If you’ve ever browsed our Instagram feed, received our exclusive insider emails or followed us on Facebook, you’ll find an array of colourful photos as well as a few fluffy puppies which frequent our posts, posing proudly in their Danes & Divas® gear.
These puppies are always captured beautifully, eyes sparkling, fluff (and outfits) on point. The photographs have almost a signature look that can be recognized across the Insta-verse and can only be the fabulous work of the talented Marissa Rocke, an expert in fine art photography.
Marissa has previously shared a few of her expert photography tips on her pup’s IG account (@geronimo_mo) but we thought what better time for a refresher than right before peak puppy portrait season?
Without further delay, let’s get into some Q&A:
D&D: First things first, what camera are you currently working with?
MR: I use a Canon 5D Mark III with various lenses that have various application purposes. But I also use a variety of other cameras both old and new from 35mm & 120mm film cameras, a Fuji XT2 and of course the iPhone!
If you are a novice or someone with a budding passion for photography, not to worry! There are hundreds of camera models, which can achieve the same quality! Remember it's ALL about who is behind the camera and what they are doing! Spend an afternoon and do some research and definitely look at camera/buyer reviews.
I [also] recommend 'Studio Anywhere’ by Nick Fancher.
D&D: What are some tips on composing an image?
MR: When you take out your camera and start to take pictures, take a little extra time to think about interesting ways to compose the image. Don't just think about every image as a straight on shot, but investigate from an angle, from above, below, off center your subject, look for lines and shapes that point or lead to your subject. Think about light and dark, color and composition [and how] these elements interact with your subject.
D&D: How do you capture such crisp photos with wiggly puppies?
MR: If you are using a camera with the ability to Auto focus, this is helpful, but sometimes (and many times) not focusing on what you actually want the camera to focus on. This is because Auto focus in Auto mode often selects the object closest to you. But what if you are trying to focus on something behind that? Look for options in your camera menu to select your focus points, and then select the specific points for each image, depending on what your desired focus is! Most all camera models will focus on your subject when you depress the shutter button half way down. You can play with your focus this way before you actually ever take a single shot. You can [also] use manual focus, and this is definitely more intuitive, but much harder to focus on constantly moving subjects (like doggies!)
D&D: What is Depth of Field and how do you use this to make backgrounds soft, but subjects sharp?
MR: Depth of field is what results from the amount of light let into your camera via your Aperture setting for each exposure. The farther your subject is from your background the more extreme this effect will be!
Aperture settings, known as F-stops are the numbers you see on your camera like 1.2, 2.8, 5.6, 8, 11, 16 etc. At 1.2 - 5.6, you are letting as much light in as your lens will allow, thus your aperture iris is Wide Open. With these settings you will achieve a much greater fall off in focus (shallow depth of field effect), where your subject is in focus, but the background fades out of focus rather quickly. In other words, your background will be super soft and out of focus, a very pretty effect that focuses viewers on the subject not the background.
If your Aperture is set to 11, 16 or at best 32, this is the smallest opening of your aperture iris, letting in very little light and allowing for extreme focus in foreground and background! These settings are best for landscape shots or shots where you want the whole scene in crisp focus!
In changing these settings, you also need to adjust your shutter speed to shoot faster or slower depending on you lighting situation. Some low light situations where you want extreme focus throughout the entire image will call for use of a tripod and a longer exposure (e.g. 1 second or more).
D&D: How can we capture stunning close-up portraits?
MR: A fixed focal length lens like an 85mm or 100mm will give you amazing focus at very close range. Some zoom lenses can be macro as well, though can't focus as well or as sharp as a fixed lens. When you get very close to a subject and use the shallow depth of field effect with your aperture settings wide open, the focus fall off is quite stunning!
D&D: What about action shots?
MR: [For Freezing Action], you need enough light, meaning it would be ideal to be shooting action on a clear to bright sunny or even a cloudy day. This is so that you can set your shutter speed to shoot fast enough to freeze motion and maintain a decent exposure. Depending on how fast your subject is you may need to shoot at 1/250th - 1/500th of a second. You may need to open up your aperture as well to allow in more light because as you shoot faster, you are also limiting the time that light can expose your image. Play with both, until you see your subject is sharp in their movement and also the exposure is bright enough.
[For Motion Blur], you need to set your exposure for the time of day, we recommend starting with the “Sunny 16 Rule” which means if its a bright sunny day, you want to start your manual exposure with f16 & 1/125th [and] you can adjust from there. If it’s too dark, adjust your shutter speed to be slower... try 1/25th. You need your shutter speed to be slow enough so that as you pan the camera following your subject’s movement, you have enough time to do so before the shutter closes.
Try to follow your subject at the same pace as they are moving for best results. If you do it right, you will find the subject in somewhat focus with only some natural motion blur, but the background is completely blurry. Makes your subject look like they are moving at light speed! You can try using a tripod when panning as well for even better results!
D&D: What about backdrops? How can we use these and where can we find them?
You need two stands, a rod or pole and clamps to hold the rod in place on top of the stands. The paper roll is hung from the rod and draped over a table or the floor. This creates a 'seamless' effect (there is a curve where the paper drapes and falls over a surface).
You can use fabric and poster board to the same effect. In fact fabric is awesome! You can go to the fabric store and buy any color fabric you desire, something with some weight to it that doesn't wrinkle easily is best. Ask them to roll your cut fabric on a cardboard roll and I would suggest getting 2-3 yards.
You can also use a wall as a backdrop as we've seen many of you doing! Just use that shallow depth of field effect from our previous post, set your subject at least 5-6 feet away from your wall and you have a lovely soft (out of focus) natural backdrop!
D&D: What tips do you have for lighting?
MR: There are several types of light that are best suited for excellent photographic experiences!
The Golden Hour is both at sunrise and sunset when the light is golden and bright, shadows are long and subjects appear to glow. [This is] a beautiful time to create magical imagery!
Cloudy days are also excellent for photography! Clouds and overcast create a giant soft-box effect. The light is even and colors appear true and rich! Don't let a cloudy day stop you from getting out and taking pictures [because] you'll be thrilled with what you come away with! [endif]
Bright sun at mid-day offers a different quality of light. If worked with properly you can create stunning imagery where your subject is bright in certain areas and shadowy in others for a more dramatic effect! Make sure your subject is facing the sun (or at least a side or the part you wish to expose is facing the sun). Your back should be to the sun or to your side. If you shoot into the sun, your subject will become a silhouette!
D&D: What are some ways to step up your Instagram photos?
MR: Simple, fun objects can be the missing piece to any image [and] the right prop can turn your image into so much more. We love to add props to our images in order to tell a story, show our personality, or just to be silly!
Toys are great to use as props, especially since they can be so colorful and creative.
Props can be anything from a household item, a toy, a plant or article of clothing - get creative! Search [for] some inspiration. Make a prop out of paper or wood. Go to the flea market or thrift store and find something fun!
Adding a human element to our photos does more than just create scale, but makes it more relatable and curious. Showing a hand, arm, legs or some other sort of human touch invites the viewer to explore an image that much further.
Other examples of adding a human element include Images shot from above looking down showing your feet; A hand coming in from out of frame, shaking your dogs paw, holding your pet up above your head.
D&D: How about styling our Instagram feeds?
MR: Your feed speaks to you and your personality. Whether it’s filled with color, black and white, landscapes, pets, people, adventures, leisure, travel etc. When someone comes to your page they see a grid of 9 images! These images should compliment each other and grab the attention of the viewer in the hopes that they consider following you!
Many times I have posted an image and then kept going back to my feed, like something just wasn't right, and had to delete it. I may like the image by itself, but maybe it's competing with other images, or maybe it is just so far beyond what my usual style is. I will delete it from my feed and save it for another day when maybe it will fit. Instagram is all visual, so not only should your posts be interesting, but your content should speak to you and who you are as an individual. Sometimes this is hard to follow all the time, but try! Where do you shoot most of the time, what colors are in the spaces you shoot frequently? What compositional elements do you use? Consider the Rule of thirds, using lines to draw attention to your subject, consider both A-symmetry and symmetry!
Once you start to consciously recognize these things, you are now honing in on your style. You can now use these as guidelines, whatever they may be to come up with your next image.
D&D: What are some tips you have for iPhone/Smartphone photography?
MR: Whether your iPhone is your only camera, OR its all you have at an opportune moment, the following tips will help you get the most out of your mobile photos!
- Take your time. Just because you are using your phone to take an image, doesn't mean you have to rush through the process. Hold your phone up to your subject and take a few minutes to figure out an interesting composition. Try to think outside of the box… or better yet think of all the inspirational Instagram photos you see on a daily basis! Things to consider: Centering your subject vs. A-symmetry/Rule of Thirds. Negative Space - add some breathing room to a busy image, maybe more sky or blank space in the image. Perspective - get closer or farther away! Images become more interesting when we see them from different points of view. Can't get closer? Crop in. Look for leading lines that will provide a sense of direction to your image. Lines help navigate your viewer through an image and encourage their eyes to move around it and hopefully linger. Once you think you have composed an interesting image, don't forget to lock your focus on your phone’s screen by holding your finger for a few seconds over your subject.
- LIGHT is KEY! How does the light fall on the scene, can you use the direction of the light to your advantage? Brightness is our friend in iPhone photography, the brighter the better, but be mindful not to over expose highlight areas. Its all about finding a balance of light and details. Some other extreme lighting options…add some lens flare or silhouette your subject against the light. As a rule of thumb with phone photography, LIGHT is KEY! Since the sensor’s in our phones are not as advanced as DSLR camera’s, having enough light in an image can avoid the dingy, noisy shots we are all too familiar with. Direct or Indirect Sunlight is always a plus, and cloudy or snowy days create lovely bright diffused light on a subject.
- Edit those photos. Don’t feel like a cheater, we all do it! I love my Photo & Video editing Apps! 100% of the time I add some extra punch to my phone photos, because I am just not completely satisfied with what my phone is capable of. Typically I add 10% brightness, 10% contrast, 10% sharpness and (+/-)5-10% (de)saturation in any given photo taken on my phone. Sometimes I even start with a few of my favorite presets, and then adjust from there. This also can help you create a look and style for all of your images. Some photo editing iPhone Apps I recommend are:
- VSCO - Advanced editing features + presets
- AColorStory - Advanced editing features + presets
- Adobe Photoshop Express
- Golden Hour - An App to show you when the light is Golden, Blue and Sunset /Sunrise in your area. Great way to plan your phone photo shoots! ◼︎
A huge thank you to Marissa for sharing her professional photography tips with all of us!
Here at Danes & Divas, we have utilized her tips over the last year to polish our own Instagram feed and are so pleased with the results.
Be sure to checkout Marissa's Insta-accounts @geronimo_mo and @marissarocke as well as Geronimo's Facebook Page.