Tips For Photographing Pets
Photographing pets can be daunting and the amateur photographer can end up with flashes of fur and the dreaded red-eye possessed pooch. However, there are simple tips for capturing phenominal pet photographs, even for an amateur photographer, such as myself. These are tips that I have learned over time to improve my photographs, and have found that most professional photographers recommend the same or similar tips.
Patience and Personalities
Pets have personalities too. Some can be considered 'Divas' and love to have their picture taken and will sit and provide a worthy portrait, while others are curious and you get numerous views of sniffing noses. While still others, would rather give you their backside as a snub. These are the ones, that you have to outsmart.
Recently, I took some pictures of a beautiful horse with an attitude. I knew immediately, I would have to be sneaky with her. My first mistake was that I was interrupting her dinner, and she wasn't thrilled with my camera so close to her and her food bin.
I quickly got the snub and though she has a beautiful tail, it wasn't quite the photographic angle I was after. However, I knew she would return to her flakes of alfalfa, if only I was out of sight. I moved back down toward the barn and waited patiently, sure enough she came back. She knew I was there, but I was far enough away that she didn't find me and my lens an annoyance.
Cats, for me, tend to be one of the easier of the animal kingdom to photograph. They slink rather than run, they enjoy absorbing the sun, and are curious, yet cautious and at times a little lazy, which works to a photographers advantage.
Dogs can be both lazy and at times you'll have to turn your fast action setting on your digital camera. Depending on the temperament and their mood. We have Labrador Retrievers, so with them, anything goes.
As with any photograph, lighting is extremely important for the optimum end result. I prefer natural lighting and always try to use it to my advantage. Make sure that the focal point of your photograph is either in direct sunlight or indirect, in essence your subject should be highlighted. Try to avoid taking a picture with the sun behind your subject, this will produce reflections, light spots, and shadows. The picture to right of the 'sassy mare' is an example of lighting behind her, rather than highlighting her beauty.
Also avoid using a flash as this can create red-eye and even though it can be digitally edited out, natural lighting is best. Even indoors, near a window filtering the natural light will produce a better 'natural' picture. Unless you have a flash separate from your camera. However, most amateurs don't, including myself.
Find your focal point on your subject and make that the center through your lens. Usually I focus on eyes, however, that is my preference. Zoom out to leave a little of the background in so that you don't lose any of the subject. If you edit your digital photographs, they can always be cropped, it is better to have more to work with.
Using the Bracket or Burst Option
Most digital cameras come with a BKT, BRKT (Bracket) or Burst option. This option allows you to take multiple 'bursts' of pictures, simply by depressing and holding the shoot button for a few seconds. You can also customize these modes to adjust lighting, etc. with each "burst".
I would recommend this feature when photographing animals as it is difficult to capture that one perfect moment and your chances of doing so are increased with a burst of pictures. In general I will get three to four pictures of the same pose and select the best of those three or four. Sometimes, the first is the one, yet often it is the third or fourth which produce the best picture.
The photographs below, demonstrate the above tips. I stood back from 'Diva Mare' in a position where the lighting would highlight her face if she would only look up at me, zoomed in, made a little noise to get her head out of the food bin, had my BRKT option on and as she looked up I snapped away.
Try different angles
Unless you are photographing horses, you are generally taller than most pets and it's best to get down to their level, kneeling or sitting. Though don't let that stop you from trying different angles and perspectives. In the photograph below, I was slightly above my furry black and white subject.
The same tips apply to Cats and though the BRKT or BURST option are not always necessary for the quiet, curious, slinky cat. I used the feature on the second photograph, yet not on the first. The first, I simply sat on the steps, at a slightly higher angle and waited for him to peak around the log. (Patience Mode) The lighting was perfect.
Dogs probably have the most varied of personalities and when I am able to capture one our Labs in a lazy or naptime mode, I'm a happy photographer. The picture below was used without the "BRKT" or "Burst" option, because he wasn't moving for anything. As you will see the lighting was key here. While most of his body was in the shadows, his face was highlighted by the sun, naturally creating a focal point, as I lay on my stomach on the concrete for a straight on shot.
A must have picture for my library. Which just says "Nap Time".