Photographer Maria Slough on ‘Pawtraits’ – Part I
This week we welcome back our guest blogger and media photographer, Maria Slough, who gives us an insight into the creation of her recently launched ‘Pawtraits’ exhibition, as well as a look at the stories and charities behind the photos…
‘Last month I launched my first National photographic exhibition with a private view and launch party at London’s Cafe Royal. 30 charities were in attendance, along with a mixture of celebrity guests, some of who are featured in the exhibition, including Mark Foster, Michelle Collins, Fay Ripley, Peter Egan and Brendan Cole.
The concept of the exhibition was to photograph members of the public and well- known faces all with an animal of their choice that had had a positive impact on their lives.
Stripped of the usual support team that comes with professional photography, myself, two cameras and one hand held light entered the homes and busy schedules of thirty inspirational men, women and children. Below I share some of the photographic challenges and solutions that I faced during the 20 months that it took to complete the exhibition.
Dame Eileen Atkins and Groucho
When you are photographing a subject that might not stay still for long a top tip is to choose your location and light source taking a couple of test shots before you include them. The natural side-on light source from a window for this shot cast the maximum natural light possible on the cat’s right eye, which is a key feature in the character of his face. Eileen Atkins’s Pawtrait is raising awareness for Cat Action Trust.
Bago was photographed while visiting patients undergoing stroke rehabilitation and is raising awareness for Pets As Therapy, who work with domestic pets providing therapeutic visits to hospitals, schools and hospices.
Always look for alternative ways to tell the story in your photographs. Depersonalising this picture by including only the patient’s hand, increased the impact of the message in the image making it relevant to a larger audience. Try this approach with you own photos at family events.
The Late Alexandra Bastedo and Starsky
Alexandra was such an inspirational person to work with. She was undergoing treatment for cancer when I photographed her and we were faced with unpredictable weather and two donkeys wanting her attention!
Try to make the most of the elements within your photographs. The slight wind catching Alexandra and Starsky’s hair creates a movement within the picture, which complements the emotion and expressions.
Alexandra’s Pawtrait raises awareness for the animal sanctuary that she founded and leaves behind, ABC Animal Sanctuary.
Stephen Brookes with Kizzie and Ellie Brown with Alfie
When I met Stephen and Kizzie I was overwhelmed by the trust and dependency that they both share. As an assistance dog, Kizzie is a lifeline for Stephen who suffered a spinal injury. Kizzie answers the phone, empties the washing machine ￼￼and gives him the independence to leave his hous alone. Their Pawtrait is to raise awareness for Canine Partners.
Ellie and Alfie are best friends and the small charity that their Pawtrait represents is Alfie’s Law. Named after Alfie himself, the charity supports pets in need and campaigns for tough new legislation for animal cruelty and sentencing.
For these photographs it was important to depict the shared intimacy in pictures that told you instantly about the shared relationships. Try shooting side on avoiding eye contact with the camera to achieve the effect of sharing a private moment. Always look for a strong focus point like the delicate exchange between Stephen and Kizzie and the emotion in Alfie’s eyes.
Simon Callow CBE, Biffy and Roxy
I have known Simon, who is raising awareness for Boxer Rescue Service (Southern), for some years and photographing Biffy and Roxy was such a treat, literally! I bribed my way into their affections with a cup full of dog biscuits.
The sofa in the room provided the perfect centrepiece for the photograph giving a foundation for the composition. Take time to find objects within a potential photograph that can form part of the natural framing of the picture. If you can and are allowed to, don’t be afraid to move pieces of furniture to achieve this.
Martin Clunes and Chester
Martin Clunes and his horse Chester are raising awareness for Animal Care in Egypt. They share a great deal of humour in their relationship, which I wanted to capture. If you are photographing larger animals, take some time to observe their behaviour patterns so you are ready to capture whatever they offer up.
Michelle Collins with Humphrey and Nicky Campbell with Maxwell
When photographing Michelle and Humphrey I paid particular attention to the rule of thirds – keeping Humphrey as the main focus within the shot as his face was so expressive. Michelle and Humphrey are raising awareness for Animal Aid and Advice.
I photographed Nicky Campbell, who is raising awareness for the Elephant Orphans Project at the The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, in similar circumstances to Michelle Collins – shot against a very strong natural light source with very little other light available within the room.
To achieve a strong dynamic to a backlit photograph fill the front shadows either by bouncing or slaving a flashgun or use a small freestanding light front or side on.
Peter Egan and DJ
Peter and DJ were photographed while walking three of Peter’s dogs and there were lots of distractions on offer. A top tip when taking photographs outside is to look for natural textures like bracken or grasses that will add shadow and contrast to the end result. This special moment between Peter and DJ is raising awareness for All Dogs Matter.
In part 2 of this three part blog we will look at ten more exhibition photographs – including Pen Farthing, Brian May and Virginia McKenna.
The Pawtraits Exhibition™ is a registered trademark. All images ©Maria Slough All rights reserved.
You can see more of Maria’s work at www.mariasloughphotography.com
Launch Night photographs copyright Michael Jones