Photographing Your Pet
1. Have your camera with you. Stating the obvious? It's not. Many people miss precious pet moments by not having their camera with them when spending time with their pets. What's more, if your pet gets used to you having your camara on you, they'll be more inclined to concentrate on doing cute things rather than on taking interest in your camera or even being afraid of it. Today's high quality small digital cameras make it easy to take your camera with you when playing with your pets, walking them, or just spending time together, so remember to carry it with you.
Consider your pet's personality. Before you start photographing your pet, ask what sets your pet apart from other animals. This shouldn't be too hard since you've spent a lot of time raising and caring for your pet. The aim is to capture the parts of your pet's personality that bring out your pet's best, and knowing the right moments likely to give rise to these aspects of your pet's personality is helpful.
· For example, if everyone knows your pet as a sleepy, lazy or placid little creature, set up your photo shoot around his bed or near where he goes after a meal to lie in the sun and you’ll have every chance of capturing a shot that sums up your pet completely. Alternatively if your pet is hyperactive, inquisitive and always on the move, it might be better to do your shoot at a local park where he’s racing around, jumping for balls, or playing with other animals.
· Show off your pet's special abilities. Bunnies can balance things on their heads. Hamsters can stuff their cheeks. Cats are very flexible. Dogs can chase their tails, shake, and do tricks!
Think about context. Choosing the location for the perfect pet shot is dependent on where your pet is feeling at ease and comfortable. For dogs, that's almost anywhere you are but for less boisterous and shyer animals, the best context might be on their terms rather than on yours.
· Find a location that will evoke memories and emotions for you as the pet's owner, in years to come. For example, you might have a place that you and your pet have shared some special moments together, a place that will mean a lot in the future as you look back over your shots.
· Consider the background of your shots carefully. Ultimately you don’t want your backgrounds to distract from your photo – sometimes the best locations are the plainest ones, such as a large patch of green grass, a well lit room with white walls and plain carpet, etc., can be ideal. Equally, they might appear too plain and sterile, so pay attention to such details. And what you certainly don't want is the garbage can or a boring or ugly wall backdrop! Bear in mind that if the different elements in the background of the shot don't add to it, avoid them.
Be aware of the best lighting situations. When it comes to pets, lighting is especially important. For starters, it is not recommended to use the flash because it distracts animals easily and can frighten a good number of them too. Flashes also create spooky red eye with some animals and while you could Photoshop this out, it's best avoided. The only real exception is when you're photographing a pet with very dark or black fur, as the black or dark fur tends to absorb light and flash can add detail. With dark furry pets, you might want to slightly over expose your images for this same reason.
· Photographing outdoors is the best natural light option, there is an array of wonderful colors that indoor light doesn't have, and outside photo shoots tend to work best. Keep in mind that with white pets, you run the risk of over-exposing shots so try to find a location out of direct sunlight and definitely avoid a flash.
· If you want to take indoor photos, try to stage the shots near a well lit window or in a room with plenty of natural light streaming in. Don't use a direct flash because this will cause washed-out photos and might harm your pet's eyes and raise the fear factor.
· Use exposure compensation, all the time. On digital cameras this is one of the most important adjustments. Look on your LCD screen and watch for terminal underexposure or highlights blown out to pure white (or close to it). Adjust the exposure compensation as necessary.
Set up your camera. If you're going to get great shots, it'll pay you well to be familiar with a few critical adjustments. Many pets present a challenge to photographers because they're active and always on the move. The key with any subject that’s on the move is to freeze their action by using a fast shutter speed. Most digital cameras these days will allow you to shoot in full manual mode if you feel confident enough to get the mix between shutter and aperture right – alternatively you can work in shutter priority mode where you set the shutter speed and the camera automatically does the rest by picking a good aperture to work with your shutter speed. If you find the following sub-steps confusing, or if you don't care about technical trivia, feel free to ignore these details; composition and lighting are much more important and interesting.
· Automate as much as you can. Set your camera to one of its automatic mode, and fully programmed automatic if that's what gets the results you want. Animals move too fast to give you time to operate everything manually.
· Set up your camera for speed. If your pet is a fast mover, you might also want to consider shooting in continuous mode (burst mode) to take a quick series of shots in a row. This can also lead to a wonderful sequence of shots that work well together. Use continuous shooting and continuous auto-focus; exactly what this will be called depends on your camera – read your camera's manual for details.
· Once you’ve got your shutter speed nice and fast, make sure your camera is always at the ready so you can anticipate the actions of your pet.
Take a pet's-eye-view of the world when taking your photographs. Get down on your pet's level where you can look at them eye to eye. Images taken by a photographer standing up and looking down on your pets not only leave you too far away from your subject but they also mean the shots end up displaying the "human perspective" – and look like snapshots, not portraits. Getting down at your pet's level means you enter their world and get a glimpse of what life looks like from their angle – you’ll be impressed by the results as they're more personal and have a real element of intimacy.
· Don't be afraid to lie on your stomach on the ground if it gets a more interesting picture. Get as close to their level as you possibly can. Roll around to take pictures of your pet from different and unusual angles, use your imagination.
Get in close. Pets come in all shapes and sizes but in most cases, they're smaller or shorter than a human and as a result they tend to end up getting a little lost in photos unless you make an effort to get up close to them. Of course, getting close is not always easy, especially if you have a pet that likes to move around, but it’s worth making the effort as the detail that can be gained and the personality that can be captured by an up-close-and-personal photo shoot with a pet can really lift a photo to a new level. Move yourself closer when you can and ensure that there aren't any distracting elements in the frame.
· A wider angle lens allows you to get in close (point 3) but also fits in a lot of the pet. The other benefit of it is that using a wider angle lens will often give your image a little distortion that will give your image a new creative and fun perspective. Read up on ways to use the wide angle lens distortion creatively; or just experiment.
Catch your pet unawares. Wait for your pet to do something cute (or just looking cute, as pets do) and take your pictures. Take as many as you can, since animals are doing something different from second to second, and taking many photos is free on digital (and on film you can justify it to yourself by thinking of how much film you could shoot with the digital camera you didn't buy). Play with your pet. Take pictures while someone else plays with your pet. Get them engaged and active. You never know what they'll do.
· Take care with posed pet shots. Apart from the near-impossibility of getting a pet to stay still for long enough, the best photographs come from animals doing what they do best: acting cute and behaving spontaneously. A favorite toy and some treats go much, much further than unnatural pet clothes and everything else that typically goes wrong with amateur "posed" photographs.
· If you really want to try posed shots, photograph them candidly, paparazzi style. It's fun to take shots while your dog digs up flowers, as your dog buries a bone, as he falls and chases a bee around. When you just sit there and wait for his antics to start, you can photograph him the whole time without him even noticing.
Mix up your framing. Pets, like human subjects, look different from different angles and framing them in a variety of ways can bring out different perspectives to your shots. In your photo shoot, take some tightly cropped facial shots (even focusing right in on single features like eyes, noses, ears, whiskers, etc.) but also make sure you take three quarter body shots as well as full body shots. This way, you end up with a series of shots that give viewers of your photos a full perspective on who your pet is.
Be playful. Pets can be playful little critters, and rather than attempting to contain this to get them posed for that special shot, it’s often very effective to go with their playfulness and make it a central feature of your image. Include their toys, stimulate them to look longingly into your camera by holding a special treat above your head or take a picture with them sitting on top of you mid-wrestle, etc. Make your photo shoot a fun experience for both you and your pet, and your shots are likely to reflect your enjoyment.
· What can I do if my pet doesn't sit still?
Hold up a treat right next to your camera and then as soon as he looks, start snapping like crazy!