One of the most time-consuming parts of pet photography is retouching. I'm pretty type-A, must-have-everything-perfect before it leaves my computer. Whether it's stray dog hair on a person's sweater (by that I mean dog hair no longer attached to a dog, not necessarily hair from a stray dog), or eye goobers, or a distracting passerby in a park, I like to clean it up. Sometimes we're talking major Photoshop changes, and sometimes it's minor touch-ups on a pet's eyes to make them as beautiful in a photograph as they are in real life.
My husband always says that the best Photoshop is when you can't tell there's any Photoshop work done. Even without significant work, it takes me about 20-30 minutes per photo. One thing most people can't tell I do is remove any leashes - clients will even forget that we had their dogs completely restrained! There is one photo of a boxer in my dog portfolio with his leash on, but that was purposely left intact by request. He has a favorite leather leash and the photo of him in his front yard with the leash draped casually on the ground makes it look like he just got back from a walk, so it works! Typically, though, leashes come off and eyes get retouched and the texture of fur gets special treatment so darker dogs don't look like a black blob but rather have a beautiful rich coat. I have some magic I work on pet eyes to make them look wet and soulful, as the camera tends to flatten them and make them look dry, when we all know that animals have glossy, bright, moisture-rich eyes.
I thought I would post TWO examples of photographs before and after editing. First, our before picture - YIKES. Sorry, this is exactly why I don't usually show any before pictures!
The tricky part of this shot is that I'm working with one light but I'm exposing for three different settings - the dogs, the sky, and the background and sides of the bridge. I tend to underexpose a little on shots like this so I can bring up the shadows and save some detail. Photographing both a light-colored dog and a dark-colored dog is a little tricky too - kind of like photographing a bride in her white gown next to the groom in his black tuxedo. It takes some practice!
And voila! Color temperature adjustments, lighting and shadows adjusted, bringing out texture of fur and brightness in the eyes. I even had to go around some of the trees with a tiny brush to get between the delicate branches. Look at the before and after of those trees nearest the dogs - they were completely black at first glance in that original photo but thankfully I could salvage the detail and color in them. I knew there was a diamond under all that, it just took a lot of scrubbing and a little magic from modern digital processing!
This next photograph was from the Franklin County Animal Shelter. This big boy has been there for over three months, which is a long time for a dog there, so we gave him some extra special attention. He got a colorful jester-like scarf around his neck and some extra time with me in front of the camera to make sure we got the best photos possible. The animal shelter has each dog's portrait on its website so potential families can see the dogs from their own home - sometimes it feels a little like photographing someone for an online dating profile! I haven't done portraits for online dating but I feel this hopefulness from the session like "Maybe this will help you find The One!"
We photograph dogs on a white sheet and every dog has a handler. This before photo shows our helper holding the leash. First things first, the leash has to go. Then the handler has to go as well. The tricky part is removing people, legs, and shoes from a photo without harming the natural shadows that occurred from my lighting set up and give the photo that beautiful, naturally occurring dimension. And it's not as easy as grabbing as brush in Photoshop, setting it to white, and starting to paint everything into white oblivion.
And here is our after shot. Notice the shadows, the leash, the nubby fur left intact around the crown of the head where the leash had intersected, and obviously a human removed!
It's tough to see on a small image but along with the leash and handler removal, background extension and shadow work, I also touched up his eyes by making them glossier, taking down some redness in the whites of his eyes, and removing a couple small eye goobers. Not a quick fix by any means but so worth it if it helps him get adopted!!
Check out more before-and-after blog posts of pets in our 52-week-challenge! Up next is Judy of Dog Biscuit Photos - keep clicking through everyone's entries and you'll wind up back here. Thanks for reading!