In September 2014 I drove from my home in Middletown, Ohio to the suburbs of Chicago (in a spiffy rented Kia Soul) to participate in a long anticipated event — a pet photography workshop at the home and studio of the nationally recognized, award-winning pet photographer, Barbara Breitsameter. Joining Barbara as our instructors were two other leading pet photographers with plenty of awards of their own, Kim Hartz and Margaret Bryant. I was excited about this great opportunity to improve my knowledge of the art, technical elements, and business of pet photography under the instruction of these three highly successful women in the Pawprint Divas workshop!
Our small group of 12 students had traveled from across the United States (and even from Tasmania!) to attend the workshop. Barbara’s gorgeous home, adjacent studio, beautiful wooded grounds, and a nearby park provided perfect settings for informative presentations and discussions along with plenty of hands-on practice indoors and out.
We began our workshop comfortably around Barbara’s ample dining room table with introductions of instructors and students and the first segment of the presentations which continued until the afternoon. For our first outdoor shooting event, we traveled to a nearby park where Barbara creates gorgeous client images as she makes the most of grassy meadows and beautiful light from the rising or setting sun. (You can view some of these portraits in Barbara’s Signature Sessions gallery here.)
In the following photo, Barbara demonstrates positioning a dog for proper outdoor lighting. The next image is a photo I took of our lovely Golden model. The sun was not quite low enough for the best rim lighting, but it was great practice for me since I shoot in the studio almost 100% of the time. Day one of the workshop ended with a working dinner back at Barbara’s. Kim Hartz took us through the calculations we needed to ensure the running of a profitable business, and all of the instructors shared their valuable business experience and expertise to help us move our own pet photography endeavors forward.
For day two of the workshop, we had a wide variety of models scheduled throughout the day. Some of the time we were all together, and other times we worked in small groups, rotating between models. One of the most exciting practice sessions we had was capturing a running dog in motion. Barbara reviewed the proper camera settings to use and demonstrated for us. One of the workshop assistants ran down the long, curved driveway with our charming model. This was my very first time trying it out, and it was a blast. All the students’ cameras click, click, clicking at once as we did high speed bursts made our little Corgi seem like a world famous movie star being pursued by paparazzi! Many, MANY tries later, I had a passable stop action photo of my own.
Moving from the long, curved driveway where we practiced running shots, we placed the little Corgi into the back yard for a well-earned rest. Barbara’s gorgeous outdoor grounds offered so many photo options, and this rustic bench seemed to be made just for our model!
Another practice session involved five amazingly well-trained models. Their owner placed them in the driveway in a “stay.” Just look at how they watch her to see what they should do next! While they were waiting until it was time to pose them into the back yard, I managed to get one fellow’s attention away from “Mom” for a sweet photo!
Moving from the yard into the studio, Margaret Bryant reviewed using a light meter to check lighting ratios and make exposure adjustments. She also demonstrated using thin show leads to keep our rambunctious Dalmation puppy models positioned on the couch. Margaret is a wonderful teacher, and I learned so much from her, but one standout item was an emphasis on posing dogs to avoid crotch shots. Not only can such shots emphasize less “desirable” parts, but are just less flattering to both male and female subjects! Photographing these squirmy and adorable puppies was so much fun! One had black spots and one brown, plus they had different colored eyes, so they made a beautiful pair!
Another group in our model line-up was a family of Havanese. The father is a gorgeous white award-winning show dog. The puppies were toy-like balls of fluff at the time we saw them. Using the paved area outside the studio and a few props, we had a great time with these little ones! Of course little puppies love to escape and try to run away, but their owner was just outside the shot to safely snag them.
On the final day of the workshop we worked in teams to take different roles directing and shooting mini sessions with volunteer clients. I was assigned to be the photographer for an ever so handsome Portuguese Water Dog and my assigned area was the wooded back yard. When photographing dogs with hair cut in the shape of bushy eyebrows, such as Schnauzers, Poodles, Shi-tzus, and yes, Portuguese Water Dogs, making sure the light gets into their eyes can be challenging. In the studio I can move lights around to accomplish this, but one of the reasons I attended Paw Print Divas was to practice working with natural light. Moving both the dog and my position until I found the perfect sparkle, I created my last portrait of the workshop.
Leaving our instructors; workshop assistants Jim Hoover, Pam Wagner Biasotti, Angela Lawson, and Chris Kittredge; and new pet photography friends was hard! How did the three days go by so fast? Fortunately, we have an online course discussion group, and we continue to share our efforts, ask questions, and get great critiques that help us keep moving our pet portrait work forward.
If this sounds like an amazing experience (and it was!), the same team is offering a workshop in Texas on April 10 11 & 12 and registration is open. To find out more you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Barbara Breitsameter at 847-989-6591.
You also have an opportunity to learn about pet photography from Barbara at the 2015 Imaging USA photography convention in Nashville. She is a platform speaker, and you can learn more about her presentation at imagingusa.org/pages/individual_course/4795.