These 15 tips for awesome pet photos can be broken into three categories: things you need to do as the photographer, ways to manage your pet’s behavior, and key technical photography skills that you need to follow.
Things YOU Need to Do
Capturing pet photos can be a real workout. Many animals have high energy levels, some are very low to the ground, and most are overly affectionate freely dishing out slobbery kisses and muddy handshakes. Dress for the job by wearing loose fitting clothes and sturdy shoes.
Get on Your Pet’s Level
Don’t hesitate to sit or lay on the floor or grass to get down to your animal’s eye level. Just be prepared to spend as much time showing your pet some love as pressing the shutter button of your camera. For smaller animals, try sitting them up on the couch or bed while you sit on the floor. This will usually help you get to eye level with them.
No matter how intelligent you think your pet is, they don’t understand a huge vocabulary. It is easier to watch and wait for the shots you want than to try to get them to pose a certain way. One advantage of digital photography is the ability to take large numbers of photos without fear of wasting money on printing bad images. Click away while you follow your pet’s lead and don’t try too hard to manage their movements.
Keep a Steady Hand
Tripods and mono pods are great tools to help get sharply focused images, but they are hindrance when it comes to following the live action of a pet. A better option is to use a fast shutter speed, practice bracing your arms to reduce camera shake, and, if possible, use a camera lens that has an image stabilizer built in.
Unlike people, we can’t just tell a pet to move to the right a smidge or turn a bit. Instead, to get a good angle we may need to take a step forward, or to the left. It never hurts to take multiple shots from slightly different viewpoints. The difference of one inch of adjustment with your camera can make a major improvement in the final image.
Ways to Manage Your PET
Make Eye Contact
Finding a way to get your pet to look at the camera and making their eyes the sharpest focus point in the image really brings your photos to life. If eyes are the window to the soul for people, the same can be said for our furry, feathered, or scaly friends.
Capture Their Attention
Try to get your pet to look toward the camera by making weird noises, squeaking a dog toy, or using a trigger word such as “treats”. Just be ready the first time for the shot because the novelty quickly wears off. You may find yourself creating a whole repertoire of strange sounds to keep them interested.
Use Toys and Treats
Another way to get your pet’s attention is to offer toys and treats. Be prepared, though, for an overreaction and lots of slobber all over your camera lens. One way to get good shots is to toss the treat or toy away from you and capture shots when the animal comes back. With cats, dangling a toy from a string tied to a stick works well for directing their attention the way you choose.
Anticipate the Action
When you sit back and watch your pet, you will begin to notice patterns of behavior. You can use this information to plan where to direct your camera so that you are ready when the behavior occurs. For example, If you know that after Fido takes a drink of water, he darts toward the fence to check out the neighbors, then you can move to a good spot to take a shot when he heads that way.
Have an Assistant
Having someone around to manage the pet while you focus on the shots will usually improve your overall results. Just be sure that your helper wants to be involved and is relaxed, otherwise your pet may pick up on the bad vibes and begin acting nervous.
TECH Skills That Help
Check Your Backgrounds
Pay attention to what activity and objects are behind your pet. Other people or animals can photo bomb your shot, or there can be objects that look strange on a two-dimensional print such as a tree or mailbox that appears to be growing from your pet’s head. There is software to help correct this when it happens, but it is much easier to eliminate the problem while taking the picture. Again moving a bit usually allows you to keep the background free from distractions.
Another way to minimize background flaws and really bring the focus of an image to your pet is to use camera settings and techniques that create blurred backgrounds. This is called bokeh and it really enhances portraits. Using a telephoto lens is one way to create bokeh. Move your pet away from the background and stand farther back from your pet than you would with a standard lens. This creates a shallow depth of field so that only the objects in the middle appear sharply focused. If you are using a DSLR or Mirrorless camera, you can also use a wide aperture which will help blur the background.
Find the Right Light
Animals look best in natural light, so even if you are inside, try to take pictures near bright windows even if you have to use additional lighting or reflectors. For outside photography, plan your session in the early morning hours or late evening hours for magical golden light. Other options include shooting on a cloudy day, or finding a shady area to work in. Avoid the harsh shadows of the midday sun. If you are at the beach, use a lens filter to help cut the glare.
Take Burst Photos
Even smart phones have advanced features that make taking pet photos a snap. One feature you want to use often is burst photos where the camera takes multiple pictures for as long as you hold down the shutter button. Animals move so quickly and their expressions are so fleeting that this technique allows you to get some very expressive images of your animal. Be sure to cull the clutter and delete the images in the series that just aren’t flattering. Save that data storage space for more great shots.
Print Hard Copies of Your Images
One of the most important things you can do to improve your pet photos is to print them out. Not all of them, because if you are like me, the volume of images would break the bank to print. But print some of them every month or two. Technology quickly becomes obsolete, cameras get lost or stolen and digital data is easily corrupted. Be sure you have real copies of your precious pets to remind you of what a blessing they have been in your life even long after they have left you.