Pets play a big part in their owner’s lives and the trend towards pets having a similar status to children is growing. One aspect of pet parenting, which is consistently a challenge, is photography. Most pet parents want great pictures of their fur babies to share on social media or to frame and place on the mantel. However, in that moment between picking up the camera and snapping that endearing image, things can go terribly wrong leaving ‘mommy and daddy’ with a blur where their pet had been. Following a few easy animal photography tips can make it possible to capture and keep a magical moment with a pet.
Patience is a necessary virtue for animal photography success.
An important aspect of animal photography is simply mustering the patience to stay ready to get the shot. Since it is unlikely that Fluffy or Fido will stay still for their photo session, it is important to be in the right position with equipment set and ready to go. A setting where the pet is comfortable and at ease is always best especially if the area is free of random distractions. The dog park might sound like a good place for a photo op, but keeping the subject interested in the camera will be difficult at best.
Getting a pet’s attention can be tricky, if there is no one available to help guide attention to you, a strange noise will usually get a pet’s attention for a short bit of time. Several free apps make squeaky toy sounds if odd noises are not a personal skill. Offering treats will not always ensure the desired behavior; occasionally the pet will take a treat and run off, or leap for a treat wreaking havoc with equipment. Engaging the pet in play can create fun and unique images, but take care not to over excite your subject. Plan on making multiple attempts as the perfect shot is typically the product of dozens of shots. Avoid becoming frustrated or angry as both dogs and cats are skilled at sensing human emotions and are not likely to sit pretty for an aggravated human.
Good equipment plus good technique equals great animal photography.
Camera equipment does not need to be overly expensive or difficult to use to get a charming photo of Fluffy or Fido at their best. A quality camera lens is not negotiable and this is an area where splurging may be necessary. For indoor photography, a flash or a speed light is necessary to fill in shadows and give sharpness to the subject. It is important to remember not to point the flash directly at the pet unless you are using a diffuser. At best, shadows will shroud the subject and they will look terrible, at worst, a direct flash can spook a dog or cat ending the photo session.
Experiment with bouncing light off the ceiling for a natural look, and do not use the built-in camera flash as this usually directs the flash into the subject’s eyes. The best way to get an expressive image is to focus on Fido or Fluffy’s eyes; taking photographs at or somewhat below the pet’s eye level creates the best and most engaging animal photos. Change your camera’s focus point setting from the auto setting to the single point setting so the camera does not control the focus point. In autofocus mode the camera focuses on whatever is closest, this is usually the animal’s nose.
Close Up Portraits of your Pets
For close up pet portraits, get close to your pet and make sure that they are several feet away from the background. If possible, adjust the camera’s aperture to the widest setting. This combination will create a softly blurred background with the subject’s face in focus. The required elements for great action shots of animals are shutter speed, light, and a lens with continuous focus; take action shots with the pet moving from side to side and not oncoming for best results.
Point and shoot cameras will not give the same professional looking results as those from a digital single lens camera because of shutter lag. Even a few seconds between the time the shutter button is pressed and the camera takes the picture make a difference when photographing pets. If it is possible to adjust the camera’s aperture, set it to the smallest number. Setting the camera to burst mode allows you to take many pictures at once and portrait mode will improve the quality of a point and shoot camera’s photos.
Aside from a few key pieces of equipment, photographers need practice and patience to take great animal photos. Once you have perfected a technique, your pet’s photos will be the envy of all.