So you want to make your pet an Instagram star? Even if you don’t pets are a part of our families and it is nice to have great photos of our furry friends. Animals, however, notoriously do not listen to us. It’s like they have their own personalities (Ha! We know they do!) So here are some tips on picturing your pets.
Setting and Composition
One of the most important things to remember about photographing your pets is that they must be comfortable. This means being in a place that they are familiar with. If your pet is relaxed and “at home” they will be easier to capture on camera. Pick a good time to photograph your pet. If you want action shots, pick their play time. If you want close-ups and intimate shots, pick a time when they are tired.
This being said, it is important to plan ahead. Natural light is the best to shoot in so find a spot outside that is safe for your pet, or near a big window. You can use a flash, but be sure that you are bouncing the light off of the ceiling or wall as direct flash will result in bad shadows and way-too-sharp lighting. You can also use a flash diffuser. Have your spots planned out with no distractions behind your pet or between your pet and you. You want your focus to be on your pet, not the garden hose crossing the shot. So set up your shooting area before the shoot so you can be ready to go!
When you take photos of animals you almost always want to have your main focal point on the eyes. This can be difficult with action shots, but focusing on the face should always be the primary target. If you are using a camera on your phone, action shots can be tough as there is often too big of a delay in capturing the shot. However, if your phone is unburdened and fast enough, you might catch something good. You can also take a look for advanced camera apps that allow you to manually set and lock your focus point and you ISO and exposure. (Hint: under-exposing is better than over-exposing. It is easier to correct in editing if necessary.) You can also find clip-on macro lenses for fairly cheap that will allow for gorgeous close-up detailed shots of your animals.
When shooting with a DSLR a macro to 50mm lens is recommended. Something with a low enough f-stop will allow for sharp focus on the eyes while the background is soft and blurred. Many point and shoot cameras have portrait and action type settings that can help you achieve the look you are going for. With point and shoot camera it is best to make sure your flash is turned off and take photos in burst mode since shutter-lag can be a problem. This helps to assure more photos captured in a single moment, increasing the odds of a stellar shot.
Capturing pets in motion can be one of the biggest challenges. The key here is a fast shutter speed, good light, and a lot of patience. Be prepared to take a LOT of photos. Most of them might end up as junk, but the more you take the better the odds of coming away with a cool shot. It is much easier to photograph pets moving from side to side within your frame as the focus distance will remain about the same. This way you can lock your focus point and just worry about shooting.
It is possible to capture an animal coming towards you, but You want to try and get the animal to jump or aim for a certain point to most easily adjust your focus point. This is where it helps to have a helper who is familiar with your pet helping out. Treats are a great motivator! Be ready to move with your pet and get a lot of exercise in yourself. Be ready to get down on the ground kneeling in the grass.
On your phone or point and shoot, a lot of it is going to involve luck. Just make sure your lighting is good and if you have a burst mode capture the action in bursts. While the focus should still be on the eyes or face, don’t be afraid to play around with it. The backlit silhouette of a cat jumping in front of a window can be a very fun shot.
The great thing about photographing your own pet is that you know them best. You know their preferences, quirks, and personalities. So think of what makes them special and try capturing that moment. Close-up macro shots might leave the nose and muzzle blurred as well as the background, but as long as the eyes are in focus, you have a winning shot. It also allows for those beautiful details of the texture around their face. Luckily most mammals and a lot of reptiles love warm sunny spots, making for great lighting. For intimate portraits, you want a time when they are relaxed but awake.
Find a time when your cat is watching bird out of the window. Catching the reflection in their eyes adds a most interesting dynamic. If you want your pet to look straight at the camera it is best to use an unfamiliar noise, as calling them might make them move from the ideal spot. You can find apps with cat meows and dog squeaky toy sounds that might catch their attention. If your pet is well trained, treats are always advisable.
Get down to their level or at least get up with them. Stand above them with them looking up at you. Or get down on the floor to see things from their perspective. It’s sometimes fun to get below them for those curious looks, as they are wondering what in the world you are doing!
This is all about capturing intimate moments about or with your pets. Does your child have a hamster they love so much? Have them hold their pet in their hands near a window and wait for the animal to face the camera. You can get actions shots of hamsters and gerbils and the like with them in their wheels or exercise balls. Catch larger animals lounging around, or fun moments between your pets and kids.
Editing and Finishing
Because pets are often tricky to photograph, be ready to cull through a lot of photos. Don’t be too disappointed if most don’t turn out; delete them and move on. You’re likely to capture at least a couple of great shots. And if for some reason you’re still not happy, that’s the wonderful thing about photographing your own pet, they are with you all the time! You’ll have more chances!
You can edit and finish up the photos you like on the computer or phone. There are a number of free and paid programs and apps suitable for pros and beginners. Pets do tend to move at the worst times but shots can be cropped for ideal composition. Remember the rule of thirds (positioning your subject on an intersection point of a 3×3 grid in your frame) and not to have any distractions in the fore or background. Close-ups can be more centered for a dramatic effect. Decide on the editing style you like and brings out your pet’s personality. Do they need a moody black and white? Or a vibrant, slightly over-saturated color scheme? You decide!
Pets are family and having photos of our family is important. Always remember to plan ahead, be patient, and take a lot of shots. You know your pet the best and can create the ideal situations for the best photos. Also, don’t discount the spur-of-the-moment shot. Where they just look so cute you have to take a photo. Ultimately, it’s about the love we have for our pets and so long as a photo lets you recall that moment, it’s priceless.
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