Where there are humans, there are animals. Dogs are man’s best friend, and countless companion animals boost the happiness and wellbeing of their owners. Clearly, animals can have a profound impact on our lives, which is why we love them so much. They become part of the family, and we want to celebrate that by taking pictures of them. However, pets can be fussy in front of the camera – the old maxim ‘never work with animals’ springs to mind – and they might make for unwilling subjects.
Yet that picture-perfect moment with your pet is achievable, and we have prepared a useful guide to help you take that awesome snap of your beloved animal.
Stay calm and (maybe) find an assistant
Pets are domesticated and they share our homes with us, but animals are not like humans. There is a strong likelihood they will ignore the camera and the frustrated instructions of the person trying to control them. By keeping in this mind, we can prepare ourselves mentally for the unique challenge of pet photography. Acceptance is always the first step!
Enlisting the help of an assistant, preferably someone the pet is comfortable with, is something to be considered. They can give treats to the animal, get their attention if you want them to be looking in a certain direction in the picture, and the assistant can control them. Your helper can even be in charge of playing music or ambient noises, which may keep the animal calm and make them easier to work with.
Overall, this gives you time to focus on working effectively behind the lens.
Go costume shopping
The objective of any photographer should be to capture the unique personality of their subject, and this is true even if that subject is an animal. Pets are as varied as humans, and some are cheeky, shy, outgoing or smart. Demonstrate that with the aid of a costume.
There is a range of cheap clothes available online, and you can even learn how to make your own DIY costume. Another advantage is that the costume will probably keep your animal’s attention, making the whole process a lot smoother.
Just make sure these clothes do not make the animal uncomfortable.
Use a solid background
A solid or plain background looks classy and keeps the pet front and centre in the image. A bad background will only distract the viewer. The colour of the background should be uniform and contrast with the colour of the pet. For example, a white rabbit could be set against a black backdrop. If everything was white, in this case, then the image would be a little bland and flat. Nevertheless, this point is subjective, and some people argue that having colours that complement the pet improves the image.
At home, shoot next to a white wall or put up a bed sheet and improvise a studio-style background. The telephoto setting, if your camera or phone has it, will be a wonderful option here. When outdoors, taking pictures in an open space will also work. Having a shallow depth of field while outside is a good idea because this will blur the background and hide any distracting features. To achieve this effect, have the widest aperture possible by setting your camera or phone to aperture priority mode. In general, the smaller the f-number, the larger the aperture.
Use a frame within a frame and different angles
Framing a picture well is essential, and a good way to do that is finding things to fit your animal into. This could be prams, camera bags, suitcases, blankets… whatever! These items all create a natural frame, making the image more dynamic and interesting in the process.
Pets are small, so do not hesitate in going down to their level – pictures from the perspective of the animal can be also very dynamic. In addition, feel free to experiment with different angles and perspectives. Take shots from behind their ear, from below in order to make them look bigger, or even from above so that you can accentuate their natural inquisitiveness.
Play around with dramatic perspective changes. Wide-angle lenses are great for exaggerating perspective, so using one can create an image with artistic depth. Do not be afraid to shoot diagonally, where the pet is lying diagonally across the frame of the image.
Let your pet play with a soft toy or a ball. Animals are innately playful, and while they are distracted by the prop, you can take pictures of them while they are in their element. These props or toys can really make the picture more vibrant because they can be different sizes, shapes and colours. Therefore, the pet and the object interact and give the picture a story to tell.
Natural light is a great option for any photo. Try to avoid working at noon, as this is the time of day with the harshest light. It is better to work at dawn or dusk, as this light is more interesting and allows you to play with shadows. Even if it is cloudy, don’t worry! The soft light offered by clouds is good for making any subject look wonderful. Finally, for very sunny days, try to find some shade, and remember to keep the brightest light behind you, which allows the camera to focus on the animal.
On the contrary, shooting indoors requires a bright flash or being next to a big window. Flash is a good option, as long as the animals are not spooked by it and you have excellent equipment. On cheaper cameras, the flash function tends to be subpar, so just take the picture using the natural light of a large window. This is a fantastic option if you want to capture your pets while they sleep or if you want to avoid making your pet’s eyes glow in an unnatural way.
If you are trying to photograph them as they nap, remember to turn off camera settings that make noise because animals are sensitive to sound. They will look cute and you can get an adorable picture without disturbing their rest!
Shutter speed and aperture
We have already touched on using a wide aperture. Now, let us look at more ways of using the camera.
Have you dreamt of taking a picture of your dog running with joyful abandon, ears flapping in the wind? It sounds like a great shot, but how do we capture a moving animal? Using the autofocus in your camera or phone will help you in this regard and using the burst/continuous shooting setting enables you to take successive snaps of an animal in motion. Later, you can choose the best photo. Motion blur can also be reduced by enabling the phone or camera to have a fast shutter speed. This setting also makes it easier to take photos when there is not sufficient light.
And though it might sound like common sense, remember to hold your phone or camera tightly. This will minimize the risk of blurry pictures!
Treat them like a professional model
Because it is your pet, you might have the urge to not take photographing them seriously. But if you want the best results, try to see your animal as a professional model. Look at pictures of humans, take note of what you like, and try to replicate it in the photos you take of your pet.
In portraits of humans, it is common to focus on a person’s eyes. This technique showcases the subject’s personality and makes for very interesting images. For the best results, focus the camera specifically on the eyes. That way, they will be nice and sharp, rather than blurry.
Edit the photos and keep the ‘bad’ photos
With a digital camera or a smartphone, we can take a lot of pictures in a row, meaning that we will get a lot of photos that look less than great. But rather than discarding the duds, keep all of them! Tweaking them with editing software – even if you are not that familiar with things like Photoshop or other platforms – can elevate your snaps into something creative and different. On simple apps like Instagram, colour correcting the image is straightforward, while Snapseed or Lightroom can be used to remove blemishes.
It might also be a good idea to download a camera app on your phone. For IOS, Focos and Halide are good options, and for Android, Open Camera and Camera FV-5 are useful apps. VSCO and ProShot work on both Apple and Android.
On a related note, silly pictures – or outtakes – where their tongue is hanging out, they are smiling, or yawning can be funny pictures.
So, there you have it, the complete guide to taking a great pic of your pet, even if they are as uncooperative as a Hollywood diva. With a little patience and the tips described above, you will be snapping in no time.