Simon Lewis

OCA Learning Log


Saving Pets Through Photography

Seth Casteel
The Seth Casteel approach...

Through my charity work at the RSPCA animal centre near my home I had the opportunity of being invited on a Seth Casteel pet photography workshop recently. Seth exploded onto the scene earlier this year with his amazing images of underwater dogs. However his workshop at the RSPCA didn't involve throwing any animals into swimming pools. Somehow I don't think the animal centre would have appreciated that. What it did do was concentrate on his passion for re-homing pets through the use of good photography.

Seth's photographic background comes initially from the worlds of advertising and marketing. He knows how important it is to present pets in the most positive light (literally) in order to get them into new homes quickly. However he's discovered that many animal centres seem to hold the opposite view. They have a natural inclination to show an animal looking as dejected and miserable as possible, huddled in a cold concrete kennel in order to tug people's heartstrings. Whilst it's a good sentiment I actually think people are more likely to be put off by that sort of image because to me it says “don't come here, we mistreat our pets". Seth's point is that well cared for, cute, happy animals find homes quickly. All you have to do is photograph them looking that way.

The 'traditional' approach….

Around a dozen volunteers travelled from all over the UK to hear Seth speak. He quickly dispensed with the theory and took us outside to see him in action. His was a simple, no-nonsense approach will work just as well photographing people as it will with pets (excluding the collar, lead and treats. Maybe.)

He explained that placing the animal in the shade with its back to the light, against a simple backdrop of shrubbery was a simple and effective way of getting the best results from even the simplest compact cameras. See top image above. A wide aperture, high ISO and fast frame shooting will ensure capturing the pets' perfect expression with focus on the eyes, shallow depth of field and frozen action. This can be enhanced with the aid of a simple squeaker and chewy treat. Chewy, because that's what help makes a dog 'smile'.

The goal is to shoot as many animals as possible (photographically of course) in as short timeframe so we spent some of our time discussing workflow. One shooter, one 'holder' and as many kennel maids as possible is enough to photograph 30 to 40 animals in short order. Some of the centres where Seth volunteers can see several thousand dogs pass through their gates every month so fast shooting and quick uploading is vital.

There was plenty of time for Seth to answer questions and give tips and tricks on web marketing. All-in-all a very effective session.

Nellie Puppy
Some of my own pet images…


Ambient Light on Location

Jayce Clarke, London 2012

Having started “People and Place", and having enjoyed moderate success with the submission of my first assignment, I wanted to explore and understand how to make good use of ambient light in my photos. This one-day course by Jayce Clark at Calumet in London seem to be just the ticket.

The morning was spent on some fairly technical issues which, whilst important, were very heavy on theory. I'm not sure I understood all fundamentals discussed but did come away with a better understanding of the range and depth of ambient light (7 stops from white to black).

A model accompanied us on a trip to a local park in the afternoon and although most course participants got very busy shooting her every which way, I focused my time on Jayce's practical demonstration on softening light with a scrim and how to apply good light meter technique.

Both of these aspects were hugely informative and I feel I can at last use my light meter with some skill. An enjoyable day out.

My Jayce Clarke Image
Simon Lewis, shot during "Lighting on location - ambient light only"

Speedlight Mastery

Damien Lovegrove, Birmingham, 2010

DSC_8035 - Version 2 (1)

I booked myself on this course in order to understand a little bit more about how my flash system worked and how I could make the most of portable lighting in a variety of situations. Damien has been running a series of small workshops in many categories for a variety of years and his laid-back approach to getting fast and impressive results is what initially appealed to me.

The day spent with Damien and his other course participants on the streets around the canals of Birmingham was a lot of fun and thoroughly enjoyable. Damien skill is in finding images absolutely everywhere. A covered doorway, the underside of a flyover and even a broken door covered in bird droppings were places where Damien taught us how to create impressive images with very little to work with. Up until this point I had been searching high and low for the perfect setting for photo shoots, but Damien proved how great pictures can be found virtually anywhere provided you get the lighting right.

Technology and theory was kept to a minimum and the emphasis was very much on getting good results with minimal fuss. The skill I learnt most on this course was to take the flash off my camera. Using the Nikon's wireless communication system it was easy to reposition the flash and indeed add additional lights in order to create simple but very effective setups. We also learnt how to use Wizard radio triggers and control light with both the flash zoom settings and the cameras aperture.

Damien claimed that his one-day course would be filled with what he calls “portfolio builders". I can honestly say he was absolutely right and I look forward to participating on another of his courses at some stage in the near future.