We took advantage of a bright and frosty winter morning to shoot outdoors.

If the sun is really bright try shooting in the shade to diffuse the light; dappled shade under trees works well, as the sun will add attractive highlights to your subject. The further your subject is away from their backdrop the more you’ll be able to blur the background to make them stand out; we made the most of some backlit trees, as they created a nice bokeh effect.

Choose a location

In addition to the aperture setting, focal length also plays a part in determining the depth of field: with a longer lens depth of field is reduced, throwing the background out of focus to isolate your subject. Rather than staying in the same position and using the whole focal length range, it’s best to keep the lens at between 100mm and 135mm, and move in or out to change the size of your subject in the frame.

Focal length

For our shoot we used the EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM kit lens, which has a four-stop image stabiliser, making it ideal for shooting moving subjects handheld. Make sure that IS is engaged on the lens, and that the lens is set to AF mode. If your subject is off-centre in the frame, rather than using the centre AF point to focus and then recomposing, you can manually select an AF point for greater accuracy.

Get set up

We shot in portrait format to fill the frame when Bella was sitting; when she was lying down we changed to landscape. Include background elements such as trees and the sky to create perspective and add colour; shooting from above your subject will make them look less imposing, and the frame will be filled with the ground, which looks boring. Focus on the eyes, and when you’ve fired off a few shots zoom in on the eyes in Playback mode to check for sharpness.

Composition and focusing

Set your camera to Aperture Priority (Av) mode and select the widest available aperture for your chosen focal length, both to capture a shallow depth of field and to enable you to use a fast shutter speed. For optimum image quality select the Raw quality setting, and set a low ISO of 100; if you’re shooting on a dull day, and your shutter speed isn’t fast enough to capture sharp images, increase your ISO to 400.

Shooting settings

Getting down to your subject’s eye level will help you to capture a more engaging portrait – it may help if you lie down with your elbows braced on the ground to support yourself and your camera. If your subject struggles to sit still for any length of time, you may be better off sitting on your knees so that you can move quickly and easily to keep up with them.

Go low

Open the start file in Adobe Camera Raw and begin by setting the Temperature slider to 6400 to warm up the image. Set the Exposure to +0.20 and Contrast to +22 to boost the brightness and contrast, and set Shadows to +35 to add some fill light. Set Clarity to +11 to add some definition, and lastly set Vibrance to +22 to boost the shot’s weaker colours. Click Open Image to open the shot in Elements.

ACR adjustments

We can also use the Clone Stamp tool to copy some of the blurred highlights in the background, to enhance the bokeh effect. To make the background highlights stand out more, take the Dodge tool, set Range to Highlights and Exposure to 25%, and brush over the background to lighten just the highlights; dodge the highlights on the dog’s coat too.

Enhance the bokeh

Select the Crop tool, choose Use Photo Ratio from the Crop Preset menu, and crop in tighter to make the subject more prominent in the frame. Next select the Spot Healing Brush tool, and click on the white marks on the fur to remove them. Use the Clone Stamp tool to clean up blemishes such as clumps of mud in the grass; Alt-click to sample a nearby area of grass, then clone these pixels over the blemish.

Crop and retouch

We’ll use adjustment layers to fine-tune the overall brightness, contrast and colour. Add a Levels adjustment layer and set the Shadows slider to 8, the Midtones slider to 1.11 and the Highlights slider to 247, then add a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer and set Brightness to 5 and Contrast to 22. To finish off add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer, leave the menu set to Master, and increase Saturation to +7. n

Contrast and colour

Perspective distortion


Keep it natural, or exaggerate features for a quirky look
Long lenses, typically in the 85-135mm range, are traditionally used for people portraits, as these focal lengths compress facial features for a more flattering look. Shorter focal lengths introduce perspective distortion by enlarging foreground features; on full-length shots this can make heads or noses look unnaturally large, but while this isn’t desirable for human subjects you can choose to employ the effect with pets for a cute and quirky portrait.