Shooting in urban environments can be challenging. In this series, I take you through some super helpful tips for working in busy locations, finding good places to shoot, working with reduced and complex lighting and minimising clutter and distractions.
Colour is an element that’s usually more readily available when shooting in urban areas. Rather than the earthy greens and browns of natural areas, in urban areas keep an eye out for different colours and textures available. You can use a long lens to zoom right in and isolate your subject totally against that colour, or take a wider view and incorporate the coloured element as a recognisable part of the image.
Using a contrasting colour to the dog’s colouring can help them stand out in a busy environment. Or a complimentary colour to pick up and accentuate a colour in the dog - like Peppa's blue eyes and collar gems in this shot.
Canon EOS 1D X, Canon EF 100mm ƒ/2.8L Macro IS, ISO 500, 1/1000 sec, f/2.8
It can be a real balancing act to feature small dogs in a scene where they are so dwarfed by everything around them. Large elements abound in urban areas - buildings, bridges and other architectural features naturally overwhelm small subjects - but there are ways of cheating to help make your subject stand out and not get lost in the big wide world.
One way you can “cheat” is to elevate little dogs on whatever you can - garden beds, seats, benches, low walls - as long as it’s safe and they can sit or stand comfortable under their own balance. It’s also a great way to keep them in place if they tend to wander around when on the ground.
Urban environments are built for humans, so elevating dogs to a higher view makes more sense and allows you to include more in the shot and create additional visual interest.
Canon EOS 1D X, Canon 24-70mm f2.8L II @ 24mm, ISO 800, 1/640 sec, f/2.8
Graffiti walls make super cool backdrops for colourful and fun dog photos! Unfortunately, graffiti walls are often located in places with less than ideal lighting like down alleyways or behind buildings. To obtain the most even lighting on the dog (sidelight is not usually ideal), remember to face them towards where the most light is coming from.
In some cases, this might be straight out from the wall, but for other locations, this could mean shooting along the wall with the light coming from the end of an alleyway behind you.
Oh, and always keep an eye on the surroundings, paying careful attention to what’s lying on the ground. Often there will be undesirable or hazardous rubbish lying around that dogs can’t resist investigating. Choose clean, accessible and legal locations to shoot in as the safety of your canine subjects, and yourself should be paramount.
Canon EOS 1D X, Canon EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8L @ 108mm, ISO 2000, 1/500 sec, f/2.8
When shooting in urban areas, look for ways you can place the dog in scenes or in front of buildings where the angle of view minimises clutter. This may mean elevating the dog on a platform or shooting from a very low angle, looking up.
Shooting from the ground here would have resulted in lots of random objects in the photo - chairs, bins, pot plants etc. But elevating the dog on a platform bypasses all this clutter, resulting in a much cleaner look.
Canon 1D-X, Canon 24-70mm f2.8L II @ 35mm, ISO 500, 1/500 sec, f2.8
Lighting can be tricky in urban areas, with sources of shade from buildings from multiple directions at once. To ensure you obtain those all-important catchlights in their eyes, always face your subject towards a light source. If it’s not very obvious where your light source is - a failsafe option can be having them looking up towards the sky - just as long as there is nothing directly overhead blocking the light of course!
Canon EOS 1D X, Canon EOS 35mm f/1.4L, ISO 250, 1/500 sec, f/1.8
Shooting in urban areas forces you to explore, improvise and experiment. Unexpected things can pop up just around the next corner, so you keep an open mind and a positive attitude. This awesome etched metal wall was tucked around the side of a little riverfront café and just happened to match Ella’s colouring beautifully. Get out there and explore to see what you can find!
Canon EOS 1D X, Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS @ 17mm, ISO 800, 1/800 sec, f/4
One advantage of shooting in urban areas is the prevalence of straight lines you can use to improve and add interest to the composition of your images. Make use of those buildings, railings, walls, bridges and roads - set your subject up strategically so these lines are pointing to your subject - leading the viewer's eye into and around the image.
Canon EOS 1D X, Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS @ 16mm, ISO 1000, 1/200 sec, f/4 (OCF used)
In super busy locations, it can be tricky to find a spot or a viewpoint that isn't very cluttered or filled with people. In this case, shooting with a long lens, at a very shallow depth of field, can help to blur out the background to an extent where objects in the background just aren't recognisable.
In this busy seaside town in Spain, the boardwalk was filled with late afternoon foot traffic. But with a sense of separation created by the shallow depth of field and touch of backlight, the people in the background blend into a blurred sea of colour.
Canon EOS 1D X, Canon EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8L IS II @ 168mm, ISO 400, 1/800 sec, f/2.8
To add some extra magic to your urban photos, keep an eye out for artificial lighting that you can incorporate into your images. Small pinpoints of light in the background are converted into pretty bokeh and you can play around with different focal lengths, apertures and move the dog closer or further from the background to change the look of the bokeh.
There was a tree behind Sonny that was absolutely covered in fairy lights, I had so much fun playing around with all the different shooting possibilities here!
Canon EOS 1D X, Canon EF 135mm ƒ/2L, ISO 500, 1/500 sec, f/2
That's over 3 months worth of daily tips covering topics like working with light, obtaining expression, camera settings, shooting action, composition, using the location, dog handling tricks – and so much more. Delivered direct to your inbox so you can read and absorb straight away (no homework required).