before and after: leo


I received a number of comments and emails about my recent Leo photos that I posted here of him out playing in the snow, and since it’s been awhile since I’ve done a before and after, I thought I’d talk about a few from that day.  I really also wanted to talk about my process for you.  I love it when other photographers talk about what they were thinking when they took a certain shot.  If you are not into photography or have no interest in my process please skip ahead to your next blog.  :)

So first, a little about my process.  First, I saw the lovely light outside.  There were still some flurries in the air after the snow storm and the sun was peaking out behind the clouds.  It was glowing and beautiful and I just had to go out in it with my camera.  This is often how it is.  The light is what draws me in.  If I see the light it usually makes me pick up my camera.

So then….what to photograph?  I needed a subject.  And since my kids were lounging on the couch and didn’t want to go outside, I looked at Leo and asked if he wanted to go play.  He wagged his tail.  We headed outside.  Sometimes what I want to photograph just happens to be in the light (what I prefer).  Sometimes I have to bring something or someone into the light.  And sometimes you don’t have the perfect light and you have to work with what God gave you.  In this instance I brought my dog into the light.

Then I began to think about what kind of photos I wanted to take.  I had the light.  And I had the subject.  Now I needed to tell a story.  So my goal was to capture the essence of a golden retriever playing in fresh snow. To do this I shot about 100 photos in about 15 minutes.  I never looked through my view finder once.  Except for my first photo to figure out my settings.  Once I adjusted my ISO, aperture, and shutter how I liked, I either hung my camera around my neck, placed my camera close to the snow, or just aimed my camera wherever to get the perspective I wanted.  When you are chasing around a golden retriever in the snow, you don’t have time to put the camera up to your face and wait for the perfect shot.  It will be gone before you blink.  So instead, I just shot like crazy as I ran after him and played with him.  This resulted in a LOT of out of focus photos.  It also resulted in a lot of photos with what I’ll call “unique” focus (not a technical term but I’m finding it hard to think of a different way to describe it) because I wasn’t looking in my viewfinder to find exact focus.  Basically different points of focus other than his eyes.  The blurry photos, the unique focus photos, the different perspective photos….they are my favorites.  These photos along with the photos where he is in focus all work together to achieve the goal I had set out to achieve when I stepped out on that snow with Leo.

For example, this photo that I didn’t include on the blog post:



Here is the unedited photo:



Shot with my Nikon D700, 35mm lens.


ISO 160

f1.4  – Maybe a little risky seeing that I had my camera around my neck and wasn’t really focusing, and getting something in focus at 1.4 is hard enough, but I knew I wanted a shallow depth of field for these photos, so I went with it.

1/2500 – I purposely overexposed for the snow.  But I could have overexposed even more as I still had to up the exposure in LR a bit to make the snow more white and true to life.  This means I should have slowed down my shutter speed more to let in more light so that the snow would be more white.  Make sense?

He came up real close to me, my camera was around my neck, I aimed down and shot.

I shot these in RAW.  I used to be a JPEG girl.  In fact, I never shot RAW until a little over a month ago.  But the more I play with RAW the more I like it, which is not good for my computer’s hard drive.

Edited in LR4 – I’m relatively new to LR and I absolutely LOVE it.  It has changed my life.  I will sing it’s praises for all of my days.  Amen.

First of all I cropped the photo to exclude his eyes.  When I look at the unedited photo my eyes are automatically drawn to the dark circles, his eyes,  and I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I found them to be somewhat creepy.  I loved how the hair on his neck was in focus so I wanted to highlight that instead, which is why I cropped out the eyes.

Now, a photo like this might not be your “thing”.  Some people might be thinking I’m totally whack for just aiming my camera down and shooting.  Some people might think a better photo might be one where his eyes were in focus.  Some people would have deleted this on their camera and it would have never made it to their computer.  But I personally love this photo.  You don’t have to love it.  But I love it because it helps to tell the story that I was aiming to tell, and really that’s all that matters.  So friends, if YOU love the photo, then that’s really all that matters.  M’kay?

Exposure +0.45

Contrast +37

Highlights -29

Shadows +22

Whites -13

Blacks +22

Sharpened and played with the noise reduction just a bit and done.  Easy peasy.

The edited version again:



And one more:






Settings the same as above.  (Remember I figured out my settings and then just shot?  This was all in the same muted sun under clouds light so I didn’t have to worry about messing with the settings once they were set. Although, again, I should have slowed my shutter just a bit.  See how the snow looks a bit gray?  And his fur looks a bit dull?  Letting in a a little more light would have helped solved this. I am constantly learning how to better expose in the snow.  It’s tricky.)

He heard another dog barking and the wind was blowing his hair.  I crouched down in the snow and put the camera as close to the snow as I could and aimed ever so slightly up and shot.  I had no idea if I was getting his whole face in the shot or not, I just wanted to emphasize his “at attention” stance and I didn’t really care if his whole face was in the frame.

I edited this photo the exact same way as the previous one (ahhh the wonderfulness of the “sync” button in LR).  And I feel like the colors were very true to life.  His golden hair, the white snow, and the glow in the sky as the sun was setting behind the clouds.  This is what I try to aim for in my editing.  True to life color, not over-edited, not too hazy or contrasty.  You might like haze, or more contrast, or different tones.  That’s awesome.  That’s what makes your photos your photos.  Do what you like, figure out your process, and own it.

And again, the edited version:



So play around.  Shoot from the hip, from around your neck, take 100 photos in 15 minutes.  They are not all going to be perfect.  But sometimes the imperfect ones will help tell the story.  The blurry shots of Leo, the snow flying, the different perspectives….it is a dog’s life, is it not?  I would have never gotten the wide range of frames had I stayed standing in one spot with the camera up to my face.  Think like your subject and then aim to shoot from that perspective.

Okay, enough rambling.  And I’m officially done posting cute pics of Leo. This week.  ;)

georgia - will definitely come back to this for tips! i’m going to bookmark it to my photography tips folder right now!! thanks. that leo shoot was one of my favorite of your spontaneous shoots ever.

Erika - I love the light in these photos and the bonus light bouncing from snow, and the color of Leo. Everything just came out so perfect.
btw, I agree with the first photo here and the thinking process of you excluding leo’s eye and emphasizing on his hair.
Always follow our heart and not be constrained with rules.

jean - thanks for sharing! i’m always curious to see how my favorite bloggers edit their photos! i love how natural it still looks!

these leo photos really makes me want a dog… due to brady’s horrid allergies, we cannot… but i (we) can dream…

i know, i try to shoot in RAW every now & then but it really hurts my dinosaur computer. very dinosaur computer! i want to try lightroom as well, i think i would like that better than what i use (photoshop cs5).

i’m part wishing i got the 35mm lens not 50mm lens. so indecisive on which lens i want next :/

loving all the leo photos, this post & the one before. him in the snow is just beautiful!

tracey - I love the wide open depth of field in these because it keeps my eyes just on Leo. And you are a rock star at shooting from the hip!

skeller - Lightroom’s the bomb. So glad you’re feelin’ the love ;-). I never would have guessed you were shooting all those pictures “blind” (and while wide open – amazing!). I think you captured magic!

Naomi - Thanks for sharing! Now I see that was a 35 mm. Ha! Leo is darn cute

Karli - LOVE the peek into your process. Thanks so much for sharing!!!

Heather - What a fun post and peek into your process. I’m always amazed at how you can shoot from the hip. I’ve never been able to do that and like the photos.

Also, if you want to save space on your hard drive with RAW files, convert them to dng files when you download them.

Kathy James - Love this post Stacey, your beautiful and fun loving Golden Leo and all your sharing of settings and process! Did you teach yourself Lightroom or do you recommend a way to learn it? Big fan of your work here :)

andrea - thanks for sharing.
how did you “purposely overexposed for the snow” at 1/2500 and the other settings. If I used those setting on my camera and shot, my shots would be dark as night at that fast of a shutter speed. maybe it’s the lens?…(or more likely I have no clue what I’m doing…lol!) If you overexposed for the snow, wouldn’t your shutter speed be closer to 1/250 or something like that?…
an amazing series of photos! So perfectly your style. I wish I could find my style…I have no style. Though i was pretty happy with my last photos of Sammy – not sure if you’ve seen them – which I did edit in LR.
Also love lightroom! So much easier than Elements!! And I shot my first RAW photos just for fun yesterday. So much more leeway with editing. Very glad to have the 1T external drive. ;) I always shoot RAW for clients, but never have just for myself. Now that I have LR though I’ll probably always be shooting RAW.
Lovely photos, S.
Hope you print and hang these!!

michelle - Love everything about this post. EVERYTHING.
I want you and Leo to be our neighbors. Can we make that happen? ;)

bettye rainwater - love. love the golden in the snow. love the softness of the images just from the natural tones. love the out-of-focus-ness. I do that a lot, too. I’m not as concerned w “FOCUS” as emotion or tone or light. if there’s lovely soft light and I’m outdoors I’ll often set it to manual focus and then be…not. too. careful :-) and often those are my favorite images.

give leo a hug from me.


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