with them.

iLHP: Thank you again for your time and for sharing your animal photography tips with us. 

Alex: It was my pleasure. Thank you Alyssa!

Until next time,

Alyssa

Don’t forget to check out my Instagram, Facebook and Flickr and gallery!

ALEX CEARNS LINKS

Official Website: http://www.houndstoothstudio.com.au

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/HoundstoothStudio

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AlexCearns

Linkedin: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/alex-cearns/21/59a/462

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/alexandracearns

Books: http://www.houndstoothstudio.com.au/shop/order-book/

Workshops: http://www.houndstoothstudio.com.au/services/photography-courses/

Photography tours: http://www.houndstoothstudio.com.au/services/global-tours/