Poop bag portraiture

I’m pretty sure that I’ve photographed more dog poop bags than anyone. I’ve learned a lot, some of which I’m offering here as tips to photographers.

  • Develop a relationship with your subject. As in photographing babies or hamsters, get right down with the subject. You must get your knees dirty.
  • Imbue the bag with emotion—joy, loneliness, steadfastness. Don’t be afraid to zoomorphize the bag, with its knotted ears, imaginary eyes and maybe even a shy grin. Is the bag likeable, or is it repellent?

See related article ‘The poop bag puzzle’ and a poop bag photo gallery

  • A photo—even a single photo—should tell a story. What was going through the dog pooper’s mind when he set down the bag? Was he careful or careless, and what did that say about the pride he felt toward his pet or his political views?
  • Try different angles. Explore how the poop bag relates to the bark of the tree behind it and the soft moss and herbs on which it sits. Give your subject a sense of place.
  • Light can be your friend or your enemy. Direct sunlight can reflect off of the bag and create an ugly white glare. Conversely, too little sun can take all of the life and excitement out of a brown or green bag. A slightly overcast day is ideal, particularly if the light comes at an angle to create subtle shadows and depth. Backlighting can be an effective way of infusing the colored plastic with an inner glow.
  • Occasionally try making the bag just part of the composition, letting it occupy a small—but crucial—spot on the canvas. Study how this technique was used by the artists of the Hudson River School, with their carefully placed human onlookers or a distant locomotive designed to express man as a part of a rich and ever-changing natural world.

As for equipment, I’ve used professional SLR cameras and lenses, point-and-shoot cameras, and cell phones. For me, the cell phone is the clear winner. The quality is more than adequate, and they draw less unwanted attention from passersby.


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