Soft paws

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Soft paws

Natalie Große specialises in pet portraits. Many of her fabulous photos are taken with the Tamron SP 70-200 f/2.8 DI VC USD.

She’s a real high flyer. About a year ago, Natalie Große was given an entry-level DSLR as a birthday present. “Before that, I didn’t know the first thing about photography. I’m not kidding – nothing,” explains the Berliner, who has since then has embarked on a journey to become a successful animal photographer. To start with, she only took photos of cats, and posted them on her Facebook page. But we all know how popular cat-related content is on Facebook, and her pictures quickly did the rounds. “I soon realised that I was developing a passion for animal photography, and I wanted to get better at it. I was swept away with ambition,” Natalie explains.

After just a month, however, she had achieved all she could with her small single-lens reflex camera. “I wasn’t satisfied particularly with the resolution of the sensor, so I changed the body several times, finally settling on a professional full-format DSLR. I often wondered how other photographers got such great bokeh or such crisp sharpness, and found out that to a large extent, that’s a result of the combination of camera and lens. Beginner cameras are often difficult to use and don’t deliver the results you want, especially if the animals are moving.”

Dog portraits in the park

At around the same time, the indoor cats, as her only subject, became too boring. She asked around her circle of friends and photographed some of their dogs in the park. This brought new dimensions to her page. The quality of her pictures improved rapidly, as well, thanks to her new full-format DSLR and the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8, which in turn made her fan base explode in size. Soon enough, she didn’t have to search for new models; pet owners would come to her, asking for a photo session with their beloved animals.

Photographing in parks and fields was mainly different from the cat sessions at home because of the greater distances involved, which of course meant that she would have to attach a suitable lens. Because of her new models, most of whom were very active, Natalie needed a flexible range of focal lengths, so she made a very deliberate decision to buy a fast 70-200mm telephoto. It was perfect for her style of photography.

Stylish bokeh

“Lots of colleagues can hardly believe that I work almost exclusively with this lens, and what’s more, 90% of the time, I’m at 200mm with the widest possible aperture.” But it’s these settings that help her achieve her distinctive style, which uses expressive bokeh to bring out the animals in the foreground. At the same time, the clean sharpness bestows a natural plasticity, frequently described as a kind of 3D effect. “I’m always so impressed with this look – I can’t get enough of this lens.”

To keep the animals happy – a large part of her clientele consists of dog owners - in front of the camera, she recommends that her customers bring something that the animals know and that they particularly like. “That could be a toy, or just a few biscuits,” Natalie explains. “It lets me focus and steer the animals’ gaze. And when the animals look alert, it always has a great effect on the photos.” Another dog in the park works well too, even if the effect is disruptive to start with. It usually brings out some curiosity in Natalie’s subjects. “I often have to stop owners who are calling their dogs back over, because the subject comes across so authentically that way.”

But when a dog hears its name a hundred times in an hour and stops wanting to play with its toy, Natalie has to get creative. For example, she will set up a surprise, having her assistant rustle in a bush. That instinctively gets the animal’s attention again. “Those times are the exception, though – sometimes you have to recognise when an animal has just had enough.”

More than just a hobby

Natalie works as a care worker with children with disabilities. This social work is a personal concern for her. Prior to this, she had qualified as a hairdresser. The skills she gained in both jobs now benefit her as a photographer. “As a hairdresser, for example, I developed a good feel for aesthetics, and had to internalise colour theory, so I learnt things that today help me to compose a good photo.” Natalie gives tips on the pet owners’ outfits as well, so that the humans match the four-legged models in the photos.

Backlighting brings depth

To achieve her dreamlike, fairy-tale style, Natalie likes to work with backlighting in the early morning or during the ‘golden hour’ in the evening. “I’m always pleased with the results the SP 70-200mm gives in these conditions – despite the complex lighting with the dogs jumping around, the results are always very precise.”

Today, Natalie spends the majority of her free time taking portraits of animals of every size and species – from hamsters to horses. She is usually booked up months in advance and works all over Germany. “Of course, it’s often very tiring physically,” she explains. “Sometimes I get bruises because I’ve had to keep a hyperactive puppy in the viewfinder while I’ve been lying on a gravel path.” But even then, it’s a dream job for her. “You wouldn’t believe the joy working with animals brings me, so I can’t think of anything more wonderful right now than to be spending my free time at the weekends and after work behind the camera.”

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