Pushing myself

When I started photographing pets, I swore up and down, I would only ever work on location in natural light. To me, that made the most sense. No worries about lighting gear, props or much of anything else except my camera, a dog and a beautiful location. Except, that means being at the mercy of Mother Nature. Which, if you live in State College, you know how uncooperative she can be. It's not uncommon to have dark, cloudy conditions for days, even weeks on end. Which is probably the most undesirable weather to photograph in. 

Like many creatives, I get a lot of inspiration from looking at other artists' work, including portrait, wedding, landscape and of course pet photographers. One thing I began noticing was that I was drawn to images that had a certain quality about them, something that my images didn't have. And that was light and shadows. It actually took me a while to figure this out, but once I saw it, I couldn't help but notice it in almost every image I loved. As I went about my day, I found myself paying more attention to the sun and the shadows it cast throughout the day. I looked closely at my images and saw how they were all flat and evenly lit. Remember how I said that in State College we can get stuck in weather patterns where we don't see the sun for weeks at a time? So it's really no surprise. And that's ok. The right overcast light makes for some absolutely gorgeous light. But that also means the absence of shadows.

I wanted to shake things up. So last year I made it a goal to learn off-camera lighting, or OCF for short. Which opened a whole new world up for me. At first, it was a pain to drag all my equipment out on location. With an added anxiety about learning how to work my lighting gear, it wasn't uncommon for me to break out in a sweat. And there's the frustration of not getting my settings right, figuring out what I was doing wrong and making adjustments. But I picked up this skill pretty quickly. Seeing my images on my computer screen and knowing I had "nailed" it made me eager to keep on trying. The more I practiced, the better I got and the less time it was taking me to get "the" shot. And the less hassle I found it to pack my gear, set it up, and then tear it back down.

While I was in Florida, I wanted to practice using OCF in other lighting conditions than I had been shooting here in PA. Which was mostly during the middle of the afternoon on a partly cloudy day. So Steve and I packed up our dogs, all my gear and headed to this wonderful little park in Sarasota on a beautiful sunny evening. I set up my light and worked on balancing backlighting from a setting sun with a strobe. And got these images. 


If I hadn't added the strobe, then Steve and Izzy would have been silhouettes. Which would be fine too, except that wasn't my intention.

For the following images, I turned around so my back was to the sun and put my dogs under a tree in the shade. You can shoot in this condition without a strobe, but you'd have to crank up the ISO pretty high. Thus, I added a strobe to make my subject pop. 


I'm happy with how they turned out. Unless you are a photographer, you probably don't get as excited about this as I do. But it's fun to learn new techniques and go out and try it for myself. As any photographer will tell you, photography is all about the light. For the once stubborn photographer who was afraid to learn how to use off-camera flash, I'm so glad I pushed myself to experiment! I can't wait to get out and experiment even more!