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Beth’s Pick – how to find your favourite in Animals photography

Wowsers, it’s the end of Your Camera, Your World for this year, and the last day for the Animals theme.

Consistent feedback from the participants shows that the content is on the money. However, rather than run the course live and only twice per year, I’ll be changing the structure so that you can purchase a theme and run through it any time you want over a two week period of lessons. The change in format will do away with the submission and feedback side of things, but I think this is better for beginner level where the focus for the most part is on getting on top of your shootflow using the themes to get the creative juices flowing by trial and error. Feedback from me can come later once you’re a bit more serious and invested in photography, which is when I feel you’d be at intermediate level.

The current participants were on the original system, and they submitted one killer capture of an Animal each for feedback from me. All awesome captures, and it was interesting to see that when push came to shove most were drawn to their own pets because of the love-tug. This is normal as I believe if you feel connected to your subject, you’re more likely to do more to get the pictures you want because your heart is invested.

Ann submitted in fact two images, below. I thought I’d share them with you because it was interesting to observe:

  • the story behind each capture
  • how each image expressed its story
  • Ann’s selection decision

First, here are Ann’s images:

Abbey the cat and Darcy the dog – they’re great, aren’t they!?

Animals photography

Second, here’s Ann’s commentary:

‘I loved animals! This unit has taken me to parks, boardwalks, wildlife parks, ponds…. Seeking photo opportunities on dry land and after tropical deluges – and I have managed to photograph water dragons, pelicans, swans nesting. eagles soaring, ducks and water birds as well as kangaroos and koalas napping. The addition of the human element had me questioning each photo. It’s been a great module thank you!

However, the final two photos came much closer to home – our pets… And I think it is the emotional connection to the subjects that make me chose them over others. In narrowing my choice to one…  the cat wins out (as I played with the post-production and was happier with the final image).

Story

Our tabby, Abbey, is a REAL princess – our home and surroundings were her kingdom until about 12 months ago when a demarcation dispute occurred. The cat retreated to the front and rarely do our two pets meet. (please look at first photo).

This image is of Abbey contemplating her fate, should she venture through the back gate, my second photo of Darcy may explain her hesitation… Her dilemma is that her human’s are also out there…. (please look at second image).

Taken late afternoon – the sun is shining through the leaves highlighting her fur.

In Photoshop I’ve increased vibrancy and desaturated to isolate the reddish-brown tones in her fur as well as rusty gate and leaves and left in her green eyes – this made her stand out against the background and I think added to the mood.  In hindsight, I think I should have been lower and had a tighter crop of the gate but as the cat believes that anyone down low will pat her and swiftly tries to take advantage of it. I was just pleased to have captured her at the gate…’

My little lesson for you:

1. Each image has a distinct story for each animal. Have a look and isolate the story for each animal.

2. How do you think each image executes the idea?

3. In the selection process Ann officially put forward Abbey the cat. Do you think this was the best image to submit, or not? Why?

My two Bob’s worth:

Okey, for the cat photo, Ann wanted to show how Abbey never ventures beyond the gate. This means that the gate and Abbey the cat are both important subjects in her picture.

As the viewer coming in new, I didn’t see the emotional context of this story, which is, the cat’s hesitation. This is totally fair enough, because cats are tricky as their facial expression doesn’t really change a lot. So in this capture, whilst her behaviour shows her at the gate, her expression doesn’t quite give me that feeling of ‘let me out so I can be with you’. She’s looking through the gate and at first I thought something had caught her eye on the other side, like an insect.

I feel this image is almost there, but not quite, as far as how it relates to what Ann wanted to say about Abbey.  To me, and this is subjective of course, what’s missing is a stronger sense of that gate being the barrier. A lower angle and horizontal composition to show the scale of the barrier might have helped.

I thought it was excellent that Ann could step back and see the image more objectively afterwards. Letting go and reviewing your work without so much attachment is fantastic because you make decisions that ultimately are best for the photo idea being expressed at its best.

I’d love to see Ann give that exact idea another try. Give it more time, and try some different compositions that show more of the gate which is a key element to her idea.

What are your thoughts?

Then for Darcy the dog, the story is not actually stated by Ann – although I think I can join the dots and say that Darcy is very boisterious and active, which is too much for Abbey. The hose is running, and we have a leaping dog on our hands. The background is clean and so we can focus on the hero – Darcy in full flight and doggie delight. Ann’s camera angle, camera settings and decisive moment are all spot on. It’s dynamic and those wet, pricked ears are just perfect! All the elements come together to successfully articulate the idea about boisterous Darcy.

Do you agree? Or not? If not, why not?

When it comes to selecting an image for a purpose

If there’s anything at all in an image that doesn’t quite work, that’s jarring, that bugs you, that doesn’t quite fit – then these are all valid reasons to let that image go to make way for a better version. In Ann’s case I think she knew already that Abbey’s picture was almost there, but not quite. Darcy’s picture, in my view, ‘lands’ on all counts. And so for that reason, if I had to choose between the two, I would pick Darcy’s image.

I talk from time to time about going for that little piece of cheese. It comes from Henri Cartier-Bresson’s quote: ‘We seldom take great pictures. You have to milk the cow a lot and get lots of milk to make a little piece of cheese.’

It can be hard sometimes to detach from our photos so we can make objective decisions that lead us ultimately to that little piece of cheese. Certainly I learned about this as I studied photography – you push and push to get to that piece of cheese. And you know that if you didn’t quite get there this time, that you’ll know exactly where to pick up from if you have another go at that exact same idea again.

‘Go and reshoot it’ – I hated my lecturers every time they said that to me! But, they were just trying to push me towards those pieces of cheese. It was sound advice that served me in good stead. I didn’t realise that they believed in me and knew that I could do it. It felt like criticism and I thought they were just trying to create work for me for the sake of it.  When you’re in it, it’s hard to see sometimes how it can be better, so it feels like defeat to be told that. But in fact they could see what I couldn’t yet see – that with practice, I could do it, and usually, I did.

So go, practice and keep reviewing your images, and don’t let go of the bigger goal – to create those wonderful pieces of cheese to share with the world. Because the world needs your pictures!

Thank you Ann, for your wonderful contribution. You’ve done an outstanding job and should feel very proud of your results.

B

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