When I bought my first digital camera last holiday season and started taking photos of our two cats, I was disappointed with the results. Either the kitties would refuse to cooperate, or else the composition or lighting was never quite right. Most frustrating of all, my shots rarely expressed what I really wanted to capture about our feline friends. What was I doing wrong? I’d bought an expensive camera with all the bells and whistles, so why didn’t my photos look like as crisp, artistic and professional as those I saw in books and magazines?
I’ve since learned there’s more to photographing animals than just pointing your camera and pressing the shutter. Capturing your dog or cat on film (or computer screen) involves a careful consideration of numerous factors, including pose, location and perspective as well as lighting, exposure and composition. Check out the following ten suggestions for getting great shots of your best friend – you’ll soon be taking photos like a pro!
1. One of the biggest mistakes made when photographing your four-legged friend is to take shots from a standing position. “A photo looking down on a pet appears distorted,” says photographer Dee Adams of Zoo Market Artistry. “Take the photo at eye level with your pet, or else looking up at them. Having them stand on stairs or a bed makes this easy.”
2. Think about what you want your image to portray. Do you just want a snapshot of your dog, or do you want a portrait that says something about his sense of humor or unconditional love? “Don’t just photograph your dog,” says Toronto-based animal photographer Peter Organa. “Photograph your dog’s love for you.” One way to accomplish this, suggests Dee, is to approach taking photos of your animals as a game you can play together. “The demeanor of the pet comes through loud and clear in photos, and the primary driver of your pets’ emotions is your own,” she says. “If you are having fun together, things will go much more smoothly.”
3. Natural lighting is best. If you can, take your animal photos outdoors, but avoid bright, sunny days, especially when the sun is right overhead – brilliant sunshine washes out colors and causes hard shadows. Pick an overcast day, photograph your animal in solid shade, or do your photography when the sun is low.
4. Use a flash with caution. The blinding light can not only startle your animal, but may also cause unwanted shadows and the dreaded red-eye effect. “If you must use flash, either get a diffuser or bounce it off the walls or ceiling,” says Peter.
Be patient when photographing animals. “Expect to spend quite a bit of time taking lots of photos in order to get a few extra special pictures,” says Dee.
5. One problem you’ll often run into is getting your animal to cooperate. “Once you have your pet in focus through your viewfinder, give a short click or whistle or other unique sound to get his attention,” says Dee. “You can even snap your fingers or wave your hand to focus his attention wherever you want. This can offer some really cute looks.” Or, enlist the aid of a helper. “Try to have a friend or family member on hand, who the dog knows and is comfortable with,” says Lora Brudniak of Doggie Style Photography. Ask your helper to talk to the animal or distract him with a treat. “Make sure he’s a little hungry so he will be more responsive to treats, especially when trying to get him to ‘perform’ certain things you may want to capture in your pictures,” Lora adds.
6. A trained animal is easier to photograph. “With dogs, it’s a big help to have them trained to sit, stay, stand on command,” says Dee. “Otherwise, your pet is likely to want to get as close to you as possible, and all your shots will show them at your ankles.”
7. Keep the composition simple, and avoid busy, multi-colored backgrounds. Your animal will stand out better against a soft, simple backdrop. “It’ll help give you a strong composition because there’s nothing to compete with the main subject,” says Peter.
8. If you have a digital camera, you can tweak and enhance your images later using Photoshop or other photo editing software. (No, it’s not cheating!) For example, you can remove unnecessary details, like that telephone pole you didn’t notice when you were taking the photo.
9. Who can resist taking photos of puppies and kittens? Trouble is, young animals rarely stay still long enough, especially if they’re playing together. Peter suggests waiting until they’re at rest or are quietly focused on a toy. “They might look cute when they’re wrestling, but the motion blurs and you’ll get teeth that look like fangs.”
Exercise your animal before photographing him. “If your dog is a bit worn out from a long walk or park trip, he’ll be more mellow,” says Lora.
10. Study animal photos in books, magazines, and on websites such as flickr.com. Pick the ones you like best and ask yourself what it is that makes them so good; is it the lighting, the composition, the angle, the combination of colors?