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"Doggy Doos"

Animals add a touch of magic to any photo, and Paris isn't short of 'em. Although pooch poop is almost a thing of the past thanks to a massive clamp down on careless canine crapping, the number of dogs hasn't diminished in the slightest as far as I can see.

This was a lovable if rather lornsome chap we came across on a Saturday morning tour which had wandered into the Marais. I thought we could stick our noses into the wonderful Marais dance centre where you find the famous Café de la Gare, which is, or course, a... theatre, and where you are surrounded by dance studios radiating energies of every wavelength, and there he was...


Key points
Today I offer you five pictures, taken within three minutes of each other. If you had to choose ONLY ONE of them as a legacy of that sweet meeting, which would it be? Decide now, before reading further.
Capturing a Feeling
Obviously the most important thing in these shots is the dog. You got that, didn't you?! But that's not quite enough. To capture a moment which can claim to have something to say, you need more.
Let's look at this in more detail.
In Pic 1 the dog's in full flight, jumping at a tossed tennis ball, but unfortunately you can see neither his face or the ball. Two important aspects missing: his face to 'humanise' (animalise...?) the shot, and the ball to understand why he's in that weird position.
A unique feature of Pic 1 is that there is a human, well, sorry, Maureen, one of my clients on the tour, to be more precise. And she's interacting with the dog by looking at him and smiling, giving us a reflected sence of pleasure and fun.
In Pic 2 we have a different story. Here pooch has successfully retried aforementioned ball and is mooching up for another go. Direct contact with the viewer, full face-on with a purpose, but unfortunately again you can't really see the ball.
Pic 3's Unique Selling Point is the archway of course, but we'll talk about that later. In this section we're talking about what the subject is doing, or isn't doing, or what he may be feeling etc. if we allow ourselves to anthropomorphosise slightly. Here he's showing us a nice profile silhouette, which does have a certain charm, although from a distance his head does look rather like that of a snub-nosed duck.
Pic 4 is marvellous precisely because of it's lack of activity. Why? Because we just know he wants someone to play with him, the sadly motionless ball just begging to be thrown for him to chase. It's a subtle but powerful form of contrast to show something or someone which is normally in motion motionless.
Pic 5 brings us full circle with another dynamic action shot, minus the human, sorry, minus Maureen. It's a much better action in itself, because we can see the ball first of all, and then there's the eager open jaw, the two front paws and the wagging tail to boot.
So to sum up, you could say the choice in this section is between action and inaction, and the emotions stirred up by it in this context. Tricky!


This is the only other aspect I'm going to cover in this lesson, as issues such as focus and exposure, not to mention ambient lighting conditions are more or less constant over the five pics.

Now, I'm unfortunately going to eliminate Pic 5 immediately, due to the fact that... the name of the theatre has been cut in half. For me, written names, and especially famous or atmospheric ones have to be treated with respect. In this case the curious name of this lovely little theatre gives a real sense of place and I want it in it entirety, despite the fact that the dog's position is great.

Pic 2 has a strong perspective thanks to the line of paving stones leading from the open door to the dog and then to us. I like it a lot, but if I'm forced to choose...

Pic 1 is a bit to 'busy' for me - the tables, the people, the theatre doors, the other doors... Of course, I could and will crop later, but nevertheless, this one isn't going to make the cut for me.

Which leaves Pics 3 and 4. To arch or not to arch... that is the question.

Well, in the end, I shall probably work on both of them for my portfolio. The pic with the arch does have, let's be honest, a classic framing device and is quite nicely balanced, along with a pleasing subject position and pose. And Pic 4 positively oozes pathos, and being a sensitive soul on occasion that's why I'll probably go with this one in the end. Even the lack of arch contributes to the feeling of abandonment which may be inexistent, but we can imagine what we like, can't we?

(By the way, you'll notice that in the final pic I ended up making almost the bottom half of the picture cobblestones. The way things were working I wasn't getting enough feeling of isolation with a traditional crop. This big space in front of Fido emphasises his imagined loneliness, and the texture is reasonable in the end after some fiddling.)


As this analysis progressed I thought of another judging criterion: contrast. I noticed that two of the shots, funnily enough the two finalists from the Composition section, Pics 3 and 4, had stronger contrast than the others.

This was due to them being taken from further away from the subject, underneath the arch, so there was less overhead lighting, which was extremely flat due to cloud cover. The camera was also shooting more horizonally in Pics 3 and 4, allowing the spaces between the cobbles to become more obvious.

And the winner is... Pic 4 (with an honourable mention to Pic 3 too!)

Before & After

Photo Ideas
  • Try to capture or create different moods of the same subject. Get the subject to do different things - for a human it could be to read quietly and then tell you a joke or tell you what makes them really angry. For an animal you could capture it both at rest and at play. This sort of approach can allow you to create some wonderful triptychs showing different sides to someone's character.
  • Find a lively subject such as an animal or a child who is moving all over the place but not actually going anywhere and snap away. Shoot wide and play around afterwards with funny crops to see what happens. You might be surprised how strong a shot you can grab out of what looks like an average snap.
  • Move around a highly textured subject, such as a roughly hewn statue or a mature tree with deeply cracked bark, even on a cloudy day, and see how what happens - I think you'll be surprised, but it's only by taking shots yourself and studying them later that you'll be convinced and add another weapon to your photographic armoury!
Then comment on this lesson in the Photo Blog with a link to your best result - we all want to see them!

  • capturing a feeling - sometimes there are clear choices, such as still or moving, happy or sad, and you have to decide which one you want to portray. Decide how you can manipulate these - here, throwing the ball produced the desired contrast between the more melancholy 'waiting for the ball to be thrown' pose, and allowed a greater, if more difficult set of options to be created
  • composition - with animals and kids it's often necessary to shoot at a wider angle than strictly necessary to give yourself  more options later. You have no idea where they are going to run off to next or what the background will be. Just shoot enough shots that you do have a choice and crop judiciously back home, which is a lot of fun in itself
  • contrast - contrast can be affected by where to you take the shot from, both in terms of what's above you (open sky or covered), and the angle you shoot from - be particularly aware of this when taking pictures of things like cobblestones with marvellous texture which can be totally destroyed if you shoot down on them from above, under a uniformly grey cloudy sky. If you can't change the direction the light's coming from, sometimes changing the angle you are shooting from can have a similar effect

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