Monday, December 18, 2017

Nola's Christmas Photo Shoot + Small Dog Photography Tips

Hey guys!

I love Christmas time. There's something about all the soft lights, the sharpness of the air, and the cliche-but-also-somehow-true sense of quiet peace that comes with this season that just leaves me feeling inspired and itching to pick up my camera. So that's what I did!

Before I show you Miss Nola's shoot, I want to share a view easy tips for better dog (or any pet, I suppose!) photography, especially if you have a small dog. Let's jump in!

1. Nice and Rosy, Comfy and Cozy

Nola's a pro with any and all kinds of shoots, but she definitely appreciates when things are comfy and cozy. ;) If things are warm and cushy, your pup is more likely to want to cooperate and you'll also get some sweet candid moments. 
Pillows, blankets, even some faux fur will all be greatly appreciate by your dog, especially if it's chilly out! Plus, all of that adds texture and color, making your photos more appealing and natural looking.

This faux fur (pretty cheap and easy to find at fabric stores, or online) is warm and soft, and Nola was more than happy to snuggle in for a photo session.

2. A Basket Case

If you have a little  dog that isn't too keen on holding a stay for an extended period of time (because it takes a 100 pictures to get a few good ones, amiright?), try get them settling into a higher-sided basket with a nice blanket inside of it. This is especially helpful for puppies! Again, it gives some fun texture and is a cool prop in addition to being a helpful hack. 

This was just me testing light and color, but here's the box I used for Nola. It's vintage and wooden, really unique and adds fantastic color and texture. It can also be used for your put to sit on top of, or used later on as a prop on its own. You'll see both later!

3. All is Calm, All is Bright

This may be a no brainer, but don't attempt a photoshoot when your pup is hyped up. I always schedule my shoots for after a nice walk or play session, and for extra calmness, I add in a short training session. A calm dog is much, much easier to work with! Plus, a lot of people prefer to have more serene photos for Christmas, and this helps.

As weird as it sounds, soothing music helps a ton. It puts you and your dog in a relax and happy mood!
Shoutout to Sleeping At Last's Christmas playlist. I love that band and their covers of classic Christmas songs added the perfect touch.

4. I Heard The Bells on Christmas Morning

For those that want super perky, focused head shots, try different kinds of sounds to get your dog's attention. Bells, a different whistle than you normally use, kissy noises, squeaky toys, different animal noises, anything that's out of the ordinary and attention getting. Don't be afraid to look and sound like an idiot. ;) YouTube is full of videos to make your dog perk up, or even give that coveted head tilt. Nola's very found of whining puppies or husky howls. There's also various apps for both Apple and Android you can check out.

5. A White Christmas

White is a great color to use for any time, but especially for photos and ESPECIALLY if it's indoors. White looks clean, professional, and helps bounce and reflect light. Great for those lowlight conditions! Hanging a sheet or blanket up (pinning to a wall, hanging over a balcony railing, even trailing it over a couple of chairs makes a quick and easy backdrop. For a cleaner look, make sure all the wrinkles are smoothed out before you pick up the camera.
White Christmas lights, strung either over or behind your backdrop (depending on the thickness and amount of lights you have), are classic and festive without venturing into tacky. If you like the colored lights or more playful feel, that's totally okay and would work just as well!
I would advise against LED lights, though. They're incredibly harsh and give off a very unnatural and unforgiving glow, especially if you aren't shooting in manual. 

Initial backdrop. It's actually light grey, but since I was using a fixed focal length lens and shooting manual, it wound up looking white. If you don't use a DLSR or don't shoot manual, don't cheat and use a different color. 

Started with three strands of lights. Wound up adding a couple more!

This family heirloom fireplace screen was perfect for weaving lights over. And Miss Nola is just sitting on a couch cushion covered by a lightly textured blanket.

Need some more inspiration? I'll let you in on a little secret: the vast majority of my ideas for Nola's more formal shots are tweaked from newborn photography setups. After all, she's the size of a baby! ;) Pinterest will be your best friend. Child photography setups work well for larger dogs, too!

Nola's Christmas Photoshoot, 2017

Shot with a Nikon D3400, 35mm lens, manual mode. 
Shutter: 150-400
F-stop: 1.8-2.2
ISO: 400
White balance: Shade

These little lights on her are my new favorite prop. Battery operated and pretty cheap at Target!

Don't be afraid to add in some color!
Also feel free to play with trends, but I prefer going off trend just slightly. For example, buffalo plaid is HUGE right now, and that's what this is. However, it's blue and white instead of the traditional black and red. 

Add in fun props! I just cued her to touch the bottom of the cup, but if your pup doesn't know that trick, just drop a treat in there and click away. 

I prefer a more minimalistic look, but these props were so fun. A little beachy, a little farm house, a little boho. 

The obligatory Santa hat shot!

This is the crate she was sitting in early. 

Warm and cozy!

I love the texture this blanket gives!

Play with angle, props, ect. Just have fun with it.

The coveted head tilt, courtesy of YouTube dogs making a ruckus. This is edited a little in Lightroom CC, but the original is below.
Editing: increased exposure, lightly brightened the side of her face, upped the whites and highlights, and the most extensive was cloning some of the bokeh to give it a softer, more plentiful feel. 

Lazy like me? Use your tree!

Our little backyard Christmas tree was the backdrop here.

Tacky tinsel gives a really fun, glittery look!


Monday, December 11, 2017

Nola in NOLA - Little Dog, Big Adventures

For those that either don't know or haven't guessed, Miss Nola is named after New Orleans, Louisiana, and I have always wanted to take her to her namesake city.  Back in September, in an effort to flee from Hurricane Irma (and let's be real here and admit that we'll take any excuse to travel, no matter how flimsy), we did just that. Our Crescent City adventure was such an experience, and I'm excited to share it with you guys!

First, New Orleans has been the only place where I never once had to explain Nola's name. Everyone we spoke to instantly made the connection and got a huge kick out of it. Freaking finally. ;)


New Orleans is a very unique city, with a vibe and sort of grungy, ragtag beauty all its own. It's absolutely stunning in so many ways, and is a highly stimulating place to be. Architecture that's grand and gothic on once street, then delicate and undeniably French on the next, all kinds of restaurants and hole in the wall eateries for every palate imaginable, enough bars to keep everyone happy, and art around every corner. I spent hours wandering the French Quarter with Nola and still didn't get my fill.

I loved these best of all. The the plants and massive ferns gave me life!

It's also fucking filthy. Absolutely disgusting in several place. It still hasn't recovered from Katrina, and you get the sense that the residents are okay with that when you hear people speak and watch the way they treat their city. Trash is everywhere, both in the literal and metaphorical sense. So many places are not maintained in the slightest, and tourists and locals alike treat the place with zero respect. It left me with an odd sense of sadness to see such a beautiful, historic place left in shambles.

One of the few intact and non-vandalized old horse hitch ups.

Usually I am very pro-pet travel, and encourage taking your dog with you if it's at all possible, but let me give you fair warning if you're considering visiting The Crescent City with your dog in tow. Unless your dog is impeccably trained, socialized and stable, they need to stay home or at whatever place you're staying while you explore the more bustling parts of the city. The place is relatively dog friendly for the south (not that our standards are very high....), but if it's stimulating for people, it is a circus for a dog. Be an advocate for your dog and really consider if what I describe below is something they'd be okay with and enjoy.

Waiting at each curb until release to pass. People don't pay attention at all when they drive through the quarter.

Tulane is behind her

Nola blew me away with how well she did. She was flawless with the dozens and dozens of people that came up to interact with us, ignored the hundreds of other dogs (even when they came up quite rudely to her), perfectly obeyed every leave it no matter how tempting the food someone tossed was, stopped and waited at every curb and doorway. Was sweet and gentle with children of all ages and never hesitated to follow a cue. Was alert but non-confronational when we were approached by hustlers, and carefully avoided and ignored the many drunks that called out or stumbled by.
She didn't bat an eye at the horse drawn carriages passing mere feet from her, strutted through throngs of people, calmly watched a cacophony of street performers in Jackson Square, didn't so much as flinch at construction and freaking thrived on the energy of the place. This was the biggest city she'd ever been to, and she took it all in stride.

Technically this one's a mule drawn carriage. 

I have never been more proud to be an ambassador for the dachshund breed than I was on that weekend. Everyone complimented her and gushed about how sweet, quiet and well behaved she was. The best compliment I can get is when someone tells me she's made them see the breed in a different light. We met people from England, Australia, the Philippines and all over the states, and she charmed every single one of them. She is truly the best little thing ever. #ProudDogMomAF

We visited Audubon Park, Tulane College, The French Quarter. Saw Jackson Square, the St. Lois Cathedral, had a banging salad with duck on it, and even visited a voodoo shop.

Small dog friendly! Total tourist trap though. You'll have to dig deeper if you want to find the legit places. 

The park in Jackson Square is definitely not dog friendly, but I may or may not have snuck Nola in for a minute for shits and giggles. ;) Oddly enough, it's not marked at all that it isn't dog friendly, and there were at least 20 dogs that passed through while we were there. If I hadn't googled the city extensively before the trip, I wouldn't have known that park didn't allow dogs. Poor signage on the city's part, for sure.
The cemeteries and little trollies are also not dog friendly, and the cemeteries have very odd hours.

There was very, very creative art featuring genitalia just out of frame on the right. You definitely don't run out of things to look at here. ;)

The live music can't be beat, especially in Jackson Square. Everything from impromptu bands and dances, to solo performers and just people enjoying themselves. One older gentleman did a perfect rendition of Lois Armstrong Dream a Little Dream. You can literally just sit and have every kind of entertainment imaginable.

The place is beautiful, if disgusting at many points, and I'd love to go back there. Just not in September. Maybe January next time. ;)

Stay hydrated!

After a long day of trekking around, we drove back around 45 minutes from the city to our hotel. Sunburnt, satisfied, and happy.