Small Business Feature: A Big Friendly Ginger

Brenner posing with one of my art prints! Posted with permission by @bigfriendlyginger
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Hello! Happy Thursday! I am sorry there wasn’t a blog last week. Family was in town, and of course, time got away from me. But, I’ve had some great projects in the works, including this awesome interview with “A Big Friendly Ginger” (@bigfriendlyginger), an adorable instagram account featuring Brenner, an adorable golden retriever, If you haven’t seen their account, please check it out!

I asked Mariah, Brenner’s dog mom, a bunch of questions, including how she came up with the name “A Big Friendly Ginger”, how she gets Brenner to pose for all those adorable photos, and so much more! I hope you enjoy!

Tell us about yourself.
I’m Mariah, Brenner’s mom, and the “bfg” is Brenner. We are currently residing in Gainesville, Florida. I moonlight as Becky on the gram (I don’t know how that started). Aside from full time dog momming, I’m also a scientist. I work with agricultural and entomological viruses to improve food security. Photography has been a hobby of mine for a few years, but it wasn’t until Brenner that I started shooting dogs.

Mariah, Brenner’s dog mom! Photo posted with permission from @bigfriendlyginger

I started Brenner’s account January 2017. He was a year and a half at the time. I actually wasn’t planning to ever be one of “those people” with a gram for their dog…but well, here we are. Foot meet mouth.

I enjoy it so much it’s my main focus now. As I had said before, I didn’t want to start up an instagram for Brenner, but it got to the point that I had all these cute shots, but nowhere to show them off. I had already over saturated Facebook with his face. A dog friend of Brenner’s had an account, and convinced me to give it a try. Even though I’m now a hypocrite,  it’s been a lot of fun! Especially meeting new people and dogs that we would have never known otherwise. It’s also great to be involved with Brands, and working with small businesses. I had never imagined Brenner’s account getting to this point. Shout out to my lovely followers!

How did you come up with your name, “A Big Friendly Ginger?”
Originally, I set up Brenner’s account under @Only_ingold. Right away I realized I hated it! It just didn’t fit Brenner and it wasn’t catchy. But I struggled coming up with a new name, so I kept it for a while. Inspiration for abigfriendlyginger actually came from our followers who ragged on Brenner for being a redhead. It was all in good fun, and it just kind of stuck with me. So, I decided to embrace his ginger-ism and go with it. He’s also a hefty chonker by nature. BFG just suits him.

Tell us about Brenner. He’s so cute!
Brenner is going to be 4 this June (June 22nd). I’ve had him since he was 8 weeks old. Brenner came into my life at a time when I really needed companionship and someone to go places with. I had moved out to Iowa to start graduate school, it was the first time I was truly on my own. Everyone I knew was back on the east coast and I had a difficult time making new connections. Brenner just kind of fell into my lap. A family in a small town had a litter of goldens and I went to just look and see. I’d say about twenty minutes after going to “just look” I was riding home with a puppy that I didn’t have the money to pay for, hadn’t let my landlord know about, and my boyfriend hadn’t known I was getting. Fast forward a few years and Brenner has been the best companion a girl could ask for.

Brenner is a big, friendly dope. He doesn’t know the word “stranger.” Everyone is friend. He smiles all the time and loves to go hiking. Swimming is probably his favorite thing in the world. He’s been swimming since he was 8 weeks old, and it’s never too cold for a swim. He, however, is the slowest runner in the world.  

I also see a cute cat that shows up in the photos. Tell us about the cat!
So there are actually 3 cats. Elsie was a shelter cat, and is the oldest at 11. She’s the big sassy fluff monster who loves photography paper. Lucy, is a tortoise shell and 9 months old. She was a feral kitten I rescued from a busy roadway back in August. Gus is 6 months, and friends of mine found him after he was thrown onto a highway. This sadly is not an uncommon occurrence here in Florida. Gus is the one seen most in photos with Brenner. He’s just such an easygoing cat, it’s not hard to get him to pose.

I post the cats’ videos on our instagram stories, and our highlights have a section dedicated to just them. I especially post a lot of stories with Lucy and Brenner. They’ve been best friends since Lucy first came into our lives. He has taught her how to roughhouse and she’s still trying to teach him how to cuddle.     

How did you develop your photography skills? Tell us about the camera you use.
Everything I’ve learned has been through free online resources (BH Event Space, Creative Live, TWiP, Youtube) and general trial and error. I really like studio photography, but there isn’t a lot of content out there about dogs and studio (at least not when I was first learning). So, I spent a lot of time studying wedding and portrait photographers, such as Sue Bryce, Lindsay Adler, Rick Sammon, Scott Kelby, etc. I figured that while the subject might be different, light behaves in the same way. I highly recommend that even if you have no interest in photographing people, that you still take the time to learn from portrait masters. They have a wealth of knowledge. If anyone is interested in learning flash photography for the first time, I cannot recommend enough Scott Kelby’s courses.

I started with a Nikon D3000. I bought it used for $200, and then I bought the nikkor 50 mm 1.8. I still use this lens. My all time favorite photo of Brenner was taken with this camera and the kit lens. The D3000 was limited (I couldn’t go past ISO 400!), but I think that actually helped a lot with my photography. It really forced me to learn how to use light and exposure to get a decent image. This is also the camera I was using when I got my first few paid clients. I upgraded about a year ago to the Nikon D750.            

Do you have a studio set up?
It is more of a bedroom setup! Half of my bedroom is dedicated to a slapdash photography studio

How long does it take to do one photo?
This depends on what I’m trying to accomplish. A simple portrait can take about 5-10 minutes for set up and setting adjustments. I usually use a cat to test my settings with first. Brenner is a true professional model and cannot be asked to wait while I fiddle with the camera. (Kidding, the cats like to help set up, so it’s easy to just use them). Brenner does know his job though and as long as there is food, will do most of what I ask. A simple shoot is pretty quick and can be done in 30 minutes, with about 50 photos.

I try to keep my photoshoots spaced out during the month, so that Brenner doesn’t get burn out. If he’s not happy doing it, then a shoot doesn’t happen – or I cut it short. Usually a shoot will be about an hour long, with a few prop or costume changes. This way I have a variety of photos to work with and all done at once.  

Do you plan out your photos for the week? Month? Do you wait for inspiration? Tell us about your process.
For posting photos, yes. I plan out my posts using UNUM for at least a week in advanced. I find this helps me keep a theme and consistent look going. For photo inspiration I keep a little notebook. Any time I have an idea I’ll write it down or draw it in this notebook. Sometimes ideas will come randomly throughout the day, or I’ll see a photo/post that inspires me. My inspiration comes from all different sources. My favorite challenge is to take something I see being done with people and making it work with Brenner.   

How do you get Brenner to pose/sit/give great expressions?
This is all Brenner. He’s not just a good boy, he is the best boy. Brenner has always been a very patient dog, and I’ve been photographing him since he was a puppy. I think he just sees this as his job. And because of photography he knows a lot of weird commands. Like “scootch over.”

When I’m working with dogs that haven’t been in front of a camera before, food, a toy, or a noise maker will help get their attention. For excited dogs you need to work with their energy. Let them run around and get it all out before trying to make them pose. Small dogs are easier to work with if you put them on a platform of some sort. This will help keep them in one place. Working with cats can be hell, good luck.

Getting good expressions can be tricky, but can usually be accomplished with food or noise makers. Brenner has this “I’m bored” face. His eyes will be half closed, his shoulders hunched, and he will have his mouth hanging open – not very attractive. To get him out of this I’ll try tossing a few treats to him which will force him to pay attention to catch them. If this doesn’t work I’ll try noise makers, or we will take a break and play with one of his toys. Anything to get him back in the game and more active. If all else fails I’ll try changing his position, outfit, or location.  

Show us your favorite photo you’ve taken and why.

Photo reposted with permission by @abigfriendlyginger

I have a lot of photos I love of Brenner, but this is my absolute favorite. This photo was taken in the middle of winter in Iowa. Brenner is a snow dog, he loves it. That day we were out at a local park, it was freaking cold and he was off running through the dead prairie grasses. This photo was taken as he was leaping out of the field and back onto the trail. I think my favorite part about this photo is his ears and his happy face. It is easy to see he was having a blast.

Is there anything you cannot get Brenner to pose or wear for a photo?
I had to really think about this one. So far there hasn’t been anything Brenner hasn’t let me try. He let me put a freaking pumpkin on his head for Halloween.  

I love the videos you do of your pets. How many do you do a day?
Not as many as I would like. I’m trying to get more into video, but it’s just not something I’m very interested in.

What types of businesses do you look for when considering a collaboration?
I’m willing to consider work with many types of brand, as long as they have a good (safe) product that is relevant to my follower base, they’ve been respectful in communications and if I feel comfortable working with them. I try to always do my research on a business before accepting anything from them. It’s also important to know what a business is looking for when they contact me. I have turned down collaborations because I didn’t think I was the right fit for them. Also, when working with brands know your worth as a content creator. I don’t necessarily mean monetary value, but the value of your time and energy.       

What’s one of your favorite products you’ve collaborated with?
Thats a tough one! Probably our collaborations with Pop Your Pup. Our first collaboration was a tank top with Brenner’s face on it. I wear it all the time.

Can you provide some tips on how to photograph your dog effectively?
There are a few great online resources I can recommend if someone is looking to improve their dog photography in general. Hair of the Dog and Kim Hartz are two good places to start.

My first tip is, if you are first getting into studio photography, start small. You really only need one cheap speedlight and a wireless transmitter. My first flash was a $50 cheapy from Amazon. It came with an equally cheap transmitter. With one flash you can bounce the light off a light-colored wall or ceiling. You can use a white sheet to make your own softbox, or buy a cheap piece of white foam board (Lowe’s or Home Depot) to bounce the flash on. White foam board (insulation board, polyboard, foam core, etc) can make really handy photography tools. They can be used as backdrops, reflectors or a floor drop. I have two that I use depending on my needs. Backdrops can be as simple as a plain wall, or made out of sheets, swathes of cotton from Joanne’s, or poster board. You don’t need to invest in photography paper off the bat.   

Tip two: This one you might have heard before and that is: shoot from the dog’s perspective. Meaning get at their eye level with your camera. By being on eye level with your dog you will have more connection between the viewer and the photo. But also don’t be pigeon holed by this – shoot at different angles and heights to change it up a bit.

Tip three: Use food to direct your dog’s eyes. If you want them looking into the camera hold the treat against the end of the lens. It can help to have a different person controlling the treats.  

Use treats to get them to look in the direction you’d like them to pose. Photo by @saccostudios

Tip four: If you are having trouble with blurry images, you can try bumping up your shutter speed to 1/1000 sec or faster. If that doesn’t help, or this isn’t possible try holding down the shutter and rapidly taking 3-4 photos. One photo in the sequence will be clear. This is something I learned from a National Geographic photographer who would have to take photos in very low light situations without a tripod. I’m a shaky person, so this method has really helped me a number of times.

Use a shutter speed to reduce blurriness. Photo from @bigfriendlyginger

Tip Five: If your camera can do it, learn to use Kelvin as your white balance. Learning to use Kelvin has greatly reduced my editing time, because all my photos will have the same color temperature. I don’t need to go photo by photo to correct color anymore. I can just adjust one and then apply that adjustment to the whole sequence.

Tip Six: This is the tip everyone is probably sick of hearing, but it’s the most important thing a photographer can do. Practice! However, practice doesn’t mean go out and take the types of photos you are comfortable with. Practice is only effective when you are pushing your comfort zone and trying things that you know you’ll probably fail at. Do it anyway! Then afterwards really look at the photos and see what went wrong. It can help a lot to go back to old photos and try and pinpoint why you don’t like them. By knowing what you didn’t like, you can start learning to avoid doing that.

Lastly, what are your business goals for 2019?
For 2019, I’d like to work on scene building and incorporating more complex props. I’d like to push to limits of what I can do in my small studio space. Another of my major goals for this year is to get outside my safety net and take my flash outdoors, Kaylee Geer style.


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