Dog Photography Workshop With Alicja Zmysłowska

Alicja is a dog photographer famous for her artistic dog photos that look like paintings, sometimes magical, sometimes dark, sometimes colorful and happy.

Alicja gives workshops all over the world, and a pretty wet and rainy weekend in October she was in Denmark.

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Alicja's Workshop in Dog Photography

The three-day workshop consisted of a mix of theory and practice both in terms of shooting and editing. Alicja told us about how she went about planning and preparing a shoot, or how she would take a photo spontaneously with the help of strangers.

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Usually, the workshop is only two days, so we got a special edition in Denmark!
This is what we did:

  • portraits shoot with four different dog breeds in the forest
  • portraits shoot with four different dog breeds at the beach
  • action shoot with yet another five to six dog breeds on a lawn

Yes, there were a lot of dogs! And they were all so good!

The mix of breeds was very diverse. Off the top of my head, I remember that there were corgi, samoyed, toller, australian shepherd, border collie, dachshund, dalmatian, koikerhondje and toy terrier.

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The mix and amount of dogs and the variety in their capabalities, training and personality was what made the workshop worth for me. It gave me the time to observe Alicja and the other participants work with the dogs and their owners, discuss and try it out myself.

What I Took Away When Photographing Dogs

A trained dog is just so much easier to photograph. That's not a big surprise, but the workshop really made it clear to me. By trained I do mean the dog being able to follow commands like sit and stay (preferably even more), but even more I mean that the dog is used to working with its owner - because commands don't cover all the situations and possibilities that you might want to photograph the dog in.

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Stay really turned out to be the most important and helpful command for the dogs to follow. Staying means that if we manage to direct the dog into a position and pose we like, it will give the dog owner the possibility to move out of my frame - less Photoshop work for me!

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Other tricks and commands we used during the portrait shoots:

  • lie down
  • put head down
  • cross legs
  • sit up

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Apart from following commands, it really was amazing to see owners work together with their dogs as they for example use to do agility together. These dogs tended to be very focused and eager to please, which made the work more precise. It also meant that the owners could ask stuff of their dogs that these maybe weren't used to (like climbing and lying on logs), but as the dogs trusted the owners it was no problem.

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Also I want to be more cautious about where to photograph dogs, when and how. I want to do more location scouting and be more aware of how to place the dog in its surroundings.

That can be fancy like this amazing uprooted tree at the beach that we used a lot - even for the dachshunds that seemed even tinier inbetween the huge roots.

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However, sometimes all you need is a simple background to get a good photo, like the planks of a wooden bridge or a clearing in the woods that provides the proper distance to the trees in the background.

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We also took some action shots that clearly were the toughest ones in terms of technical skills and gear.

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I actually learned a few new tricks about my camera and the feeling of success when actually getting a sharp photo of a dog in a flattering pose is especially strong when the dog had been running back and forth for quite a while and all you got were either unsharp or unflattering results. In the end, the action photos were less interesting to me than the dog portraits, though. A photo of the dog running towards you with its goofy face, ears flopping and the tongue trying to keep up with the speed of the rest of the body is very cute and funny, but I feel it's difficult to create a similar artistic photo from it.

Artistic Editing with Lightroom & Photoshop

After two days of rolling around in mud and rain, we would spend the last day sitting comfortably and dry with lost of coffee, candy and cake and edit our photos.

For my part, it was eye opening to see that Alicja not necessarily used a whole new set of technique and functions that I didn't know of (well, I learned a few new things), but mainly she just dared to be bolder and go further than I usually do. Also, she keeps on looking at a photo and working with it until she is happy and not lose patience before.

Do give an insight into how bold some of the photos have been edited, here are some before and after comparisons:

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Thank you for an amazing workshop, Alicja!

Check her out here:

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Written by: Judith tagged with blog, dogs, retouch, lightroom, review