Ask Aurelie

Ask Aurelie

To celebrate National Pet Month, we’re super lucky to have been able to catch up (virtually, of course!) with the super talented pooch (and human) photographer and content creator behind Marcel aka Le Corgi, Aurelie Four.

Earlier this week, you sent in a whole host of questions via our Instagram page for Aurelie, from how to get your four-legged friends to pose for the camera to how to nail those all-important action shots.

Not only will she be answering all your pooch photography queries, but she will also be sharing her top tips for getting the pur-fect pics!

So without further ado…lights, camera, Aurelie!

Aurelie’s Top Tips

Companion animals and dogs especially are important family members and they have a very special place in our hearts. Sadly they are not eternal and so capturing them regularly on camera is important to create lasting, happy memories.

Whilst these will not replace a professional photographer, here are some simple tips to use at home to capture your dogs (and other companion animals). These can be used when using a camera or a smartphone:

Get down to their level and them make eye contact. Being able to relate with the subject is super important and this helps. Eyes are the gateway to the soul and communicate their emotions (just as long as we remember that those emotions and signs of being relaxed are different to human emotions).

To encourage a dog to look at the camera, training regularly and using positive reinforcement is key. Some are motivated by treats, others by a toy, or praise. Reward and praise immediately when they look at the camera. Eventually introduce a command such as “look at me” or “look”. A well-timed whine or strange noise can also make the dogs look at the camera for a second and perk their ears up (be quick to take the photo!)

Make sure the picture is in focus (with the focus on their eyes) and not too blurry. Do not hesitate to make use of your phone’s features such as portrait mode which will focus on the subject and blur the backdrop, and use the burst mode of your camera or phone, in good light conditions (not when it is too dark) to capture and freeze movement.

Check the background, always be aware of what is going on and avoid things that could take attention from the subject (messy house, cars, people, rubbish…). Get rid of the clutter. If an element in the background does not enhance an image, remove it or move locations. This will also save you from having to remove those objects when editing.

Use natural light, indoors and outdoors. Avoid being in the direct sun as this will create harsh shadows and blinking eyes. I prefer an area with shade (shade where the dog is placed but also in the background or foreground) and/or to take photos early or late during the day (just after sunrise or just before sunset) when the light is softer than in the middle of the day.

Be patient, relax, keep the sessions short and positive. Train them to like the camera and to basic commands (sit, stay) and pay your model… Remember that dogs are emotional sponges and will pick up on our stress, and learn to read signs of stress or tiredness in dogs (too much yawning, lip licking, ears flattened…). Work around your dog’s sleeping schedule and limits and never push them, there is always next time! Dogs love to please but they need to know what is expected of them (i.e looking at the camera, staying in place) and to be trained and comfortable doing so. Reward them with a treat (don’t forget to take this off their daily food portion to not overfeed them!) or their favourite toy and a lot of praise.

Be quiet and move slowly, avoid saying their name too often. Don’t “bark” commands at them or fidget, or they will get confused or freaked out. Use non verbal communication (ie hand signs) and, if giving verbal commands, give them quietly and only once or twice. When shifting position, dogs (and cats) sense you are off on a new adventure and will likely want to follow you, especially if they are in a sit or lay down position. Avoid saying their name too often as the more they hear it the more they will be likely to “tune out”.

Finally… Have fun! Capture your dog’s true character and the bond you have with them (don’t hesitate to get in the picture too sometimes). Let them “be them” to show their personalities. Taking photos should be a game for them (and you, they pick up on our emotions) which will result in capturing happier photos with their ears up and them relaxed. Having fun will also mean their attention span will be extended and there will be happy memories tied to those pictures!

Aurelie’s Answers

How do I get my dog to look in the direction I want?

Dogs need to know what is expected of them so training is key to get a dog to look in a specific direction, with positive reinforcement, always, and in short bursts. It’s a great way to reinforce our bond with them and have fun too.

Teach them to first be comfortable to look at the camera (they tend to not do this as don’t know what that object does besides blocking them from making eye contact with you, and it makes strange noises) by rewarding them with praise, a treat or their fave toy when they do look at it. Eventually add a word or command (such as “look at me”) associated with the desired behaviour. To get them to look away, do the same but rewarding them when they look away and eventually add a word or command so they know what’s expected of them.

Quick tips:

  • To get them to look at the camera or phone, use a treat holder that clips onto the camera or phone (or just hold a treat with your other hand if you can) or a gadget that holds a ball.
  • To get them to look away from the camera, simply have someone get their attention in that direction.

What’s the best way to get a action shot that’s not blurry on a mobile phone?

Using the burst mode on your phone (usually by keeping your finger pressed on the shutter button on smartphones, and by sliding the shutter’s button to the left on an Iphone). Using the iPhone’s live mode also helps to capture movement and then decide what part of it you want to keep.

Find a well lit backdrop but not with too much light: just like for a camera in automatic or semi automatic mode, your phone’s shutter speed is likely determined by the background’s illumination thereby playing a role in the focus of your image. Avoid using auto focus in these situations and instead tap on the screen to focus on the subject as it moves.

Utilise your phone’s HDR (High Dynamic Range) which works by joining bright, normal and dark exposures to help you get the best shot possible.

In your opinion, what are some of the things to be aware of when establishing a social media presence for a pupper?

It’s never the answer people want but I don’t know anyone with an authentic big account (dog or human) that grew it on purpose or easily (unless they went viral but that is rarely something that lasts through time) so I would think about why I want to grow a social media presence (Marcel’s grew because we talk about what we enjoy and created a community around this and him, it was never my intention to make him famous).

I would make sure to reflect the pup’s personality, never force them to do anything (no amount of likes is worth your dog’s health or your bond), have fun (both the human and the dog, it shows on social media) and allow them to “be a dog”. Take quality pictures or videos, utilise all functions available (such as Reels on Instagram), post and engage regularly (on your posts and other like-minded accounts) and in authentic and meaningful ways (avoiding emoji comments, or self promotional ones).

Additionally, I would stay away from the “fast” and unauthentic ways to grow an account (engagement pods or groups, buying likes or comments or followers, using bots, following and unfollowing…), they are just a quick fix that will get spotted by the platforms and have zero value to potential brands. It takes time and a lot of work, there is no easy way around that. Always remember that you have a living being with feelings (and to spend more quality time with them than on their social media) and never get one for fame.

I have two Corgis who are 5 years old. They’re sisters and always egg each other on. I cannot seem to get good photos of them together or apart and when I use treats it becomes a drool fest. Any ideas?

First of all make sure they are exercised before taking photos, not too much that they are tired but if they have too much energy before you even start, they won’t stay still.

One thing that helps when taking photos of multiple dogs is having them on a bench for example, if posed shots is the end result wanted.

Get them gradually used to looking at the camera and rewarding (see previous question) but then gradually remove those treats so the drool does not happen that much and replace with praising with your voice or a toy if they are toy motivated too. Most dogs look away from the camera because they do not know what is expected from them and the camera or phone makes strange noises.

Finally, I would just adapt (and be quick to take photos) to them, action or more freestyle shots often reflect their personalities so much better than a posed shot!

What simple things could I try to make my pet photography more fun?

Let your pet be “them”, avoid too much posing (unless it is what you or they enjoy), take photos in the environment you both enjoy.

Use their favourite motivation (treat, toy or praise) to reward them.

Teach them new commands, integrate training into the photography sessions.

Work on short bursts so they don’t get tired or stressed.

What software / app do you use to edit your photographs? And what are your top tips for editing?

On a mobile phone I use mostly Snapseed which is a free app to edit photos.

My camera pictures are edited using Lightroom mostly, which is subscription based.

Top tips for editing would be:

  • To do as much of the leg work as possible when taking the picture (so there is less to edit, for example removing backdrops, finding good light conditions – not too bright or too dark, composing and framing the picture…)
  • To experiment with presets (be it on apps or software) and create your own – those are filters that will apply a certain look that makes your photos look more even, and make the editing process much faster.
  • If using a DSLR camera, or a recent smartphone, shoot in RAW format, not JPEG. This has more information which then enables more editing. A JPEG image is very compressed which means that a lot of information is lost that would help with editing (detail, colours…)

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