Surprise, surprise, a blog about pet photography! Luvo has been living with us over a month now, and I guess it does not come as a shock that my memory cards are filled with photos of him. In this blog I’ll share 10 tips how to capture your beloved animal friend on camera, which is challenging at times!
1. Stay calm, don’t get cranky
I have no experience in raising kids, but some say that raising a puppy is like raising a child. It is a lot of work. And as they grow older, they start to feel more confident and might even try to challenge your position as the pack leader. Dogs, and I am sure other animals too, are very aware of your emotions, and you need to control them (the emotions) because they will react to it. When you are calm, the bigger the chances are that your pet stays/gets calm.
If your pet is anything like my dog, he likes to sit still, but only when he wants! And waiting for too long, is not my dog’s hobby. So getting him to sit still is a challenge. However, keep in mind: you are the one that want to take pictures, your pet wasn’t begging to be portrayed. Your pet probably doesn’t even understand what is going on. So stay calm and don’t get cranky when he/she is jumping around while you asked to sit still (I guess rabbits don’t even understand commands)!
One way to control your pet is by making a game out of it (which takes practice, and you need an intelligent animal). We learned Luvo to “sit and stay”, he is only allowed to come when we call him. This little moment of stay (and the reward afterwards!) is enough to take a quick snap. If you try to capture an animal like a rabbit or pet bird, “stay” won’t work. In that case give them their favourite toy, or a snack. My dog loves his rope, and is obsessed by his chewing bone. When he is chewing his rope, anything else isn’t interesting. Also, ask for help! Luvo is quiet intrigued by my camera. Whenever I get on my knees and put my camera in front of my eyes, he runs towards me to see what is going on. Having a second person to distract the pet is useful.
2. Get level
One of the keys to a beautiful portrait is to level with your model. This means that if your model is sitting down, or is smaller than you are, you have to go down and get your camera at eye level. This creates a connection between the model and the viewer of the picture. It is no different in pet photography.
Capturing your pet while he/she is looking into the camera adds a feeling of boding to the photo. And besides, this also creates a unique point of view, because how many people are getting eye level with animals anyway?
3. It’s all in the eyes!
Another tip for you is to focus on the eyes of your model, as we all heard that these are the doors to our souls. Make sure both eyes are visible, they should be tag sharp. Don’t be afraid to highlight the eyes during post processing! An extra boost in clarity will make the eyes more visible in the picture.
4. Capture his character
Think about your pet for a second… What is it that makes you laugh about your animal friend, and what is it that sometimes drives you crazy? My cute Golden Retriever is a super eager dog! He want’s to learn, but most of all, wants to eat! So he regularly comes to display his tricks hoping for a treat (but of course we don’t encourage his begging behavior). But he is also very impatient. If anything takes to long, his eyes tell me “hurry up”.
Most frustrating is that he always draws his own plans. Our puppy training even said: “Wow, he’s got a strong character”. Unfortunately, Luvo gets really cranky if you decide to have other plans than his!
Now, with these thoughts, walk up to your pet, and take a picture. Try to capture what draws you to him/her. Is it a playful pet? Do you have a cat that loves nothing more than to sleep in the sun? Photograph that!
5. Capture your pets when they are having fun
In the first tip I advised to distract your pet if he/she won’t sit still. But why limit your shoots to portrait photos? Let the pet you’re photographing play and take pictures when they do! I think it is slightly easier to take pictures of your pets when they are fooling around than when you try to get them to sit still. Not only that, it is also a lot of fun! The funny faces and the goofy moves your pet makes are great to capture! Playing with them will deliver different photos than when they’re sleeping.
6. Always have your camera ready and accept a lot of missed shots
Actually, these are two tips for the price of one. Always have your camera ready. Just like human behaviour, the acts of your pet are very unpredictable. A funny moment only lasts for seconds or less. And while your pet is being cute, he/she will stop being cute by the time you have your camera ready. Also, be prepared to have and accept a lot of missed shots! Animals move quickly, and you might need to shoot in burst-mode to photograph them in action. Don’t share every picture you have taken either. Only select the very best. And always remember rule 1: Stay patient.
7. Don’t take hours for your shoot
Pets, especially puppies, are like children. They only have a limited capacity to focus. You can’t demand hours of sitting still from your dog, or play with them for hours to get a cute shot. Remember that your pet is a living being, not a stuffed toy. They also get tired or bored. Just shoot regularly (see previous tip)!
8. Include the owners
The one thing, most precious to our pets are their owners (actually food is most important, but we people want to believe that we are special). Therefore, in case you are working on pet photography on behalf of a client, include their owners! Have them cuddle, play, or sit together. Do everything you would do while capturing only the pet or animal.
9. Get wide angle
Wide angle lenses are usually not great for portrait photography (anything below 35mm on a Full Frame camera, or 25mm on a crop camera). There are multiple reasons for that. These lenses are prone to distortion, which isn’t flattering for your model. But also, generally they capture too much of the surroundings, what distracts from the models (you could use this to your advantage, but generally you want to focus on the model alone). However, a wide angle lens can also deliver funny pictures! Why? Simple, you can get really close to get a picture of the whole pet, what delivers fun results. And the distortion of the lens can deliver a funny effect.
10. Appreciate your pet for paying attention
Training your pet, also means rewarding them for what they do good. So during the photo session, I have some little snacks ready, to reward Luvo for (trying) to understand me and listening to my commands.
Do you like to take pictures of pets? Feel free to share your link in the comment section below!