Paw & Click: Photographing Your Pet

Sarah Sypniewski

Cat PhotographyOur pets sleep on our couches and beds, come along on vacations, and have their own special toys and treats, so why shouldn’t they have their own photos? Everybody else in the family has Facebook pages and fireplace mantles full of beautiful shots of themselves doing cool things. It’s time to give your pet his rightful place in albums, cell phone galleries, and family history.

Just a Moment: What to Capture

Candids are probably the most interesting moments to capture. Consider what specifically you love about your pet. His funny under bite? How he curls up to watch TV? Have your camera ready during opportune times (like when he plays fetch or stuffs himself into a shoebox). For posed shots, find backgrounds that compliment him. If your pet is light-colored, position him in front of dark-colored walls or furniture, or shoot from above onto a colorful rug or bright grass. Get on his level for a cozy perspective or compose the shot slightly off-center for a funky feel. And remember the zoom; wide angles capture him in his element, while tight shots of his features (like his muddy paws after a romp or the tail of his toy mouse dangling from his chin) convey his personality in a surprisingly artistic way. There are no rules - get creative!

Staying Close to Home: Choosing Your Location

You get the best results in environments that have good natural light and are familiar to your pet (especially when photographing cats or other skittish pets). The better he knows the location, the more relaxed he’ll be, so start at home. Indoors, choose rooms awash in natural light and throw open those curtains. Aim for meaningful places, like his bed or that afternoon sun patch in the corner he always finds.

sunlight

Got a yard or a patio? Head to his favorite spot with his toys right after sunrise or just before sunset to capitalize on the beautiful lighting. No yard? If he’s game, find a quiet park (avoid dog parks), secluded trail, or local landmark. And try the car, bike, boat, or other modes of transportation he enjoys. You don’t need much to capture beautiful images!

The Technical Stuff

Avoid using your flash indoors, which creates that “alien” eye look. Instead, increase your ISO and set the mode on your point-and-shoot camera to “portrait.” This automatically widens the aperture, allowing more light to reach your camera’s sensor. If you must use a flash, I recommend a product called Professor Kobre’s Lightscoop. It fits onto your dSLR camera’s hot shoe and redirects the flash so that it doesn’t bounce harshly off of your pet, and instead creates a diffused, soft light. Remember, though - natural light is best, so get outside if you can. Light is softer (even and without too much contrast and shadow) when the sun’s lower in the sky, so avoid shooting at noon. If you must, opt for an evenly shaded area--especially with all-black or all-white pets.

If you’re working with a camera phone, set it to its highest resolution and use the touch-to-focus feature. Note: not all phones have these capabilities – yet - but with ever-evolving apps, you can edit photos into images that might even top those of your camera-toting pals! Just remember, you might have to stick to web viewing, as the resolution may not be high enough for printing.

Managing Your Pet

Being photographed isn’t natural for most pets, so go easy on him (and yourself). These last tips can help make things fun and successful:

  • Take your time - and many breaks. Even candids can take several tries, which requires a lot of focus from both of you.
  • Exercise your pet to burn energy before you get your camera out.
  • Since most pets can’t understand “sit, then look over your shoulder,” improvise with commands he knows or just wait until he naturally does what you want - patience is key!
  • Use toys, treats, or even an extra person right over your lens to get his attention.
  • Keep a good attitude and give lots of praise!
  • Above all, safety should be your priority; no photo’s worth risking your or your pet’s wellbeing.

Taking photos together should be a positive, fun experience. Even though it’s challenging to know when and how to use camera settings, set up shots, and wrangle your pet all at once, the more you practice, the easier it gets. Keep your camera handy and view your pet’s life like an artist. Once you start seeking out moments to capture, you’ll be surprised by what you find!

For more advice and how-tos, pick up Dog Photography For Dummies, available online and in stores wherever books are sold.

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