PhotoConcierge’s Featured Photographer- Cecilia Zuccherato

Cecilia Zuccherato got into the world of photography just three years back! She was dabbling around with point and shoot camera and her mobile phone, until she got curious after seeing her friend Nicoletta’s photographs on travel reportage and dog competitions. Taking her friends help to buy an entry level Nikon D3200, Cecilia got into her own world of adoration – where she began taking awe striking photographs of dogs. She is also a active contributor of PhotoConcierge and needless to say, her photographs receive the “Aaaawwww” expression more often than anything else!

pet photography photos

Source: Cecilia Zuccherato

Your models are unique – dogs, how difficult or easy is to shoot them?

It depends on how much a dog is well-trained and friendly, there are some dogs that are like professional models, they keep expressions and poses for few seconds so I can capture the best of them, while the others are less trained or simply a little shy and I have to shoot trying to get the best from their spontaneous behaviour. It’s very important for me that the owner keeps the dog’s attention focused on himself with a treat or a toy, and I often ask the owner to stay behind me so the dog seems to look into the camera. If I shoot puppies, which are not trained and have briefer attention span, I usually let them play with something, such as a stick or a little ball, then I shoot them while they are focusing on the toy.

Do you prefer indoor shoot or an outdoor one?

Absolutely outdoor! I love nature so I like to shoot my models on parks or natural environment (mountains or seaside). Outdoor you can find some lovely details, such as flowers, a tree, foliage, a sunset, so it’s easier to get inspired. On the other side it’s more difficult to find the right light outdoor, because light conditions change very frequently and this is one more thing I need to pay attention to. I prefer to shoot with cloudy weather because the light is diffuse and soft. I seldom shoot indoor, I’m not comfortable with it because I have not enough space to let the dog move and play, and I often can’t use my favourite lens that is a zoom lens.

pet photography photos

Source: Cecilia Zuccherato

If a dog is not well-behaved, how do you still manage to shoot it?

I always speak to the owner before the shooting to gather all the possible information about the dog, if he tells me that his dog is not well-behaved, I try to find a place that is at the same time beautiful and safe, with a fence and not crowded with other dogs or people. I ask the owner to use a toy or some kind of treat to get the dog’s attention and, if this is not enough, I take pictures of the dog while he is wandering and exploring the place, trying to capture some fine expression or pose.

What camera/lens is the best for shooting dogs?

I use my nikon D750 , a full frame camera with a very well performing Auto Focus system, so I can match image quality with speed , as I think they both are necessary qualities for dog’s portraits! It weights only 750 grams, so it’s pretty light to carry with me for a few hours. In my opinion the best lens is without a doubt the 70-200mm, f2.8, a very fast zoom lens with large aperture, it allows you to stay at a fair distance from the dog so he doesn’t feel uncomfortable with a stranger. At 2.8 aperture you can shoot in low light conditions and it allows you to get nice bokeh and blurry background to enhance the subject.

pet photography photos

Source: Cecilia Zuccherato

I know this is a expensive gear that not everyone can afford, my advice is not to get discouraged and try to get the best out of your gear by studying the manual and practice as much as you can, because a good shooting technique can overcome many hardware limitations. I remember taking some fairly good shots with my Nikon D3200 and Nikkor 55-300 4.5-5.6, about 500 € worth of equipment.

What animals do you shoot apart from dogs?

Dogs! Just kidding… sometimes I shoot cats, but it’s very very rare.

What attributes make a “successful” image when working with animals?

Perfect focus on the eyes, that I usually enhance with sharpening in postproduction, because I consider eyes to be the most important thing in a portrait, if I find that the eyes are not on perfect focus I usually drop the picture. Dog’s expression is another thing I try to achieve, they truly are my models! I love when they look into my camera or they make some funny faces! The choice of the background, to get a nice bokeh or blurry background in the photos, so, for example, I try to put my model far from the background or in front of a bush or a tree with flowers or leaves. I use to play with light effects and vignettes in post-production to pop-up the subject, to attract the attention of the observer towards the dog and especially his eyes!

Do you use Photoshop, Lightroom or any other software programs for post-processing your images and to what extent do you post-process the images?

I use always both LR and PS, I like to edit my pictures in a creative way, working with punchy colours and sometimes adding elements such as butterflies, soap bobbles, leaves and flowers, so editing is an important step in my workflow, and I’m always studying to improve this aspect of my photography by reading books (my favourites Authors are Scott Kelby, Martin Evenings, and Katrin Eismann, they’re absolutely genius!), I also watch a lot of tutorials on YouTube (PhLearn, BlueLightning TV and K1 Production are my favourites channels) and I experiment a lot, trying to achieve the result I want, even if I’m never completely satisfied with my work and this pushes me to get better and better.

Do you have a wish-list of shots/expressions you still want to get out of the dogs that you shoot?

Yes of course! I’d like to take a pic of a dog laying on his back with his belly up but this is an uncomfortable position for the dog (extremely submissive) so I think I will try to get it with my own dogs, because it needs a very deep relationship to be spontaneous. Another pose I’d like to get is the one in which the dog has his paw resting on his nose, but I still haven’t found a dog trained enough to do that! Hope to get them both soon!!

pet photography photos

Source: Cecilia Zuccherato

Apart from the camera, lens what do you carry in your camera bag while photographing dogs?

I always keep a sheet to lie on the ground to avoid getting dirty (I use to shoot lying on the ground), a polariser filter that helps me in sunny days to prevent haze in the shots, my camera cleaning tools, I don’t carry toys or treats because I ask the owner to bring his dog’s favourite ones. I use to dress in a sporty way, I don’t shoot with rain so I don’t bring stuff to protect me and my gear from rainy weather.

pet photography photos

Source: Cecilia Zuccherato

One latest technology in photography that you wish you could get your hands on?

I fell in love with a lens, which a friend of mine lent me during a Workshop, and that is the Nikkor 300 mm f 2.8 , a very expensive lens (about 5000 €), but it’s fantastic!!!!! Super sharp with an excellent bokeh, but, for now, it’s too expensive for me. I hope one day I’ll get it!!

Your favourite photograph of yours and why? (Please attach a low res file in this email)

This is absolutely my favourite picture, I called it “Happiness is..running with a stick!!”: I shot it last october in a Jack Russel Terrier’s Kennel , the puppy is a female and her name is Jessica. She was running with a little stick in her mouth and I shot the photo while she was jumping towards me, I liked the result so much and I tried to get the best editing to enhance the emotions I felt, she actually looks very happy!!! I’d like to make a large print of it and place it in my house .

pet photography photos

Source: Cecilia Zuccherato

Tips you would like to give aspiring photographers

1. Try always to improve your photography skills, never stop learning, use everything, your camera manual, books, youtube video tutorial, photography websites, nowadays you can find everything and often for free!! The limit is only your will!
2. Always follow advices from expert photographers: they have a lot of experience and a wider vision, so there is always a good reason if they tell you something.
3. Use the social network to promote your photography, especially Facebook and Instagram, people spends a lot of time there, use them to link to your website (if you have one) or photography related social network (eg: 500px , Viewbug, Flickr).
4. Lie down when you’re shooting!! If you lie down the perspective completely changes!! You can focus the subject and get a nice blur on both foreground and background, to achieve a very artistic effect! It’s very simple but not always obvious!!
5. If you’re shooting dogs, or other animals, always respect them, don’t force them to do something only to get a photo that you want, actually they dont’ really care to be photographed, so try to do in the most funny way for them, with toys or treats, and, if they still don’t cooperate , let them free to do what they want and try to get the best from their spontaneous behaviour.

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