If we scrolled through our camera rolls, it’s safe to say there’d be a fair few photos of our beloved pets; and for good reason – we love them! But getting a good picture of your dog or cat isn’t always easy. Luckily, we spoke to professional photographer Liz Gregg, who shared a few tricks and tips to help you take the perfect photo of your pet. Cameras at the ready!…
A bit about you first…
We love your work and may be a bit biased here… but especially the pics you take of dogs! How did you get into it?
I’ve always taken photos, since the age of 10. I’d be the annoying one sticking a camera into the faces of friends, family…and pets. I even set up a studio at school where pupils would come and have their portrait taken at morning break.
I didn’t study photography though, I went to Glasgow University and got an MA degree in English Literature. So, I didn’t think to do photography professionally until I met the sister of a photographer while biding time temping at the NSPCC’s headquarters in London.
Her brother needed an assistant, she knew my true passion was photographer, she basically made him give me a job. I assisted him for about a year and then I started getting my own commissions, first for kids magazines, then teens, then womens, then whatever, I never turned anything down. I love taking photos, no matter what the subject.
I’ve worked for Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, The Times, Heat, OK! One client I’ve worked for for years now is the International Equestrian Federation. I’ve been all over the world for them, Haiti, USA, Argentina, Brasil, India, and on Monday I’m flying to Tokyo to cover the Paralympics for them.
That’s amazing! So talk to us about the dog pics…
So the dog pics. I was commissioned by Cosmopolitan about 4 years ago to shoot a story ‘How to Make your Dog Instafamous’. It was shot in a studio in London with a bassett hound and a writer who was going to bring Wilma the bassett an online celebrity. My friend Danielle assisted me on the shoot and on the way home we were like, ‘we have dogs, we take photos, we could do this!’.
So that’s how @blackwhite.gold was born starring my dogs Elsa and Jeanie and Danielle’s dog Dolly. The account grew quite quickly and attracted the attention of Instagram. We have been featured by them 3 times and for a while were followed by them. In their list of followers we were nestled quite comfortably between David Beckham and Kim Kardashian. So, that’s really how I started to be known for taking dog photos and I credit it all to my amazing models. Elsa, Dolly and Jeanie are the absolute best!
You mentioned your doggies Elsa and Jeanie, tell us a little about them…
The gold star of @blackwhite.gold sadly died 2 months ago, she was the lady of the pack. She had very high standards of behaviour and would look down her elegant snout at the bad behaviour of other, lesser hounds. She was a beautiful, loving, loyal and extremely bright girl. So now I have just the one dog, but her personality is large and definitely demands attention. Jeanie is crazy clever, fun, fit and affectionate.
If you and Jeanie could head anywhere in the UK, where would you go?
There’s so many places we’d love to visit, but I really like the look of Cornwall and the Yorkshire Dales. After looking through the PetsPyjamas website and all the lovely properties you guys have, my top picks would probably have to be Manor House and Carn Eve in Cornwall and Rudby Hall in Yorkshire.
Explore our full collection of dog-friendly holidays in Cornwall and the Yorkshire Dales.
Now, how to take the perfect photo of your pet!
Where’s your favourite place to take photos of your dogs?
Well I think that has to be at my favourite puddle on Herne Bay seafront where I live. I love taking reflection photos, often of Jeanie jumping over Elsa and Dolly. People think that I digitally manipulate the photos, but I don’t.
Jeanie knows the cue ‘Jeanie jump over…’ and I get the pristine reflection by lying belly down in the puddle to get the lens as close to the reflective surface as possible (that’s the trick to getting a lovely clean reflection, the photographer afterwards, not so clean!). And if there’s been no rain? No problem, I take a watering can with me and create a puddle using sea water, obvs!
What are your top tips for finding the best light to take a photo of your dog, both inside and outside?
Outside, probably the easiest light to take photos in is when it’s slightly overcast. This means there’s no problem with too bright highlights and too dark shadows where details can get lost. You want some brightness in the sky but a fine covering of white cloud is really flattering for both dogs and humans. Saying that, I’m a great believer in finding a way to make all conditions work.
Only taking photos when it’s overcast would get a bit dull. I love mist and bright sun against a brooding grey sky, early morning sun or the golden hour is magical, backlit rain is amazing and shooting into the sun to get flare in the lens can be so pretty. Challenge yourself when you take photos and have fun with it! You improve by getting out of your comfort zone and taking photos in lots of different lights.
The thing that can make inside photos look a little ugly is overhead artificial lighting. It tends to look too orange and and too bright on the tops of heads. So, the best thing to do is use window light. Obviously, this isn’t possible at night, so hey ho, don’t let an amazing moment pass by just because you’re worried about the light. Sometimes capturing that memory is more important than a perfectly exposed and flattering lit photo.
How do you get your dog to pose/position for a photo?
So, this is the most important part of getting posed photos of your dog and actually even action shots, so you can persuade your dog to run or jump in the right direction. Train your dog using positive reinforcement. I loved training the dogs, I saw it as a way to bond with them and play with them.
The first thing you need to teach them is that training is fun. Build up a bank of ways to reward them – food, voice, touch, playing ball, playing tuggy. Once your dog learns to love working with you you’ll have no problem persuading them to listen to you when you want to take a photo and they will look happy while you take it, not like they’re been forced into it!
There’s some great online courses that teach positively reinforced training. I mainly used lolabuland.com but I also did bits with absolute-dogs.com who are based in this country and train using games.
Should you pay attention to the background of your photo, and if so, what makes for a good background?
Always pay attention to the background, it’s a big part of the story you’re telling with your photo. There’s no right or wrong background, I’m all for experimentation and variety. But try and use it to frame your dog in a way that makes him/her stand out. Just look at every part of photo when you’re taking it, subtle movements left/right/up/down can change a photo dramatically and create a composition to be proud of.
What angles would you recommend trying to get a great shot?
I do love a low angle, trying to photograph the dog at their height. I think this makes for better connection with the dog. Though as usual, I’m going to say play around with it. A photo taken directly above looking down at your dog’s smiling face can be super cute!
What are your top editing tips, and what would you usually use to edit your images?
I process my photos using Capture One Pro. This is where I make adjustments to the colour balance, contrast etc and then turn the raw files into tifs or jpegs. I may just leave them at that but with some I then make further changes in Photoshop, things like removing eye bogies or an identity tag on a collar giving everyone my phone number. When I retouch a photo I’m trying to recreate the feeling I had when I took it.
I want it to be the best representation of that moment. I don’t add rainbows or sunflare or butterflies. For digital artists this is a totally valid way for them to express themselves, but I’m a photographer and I love the buzz I get from capturing a rainbow in real life. It’s what photography is about for me, so I’d never put something like that into my photos digitally.
I have an exhibition of my @blackwhite.gold photos on Herne Bay seafront at the moment. I didn’t consider it at the time, but I wish I’d said in the description, ‘these photos are all real and not created using digital composites’. Lots of people have thought that the reflection ones, the jumping ones and the girls in a stack are not real, and that somehow makes me a bit sad. It’s a shame that people now automatically doubt a photograph’s authenticity.
Well we absolutely love them! Especially these…
To see more of Liz’s amazing work, check out her website at Lizgregg.com or give her a follow on Instagram at @blackwhite.gold! You can also book a studio dog photography session with Liz at photosbylizzie.co.uk/snap-catch