Meet the At-Home Maker: Erik's Pet Portrait Tutorial

Meet the At-Home Maker: Erik's Pet Portrait Tutorial

Bridge & Burn Founder, Erik Prowell, is a man of many talents; business owner, creative, former college athlete and now proud papa to a 15-week old lab/shepherd mix puppy named Alma. Anyone who's had a puppy knows that they grow up in the blink of an eye, so getting proper documentation of their adorableness is a must. Erik has always had a passion for portrait photography and thought he'd share some of his tips to snapping that oh-so-perfect pic of your pup (or kitten or little one!). Read on to learn from Erik how you can set up your own pet portrait studio from the comfort of your home.

What You Need:
1. Cute animal
2. Backdrop
3. A camera that allows manual settings
4. Window/natural light
5. Treats
6. Patience

    How You Do It:
    I’ve always been drawn to portrait photography, but up until now, I have only shot people. Our household got a rescue puppy in the last month and I decided I needed to document her at her young age. This is my first attempt at animal portraiture and I learned a ton - so I thought I'd pass it on to you!

    Lighting is the most important factor in getting good portraits. I opted to work next to a West facing window in late afternoon and out of direct sunlight. I chose to use two lighting techniques for this project. This first is called butterfly lighting, which means the subjects face is fully lit. To do this, I set up with the backdrop facing the window. When shooting portraits, I like to use a wide aperture that creates a shallow depth of field. This means that only certain parts of the image will be in focus, while the majority is blurred a bit. This draws the viewers eye to certain parts of the image. I shot these images with an aperture of 2.8 and 3.2. Shooting this wide also works well in the home, as you don’t need as much light to get proper exposure, and as you can see, her face is fully lit and you can see highlights in both of her eyes.

    I quickly realized that shooting animals requires a lot of patience. Alma, our new pup, is just learning to sit and stay, plus she has a pretty short attention span. In this situation, treats are your friend! It was also interesting to note that it took her a while to feel comfortable in front of the camera, which is often the case when shooting people too. It’s also much more difficult to direct animal models. With people, you can just ask them to turn their head so that the light will hit their face at a flattering angle. With Alma, I found that if I held a treat in my hand, I could use it to direct her gaze.

    I often prefer moodier lighting with my portraits. To capture on like this, I decided to move the backdrop so that light from the window was coming in from the side, which depending on the angle is called split light or Rembrandt light. With this technique, a portion of the subjects face will be in shadow and can be more dramatic. You can see below I set up the backdrop in relation to the window.

    Alma and I were in a better rhythm with the second set up and we got some good shots. As you can she, she started to get a little bored by the end, so we decided to call it a day and go for a walk! It's hard work being a pup, especially with a full day on set.