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Friday, February 24, 2012

kyra | burlington ontario pet photographer

I have tried to write this post several times, and I keep tearing up. It's so difficult to find a starting point for such an emotional story.

Meet Kyra, a gorgeous three-year-old Siberian Husky. She entered my model call a while back and I picked her out of several entries, not only because I've never had a husky in front of my camera before, but also because her story — and the story of her companion Jill — is so powerful.
You see, Kyra saves Jill's life every day. With her devotion, companionship and ability to understand when humans cannot, Kyra stops Jill from taking her own life. Every day.

Let's rewind a bit before going forward. Jill is a competitive ultra long distance marathon runner. That's right, ultra. She runs distances of up to 160 km on forest trails. In 2008, she competed in 10 races and made the podium in nine of them. She was training to make the Canadian Women's Ultra Marathon Team. When Jill's original canine running companion (husky Kysmit) became too old to accompany her, puppy Kyra became a member of the family. By the time Kyra was three months old, they were running together.

"From the very first moment her little paws touched the trail I knew by the gleam in her eye and the grace of her gait she was born to be a runner," says Jill. "Not only because of her breed, but I could sense the desire in her heart and the ache in her soul to run. We were two peas in a pod."

At the time, Jill was also a busy volunteer and coach, worked a full-time job and had two active children. Her days started at 4:30 a.m. and didn't slow down until 11 p.m.

In 2009 she had a mental breakdown and attempted to end her life.

She was diagnosed with manic depression, anxiety and anorexia. One month later, her mother passed away, followed by her beloved husky Kysmit. Unable to work and alone all day, Jill turned to Kyra. Or perhaps it was Kyra that turned to Jill.

"I plummeted to the darkest place I have ever been to in my life and no one could understand me or knew what to do," says Jill. "But Kyra did. She would sit with me while I cried, resting her head on my lap. She slept by my side of the bed and paced the hallway with me when I couldn't sleep. And if I needed something, she knew what it was. Be it something to eat (she would lead me to the kitchen), get out of bed (she would pull off the covers and lick my face until I rose) or go running (she would bring my running shoes to me). She helped me feel just a little of her sunshine."

That sunshine began to grow stronger as Jill recovered.
In 2010 Jill competed in her first 80-km race in two years. Two kilometres from the finish line, Kyra was allowed on the course to bring Jill home. Kyra has also inspired Jill to follow a new path in life. She is taking classes to become a certified dog trainer and handler. She hopes to train therapy dogs for people with mental illnesses, and one day have those dogs recognized as official service dogs. 

Jill is still coping with her mental illness with Kyra by her side. She calls Kyra her safety net — Kyra can sense when Jill is about to have a panic attack and they travel everywhere together. With her canine companion in the car, Jill knows she won't run it off the road.

Now, when dark thoughts creep in, Jill thinks about what she will leave behind. She has a debt to Kyra that keeps her alive.

"I owe her a lifetime of runs in the forest, of snuggles at night, of cookies and unconditional love like she has given me," says Jill. "She does not label me mentally ill and did not pull away from me like some humans in my life. I don't know what she sees when she looks at me, but I know that when I look at her I see the sun, I see joy and I see hope for my future."
Thank you Jill for sharing your story so openly and honestly in the hopes of helping others. And thank you Kyra for being such a kindred spirit to Jill.

Although she was a busy girl during our session — always exploring, nose to the ground, eyes searching the trees — Kyra's presence is one of serenity and light, which I feel so lucky to have experienced.

The nurturing and healing powers of four paws is awesome. I hope the sun keeps shining bright for you Kyra and Jill!


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Friday, February 17, 2012

what got buried

The winter months are typically the slow ones in terms of photography — nobody really wants to brave the cold and snow when you can wait a few months until spring, even though winter sessions can be gorgeous! Maybe it's because we've had a very warm winter — I'm talking hardly any snow — but I've been pretty busy over the past few weeks.

I've seen other bloggers do weekly or monthly recaps, and I thought it might be a good way to get you up to speed on what's been happening at Happy Tails headquarters. I often post outtakes and sneak peeks over on Facebook, but if you don't follow me there (if you aren't, you should — it's awesome over there!), here's a chance to get caught up on all the tail-wagging shennanigans!

Just a shout-out first: I really got this idea from a little home renovation blog I follow (it's not all paws and wet noses for me — I love home decorating too!) called Little House Blog. The author, Lindsay, occasionally posts What Didn't Get Blogged About ... which is what I turned into What Got Buried. You get the idea.

Up first are a few of the super cute faces I recently photographed at the Burlington Humane Society.  This little guy was one of a litter of puppies, and yes, they all looked this adorable.
And I was totally enamored with little Angus, a nine-year-old Yorkshire Terrier. It was really windy when we went outside for his photos and this updraft shot makes me chuckle every time.

I'm happy to report that both these cuties have been adopted. In fact, since January, more than 60 dogs and cats have found homes through BHS. Paws up to all the awesome volunteers there!

Then there's Charlie, who I met a few weeks ago. You saw his sneak peek earlier  (and be sure to check out the video!). I just love this big lug. Look for a full post about him soon!
I also shared a little before and after over on Facebook to show what my editing process looks like.
We also got into the Valentine's Day spirit. Chloe spent Valentine's with her true love .... her tennis ball!
Next up is Kyra, an energetic husky ... a VERY energetic husky. She did sit still for a few shots though. I love it when I catch dogs with their eyes closed — it's just so cute. You will also see that her leash is still in the photo. I typically take these out during post-processing, unless it lends itself to the overall aesthetic of the photo. Isn't the light just gorgeous?
Kyra's friend Duncan came along for the session, and I got a few shots of them in action. See what I mean by energetic? I think Duncan is part jack-in-the-box and part bulldozer, although his people swear he is a Boxer. Gotta love the jowly running face!
During Kyra's session I met a few other dogs at the park and took random shots (I can't help myself!). Ryder's puppy bum got lots of love over on Facebook.
And we met this guy who was clearly happy to have two sticks ... or logs.
But back to model Kyra. Here's another before and after.
I hope you enjoyed the first instalment of What Got Buried! What it's shown me is that my watermarking and image style are all over the place! I've got logos, text, rounded corners, square corners ... lol. I will have to pick a style and stick with it, but I've never been good with making decisions — what are your thoughts?

That's what's been going on around here! I'm excited to blog about Charlie and Kyra's full sessions, so check back soon.


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Friday, February 10, 2012

charlie sneak peek | milton ontario pet photograher

Do you remember Charlie? His mom entered him in the little model call I put out a few weeks back. I was so happy when she told me she wanted to meet for a session. I've never photographed a great pyrenees before, and gosh did Charlie ever charm me with his gentleness and soulfulness. A full post is to come with his story, but here's a little outtake shot, along with a sneak peek via video!

Try our slideshow maker at Animoto.

Check back soon for a full post on sweet Charlie!

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

photoshop tips: make your pet's eys pop!

Okay, so here goes — my first Photoshop tutorial! Now, I should preface this with the following disclaimer: I am by no means a Photoshop expert. At all. There are probably processing gurus out there who would be mortified by my editing techniques and if that's you, then please avert your eyes for a brief moment while I finish this post. There are probably better ways to edit, but this is what works for me.

I'm going to start off with a really easy trick that anyone can do to help make your pet's eyes sparkle a little more. I use this trick on the photos I take for the Burlington Humane Society — since I photograph so many animals there (you can see some of them here and here), I can only afford to spend a minute or two processing each photo. This usually involves brightening them up, adjusting the white balance if necessary, popping the eyes and then optimizing for the web. That's it. I'll usually use more complex techniques on client images.

This tip works best on cats and dogs that have light-coloured eyes. I'm going to use this photo of Scout as my example (she has since been adopted!). This is straight out of camera — no adjustments.

Open up the photo in your editing software. I use Photoshop CS5, but any version or program with dodge and burn tools will work. After opening, go under Layer and click Duplicate Layer. This ensures you aren't working directly on the original photo.
Next, click on the Dodge tool in the toolbar — it's the one that looks like a little paddle.
Then in the top toolbar, in the drop-down menu, click Highlights. In the little box to the right of that, set your exposure. I usually go with around 8-10 per cent. If you choose a number higher than that, the results start to look unnatural. We want to keep the pop subtle.
Next, make sure you choose a soft brush in the Brush drop-down menu at the top left and adjust the size using the slider or the bracket keys on your keyboard.
Dodge the irises of the eyes lightly. A note of caution: if there are whites of the eyes showing, avoid dodging them or do it very sparingly. If you are too heavy handed, the result will not only look unnatural, it will look alien and just plain freaky.

After a few passes, here is my result:

After a quick sharpen and flatten, here is my before and after:
There you go! A super quick and easy way to add a little zing to your pet's eyes. Just remember not to go overboard. What do you think of this tutorial? Was it helpful? Leave a comment and let me know!


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