Recently I was asked to photograph a good friends dog, Jordan, who is getting older and having some health problems.
Shoots like this are crazy important to me and before the shoot I’m spending a lot of time thinking about how I’m going to get the best shot possible. No tool or technique is off limits for shoots like this.
When the time came to have the shoot we chose an outdoor farm location to give us plenty of options. While I definitely wanted to get some outdoor shots I also knew that I’d need some studio style shots to get the images I had in mind. So I packed up my gear and arrived on location to set up a mobile studio in one of the buildings on the farm.
Because I don’t know what I’ll be needing on a shoot I usually bring a whole lot of stuff. Some of it never comes out but I still bring plenty since I have no idea what I’ll be using until I arrive on location. Here’s a look at what I packed for this particular location shoot (shot with my iPhone):
If it looks like overkill that’s fine. It’s better to have too much and be ready for anything than to miss a shot because you forgot something.
Setting up a mobile studio can be challenging. It requires some space to set things up and it may have some unique challenges (such as windows pouring light into your shot). At my farm location I quickly found the best room possible and the first thing I did was cover the nearby windows with white foam board (the boards were taped in place with gaffers tape). Once I had some control of the light I set up a white seemless paper background and I started setting up my lights.
Here’s a quick behind the scenes look at my mobile studio that was set up in one of the farm administration buildings.
I was looking for nice, clean and detailed shots of Jordan (and family) and I think the best way to get those shots is to take full control of the light. In this behind-the-scenes shot you can see that I’m using three lights – a 43″ umbrella for a main light, a gridded flash clamped to one of my backdrop stands for a rim light and there’s a flash placed on the floor with a large bounce card being used as a kick light. I also used a 40″ silver reflector to camera left to add some fill light (it’s held in place by the reflector holder on the left side of the shot). The position and power levels of the three flashes changed throughout the shoot.
Here’s one of the first pictures I took of Jordan after everything was set:
The three light setup gave me nice main light with the 43″ umbrella to camera right and I used the kick light on the floor to prevent everything on camera left from being lost in shadow (caused by the big umbrella). The rim light helped to separate Jordan from the background just a bit.
WIth my pictures of Jordan done it was time to get some family members into the shots. Here’s a few shots using the same studio setup with some slight changes to the position and power levels of my flahses:
With the studio shots complete it was time for some outside shots on the scenic farm.
Because it was the middle of the day I didn’t need to bring any flashes along. I wasn’t going for moody or artsy. I wanted more of a “family picnic” look for the outdoor shots. So the flashes stayed behind.
Because it was in the middle of the afternoon the sun was kind of harsh. In situations like this I break out a translucent reflector (the bigger the better) and I use it to create soft light on my subjects. A nice side effect is that your subjects won’t be squinting because of the bright sun. My assistant held a 40″ white (translucent) reflector just out of the frame above the family. While the shot worked fine I really wish that I had an even bigger reflector with me. Here’s my outdoor “family” shot:
If you look close you can see where the shade created by the reflector stopped on Theresa’s shirt (on the left of the shot). A bigger reflector could have covered everyone completely, but you do the best you can with what you have when you’re on location.
After the posed shots it was time for Jordan to unwind and have a little fun. This is the easy part of a shoot since you just bring your camera up to your eye and you let things happen naturally. Every once in a while you press the shutter button to capture a moment. Here’s Jordan going for a swim and playing with a tennis ball:
After a nice long swim in the lake it was time to call it a day. I took one last shot of Jordan looking happy, wet and just a little tired from being in the water.
And that wraps up my shoot with Jordan. While I hope that Jordan is with us for a long time I know that I’ve done what I could to preserve her memory if her health gets any worse and we have to say goodbye to her.