Memorable Pet Photography

Tips And Techniques For Capturing Fantastic Photos Of Your Pet

by Christina Bowman // April-May-June 2017

Slobbery kisses. Snuggles on the couch. Unconditional love. Every day our furry friends add an immense amount of joy to our lives. You most likely snapped a lot of pictures when your pet first joined the family, but have you taken time to really capture the personality of your pet since? Just as we take many photos of our human children, shouldn’t we capture the joys of our furry ones too? Here are a few tricks and camera settings to help you create your own pet masterpieces.

Caring for your Pet

Be sure your pet looks its best by grooming it the day before: bathe, brush, trim, cut nails, and make sure the areas around the eyes are clean. Decide if you want your pet to wear its collar. If you prefer a collar, consider treating your pet to a new one if the old one is worn. A tag can be a distraction, so take it off temporarily unless it is a focal point. If needed, you can lightly exercise your pet right before picture time to get out its nervous energy.

Consider the Location

Your home is one of the best places to photograph your pet. Declutter the selected space so your pet is the focus in the resulting pictures. Decide whether you prefer a neutral-colored background that will contrast well with your pet’s coloring, or one that has a lot of character. Find areas with as much diffused natural light as possible, such as near a window or glass door. Stay away from direct sunlight, as it can cause harsh shadows and squinty eyes. Avoid the use of flash to achieve a softer overall look to your photographs. Flash can also distract or frighten pets, and may produce a red eye effect. If you do need to use a flash, it is ideal to have a flash that can be pointed at the ceiling or covered by a diffuser.

If you choose to photograph outdoors, be sure you check the leash law for your location. You may want to bring a long lead with you just in case. Select a location that will keep distractions to a minimum, including other people or pets. Open spaces, such as a field or lake, can be a visually appealing backdrop. A slightly overcast day provides great lighting so that you can photograph your pet without the distraction of sun splotches. If it is sunny outside, look for shady spots or photograph during the “golden hours,” which are the last two hours before sunset when the sun is lower in the sky.

Comfort

Many pets can sense their owners’ emotions and will react accordingly. When interacting with your pet, it is best to be at ease and go with the flow, as your pet will most likely do the same. A reasonable amount of time to photograph your pet is about 30 minutes. If you don’t get the shot you were hoping for, try again the next day.

Determine what motivates your pet, such as treats and toys. Throw a treat to the spot you want to photograph your pet, and then snap your picture when he looks up for more. Try taking the squeaker out of a toy and hiding it in your hand. When the squeak is a surprise, your pet’s curious head tilt will be adorable to capture. There are even apps for pet noises, such as Dog Squeaky Toy, Dog Sounds and Body Talk, Human to Cat Translator, and Magic Cat Whistle. If your pet responds positively, use treats and noises sparingly towards the end of your photography time, or your pet may become overzealous and focus solely on these motivators. 

Character

Think about what is unique about your pet and make it a goal to capture those characteristics on camera. Some initial ideas to highlight them might include: showing off special abilities, playing with favorite toys, sleeping, enjoying a favorite pastime, playing with a buddy, or taking a bath. 

Photograph your pet from different angles, including from above to capture how you normally see him. Shoot at or below eye level for a unique perspective, and to add a level of intimacy to your pet portraits. Don’t be afraid to lay on the ground to capture unique shots. A standard lens (50 mm) will work well for these shots. For an artistic, blurred background effect, choose a shallow depth of field (f/2.8 – f/4) by using the Aperture Priority mode.

Vary full body, three-quarter body, and close-up shots. If you cannot physically get close with your camera, use a zoom lens (28-70 mm or 70-200 mm). Image stabilization is an advanced feature on some zoom lenses that will help achieve photographs that are sharp and in focus.

You can get fantastic, expressive facial shots by focusing on the eyes. Automatic focus will focus on the closest part of the subject, which is often the nose. Instead, make sure the eyes are sharp by changing to a single focal point. You can also take individual details such as ears, eyes, nose, tail, and paws. A micro lens (100 mm) is best for these extreme close up shots.

Check out Pinterest as well as professional photographers’ websites for inspiration. Notice that photographers vary the placement of their subjects within the frame. Besides centering your pet, try using the rule of thirds to switch up the positioning and create interest. Imagine lines dividing the frame into thirds, both vertically and horizontally. The intersections of those lines are great options to place the subject to create a variety of photographs that are ascetically pleasing.

Connection 

To show the emotional connection with your furry friend, consider including family members interacting with your pet. Our eyes automatically go to the brightest part of a picture, so subjects should not wear white. They should also take care to avoid materials that overly attract fur, including black fabric. It is wise to stay away from bold patterns, stripes, logos, or graphics on clothing. Shoes will most likely be in the pictures, so make sure they are in good shape.

Chaos is Acceptable

The unpredictable nature of some pets is half the fun of pet pho-tos. Embrace it and work with your pet’s demeanor instead of trying to force him to be unnatural. Try photographing your pet paparazzi style without him noticing. You will end up with some delightfully candid portraits. Let him do what he does best, which is being spontaneous!

If your pet is fast, you will want to be outside where there is a lot of light so you can use a fast shutter speed. It will be easier to focus on a pet going side to side, than one coming towards you. Sit on the ground and stabilize the camera by using your arms on your knees. To further reduce camera shake, take a breath and hold it as you click the shutter release button. Try the Shutter Priority mode (sometimes called Sports Mode) on your camera in order to have a shutter speed of at least 1/250 second or faster. To track your moving pet, select the continuous Auto Focus mode (AI Servo AF Canon/AF-C Nikon). Also, continuous shooting will be the perfect drive mode so you can take a series of images to show movement.

Keep in mind that practice, timing, and a little bit of luck all come into play when photographing pets. Taking pictures should be fun for both of you. All of your efforts will pay off with fantastic images of your beloved pet to print and share on social media.

If you prefer to leave it up to the experts, professional pet photography has become quite popular. When selecting a professional, be sure his or her website includes a portfolio that shows experience working with your type of pet. During your consultation, the photographer should touch upon the aforementioned aspects, and ask if there are any special considerations for photographing your pet. If everyone is on the same page the day of the photo session, it will result in amazing, treasured memories of your furry friend!

Christina Bowman

Owner of Christina Bowman Photography, LLC