Guest post by Gallen. Gallen has been a photographer for over a decade, and has been actively photographing fursuiters since 2009. He runs www.fursuitphotography.com.
Hi everyone! I was recently contacted by [adjective][species] to write about fursuit photography. Originally, a title of “How to do Fursuit Photography” was suggested. This rubbed me slightly wrong as I felt that photography, like any artform, has no one singular approach. Tastes in photography, and art, differ between each of us. So I want to stress that this article is simply about how I approach fursuit photography, not the be-all-end-all of fursuit photography.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about the little thing we actually need for photography, called a camera. You can choose anything from a compact camera built into a mobile phone, all the way to expensive interchangeable-lens cameras.
There are things to consider apart from the camera, depending on how serious you want to take your photography. For example: software to process the photos (I use Corel Aftershot Pro); a good solid 8 bit per channel IPS LCD monitor (commonly available lcd monitors only allow a limited range of colours to be seen); or a colorimeter to calibrate your screen.
If you are interested in printing your photography, consider calibrating your inks and papers. I personally went with profiled inks and paper, bypassing this (really expensive) step.
At this point, you may be thinking ‘hold on, I know this particular photographer that does brilliant work with just his camera’. And so do I. Some of my photographer friends deliver jpegs straight from their cameras that are simply brilliant. I can’t for the grace of the wolves above understand how they do that. Once again, photography is an artform, and there are many ways to do it. You may decide to just start with a camera and whatever software it comes with, then slowly move on, or spring for the whole shebang.
Now it’s time to take photos!
Photography has very strong technical roots. But the items mentioned above only allow us to accurately view and process the final image. When taking photos, there are other technical challenges to consider: exposure.
Exposure is the selection of ISO, shutter speed, and lens aperture. With today’s cameras, and their “automatic” modes, many photographers don’t bother learning about exposure. But if you understand their relationship, it will help you take sharp, well lit photographs in nearly any situation (if that is what you are after!).
Exposure is not a subject I wish to cover in this article. I can however, recommend a website that deals with this subject (Cambridge in Colour) as well as a book (Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson). Once you understand exposure, which is quite straightforward, I suggest exploring using artificial light, i.e. flash with your photography.
Flash photography is always thought of for use indoors, in the studio, or at night, but you’ll be surprised how useful flash can be when outdoors. Nearly all my photos are taken with flash. It is an acquired taste, and some photographers utterly dislike flash. And there are many, many wonderful photographs taken in natural light as well. So once again, it is up to you to decide depending on your own preferences.
Finally, there is the small matter of actually taking a photo: the composition of an image. This is perhaps the most important aspect, but I seem to have marginalized it by talking about equipment X, exposure Y, lack of nice looking wolf plushies, etc.
Photo composition is a subject I am less confident about, as I think my photographs feel very raw and unfinished (unlike photographers that I aspire to). But let me give it a go, in the context of a LondonFurs fursuit walk.
The LondonFurs organize a furmeet every 3 weeks that draws over a hundred furs to a large pub in central London. The fursuit walks are highly organized and are guided by a group of dedicated volunteers. These volunteers figure out the routes, and keep all the fursuiters and attending furs safe, guide them through crossings, as well as managing PR with the public and police.
Broadly speaking, I encounter two types of opportunities during such walks: posed shots, and candids. Posed shots are pretty obvious. Fursuiters love to pose, and with the magnificent backdrop of London, the possibilities are endless. The route we take is very familiar to me, so I sometimes suggest where the fursuiters should stand and pose. Some more experienced fursuiters already know how to pose along the route, which makes things much easier!
Candid photography is much, much harder, and very often the results I get are quite poor. However once in awhile a gem shines through. Candid photography (some might call it street photography, but I digress...) is my main focus nowadays, specifically on fursuiter/public interaction. It is challenging and rewarding to capture a slice of time depicting a fleeting smile, a momentary expression of joy.
I feel that my favourite candid shots are largely luck, combined with knowing how my equipment works, as well as good old practice. For example, I tend to shoot with both eyes open; my left eye gives me a broad overview of what’s going on, and my right eye, looking through the viewfinder, allows me to setup the autofocus as well as compose the shot.
It is difficult to explain in words. I tend to be “in the zone” when doing candid photography as it is highly difficult to individually think though everything: exposure compensation, flash compensation, ISO, flash sync speed, autofocus point, framing/composition, is there a bus behind me, etc. It boils down to practice, and a large aspect of my practice does not come from furmeets, but from shooting in zoos and wildlife parks.
In terms of actual composition, I only loosely follow the so-called “rule of thirds” (google it!). I’ve tried following it strictly and the resulting photos felt very static. (On the other hand, there are many other photographers following the rule and getting great results. This is another example of needing to find out what fits you, and not blindly following the pack.)
I also try my best to create the illusion of depth. This means having a photograph with a distinct subject, but with elements in front and behind. This really helps bring the viewer into the photo, but it is rare that things fall into place perfectly.
I also love to push for perspective. A lot of my shots tend to figure some exaggerated perspectives, simply because I shoot as close as possible to my subjects (another thing to google: “If your pictures are not good enough, you are not close enough”). This, combined with a rather wide angled lens (24mm equivalent) gives me the perspectives I enjoy. Note that perspective is a matter of distance between the camera and subject, not focal length! Wide focal lengths are required to capture such perspectives, but lenses have no play in perspective.
Another thing to think about is position. Keep moving! Shooting from various positions will introduce you to different viewpoints. They may be better, they may be worse, but the possibility is there to catch something different.
To keep things unique, there are some things I generally avoid. If there is a crowd of photographers shooting something, I don’t go there. I don’t see the point in capturing a shot that is slightly different from what a dozen other photographers are taking.
Next, nearly every photographer I see shoots with the camera to his or her eye. Why? Shoot from the waist, shoot from above, shoot tilted, shoot on your belly, shoot upwards while lying on your back. Crouch down to the height of a small child, to capture the view through their eyes, nearer to the ground. Climb up from above, see what things look like from a hundred feet above. Or stand on tiptoe and shoot one-handed with the camera raised high and tilting down.
Unique viewpoints will reward you with unique shots, even though you might look stupid while taking it (why is this idiot crawling on the ground?). This is especially true when shooting wildlife; you want to shoot at the eye level of critters for the most intimate shots, and thankfully fursuiters don’t go as low as hedgehogs.
Panoramics is another side of photography that I occasionally deploy. This comes from years of doing hand-held panoramic photography outdoors and indoors. I do not have a pano rig, so rely on knowing exactly (or so I believe :P) where the pivot point is for my lens, giving the least amount of parallax error. This has come in handy many times, when there are large groups of fursuiters, too wide for my lens at its widest setting.
I also study photographs from the masters, and other photographers whose work I enjoy. Why do some photos appeal to you? Why do some not?
Join photography forums (those dedicated to composition, not equipment forums) and follow along their weekly/monthly challenges. Look at what other people have done, and think how you could learn from their experiences. Read up how professionals approach their photography. What can we use from those tips they’ve shared?
Finally, let’s talk about the final ingredient in the mix: the fursuiters.
As I mentioned, I nowadays go mainly for candid shots that depict fursuiter/public interaction. If a magnificent fursuit is just standing around, looking like an oversized plush toy, I tend to not bother. Instead, I follow fursuiters who can perform and understand how to interact with the public.
Through four years in London, I’ve seen several “walkers” (as I term them) blossom into strong performers. These changes did not come overnight. Some naturally improve, others were mentored by experienced fursuiters, others followed on walks unsuited and observed their peers. And some simply shuffle along in the same way, meet after meet.
Some fursuiters I have spoken with have an exercise regimen, so they can perform adequately in fursuit. These are the performers who do handstands, backflips and other amazing physical feats.
Other fursuiters like to practice at home in front of mirrors, to understand how to develop strong poses. And let’s not forget about the dance furs, who can, amazingly, dance in fursuit. I don’t get many such opportunities as I don’t go to cons much (plus the con goers will hate my flash :P), but major props to those fuzzies who not only choreograph a dance, but to get multiple fursuiters working in unison. Magic.
In closing, fursuit photography, or just photography in general, is like any hobby: you can shoot for fun, or follow Alice down the rabbit hole. It is a very enjoyable hobby, and it can get expensive if you choose to let it.
Thankfully I’ve not had equipment lust for years, and am focusing on developing my inner photographic eye with what equipment I have. Till the next time, keep shooting!