Pets play a big part in many households so it’s no surprise that pet photography is more popular than ever. Some animals have little to no patience and will not sit still waiting for you to take a photograph so use your creativity to capture the most striking photographs.
Catch your Pet's Character
Photographing pets takes on a deeper meaning when you can capture their character in a photo. It’s a good idea to photograph pets in their preferred spots or enjoying a much-loved pastime such snoozing on the porch or catching a Frisbee. To capture a pet’s character, you can ask yourself what is unique about your pet and try to capture that uniqueness on camera.
Freeze the Action
Photographing your pet at play is a great way to capture some interesting shots with personality. Because the animal will be moving quickly and you want to make sure the photos are free from blur, turn the mode dial to TV or S (Shutter Priority) mode so you can control how you freeze the action. Set the focus mode to continuous focusing (AI Servo AF Canon/AF-C Nikon) so that the lens can constantly maintain its focus on the running pet. For multiple shots use continuous shooting mode and hold down the shutter button as long as you’d like.
Aim for the Eyes
In your pets quiet moments, after eating or bedtime for example, move in close for some dramatic and expressive shots. Use a standard lens (50mm) or a zoom lens that covers the 28-70mm lengths. Turn the mode dial to AV (Aperture Priority) mode and select a wide aperture for a blurred background. Use spot metering and focus on the eyes – this area must be sharp – and avoid flash if possible, for a softer look. An uncluttered background with neutral colors is ideal because it isn’t too distracting.
A good simple portrait of a pet by itself or with the owner is a classic shot. Use outdoor lighting to avoid flash, which can distract animals. A standard lens of 50mm is ideal for this kind of image. A shallow DOF (depth of field) keeps things in the center of the frame sharp so make sure you have focus on the eyes. Remember to be quick when taking this type of image because animals are easily distracted when outdoors.
Get on their Level
Getting on the floor and at the same level as your pet is a great way to capture some dramatic, yet natural shots. Lying on the ground usually prevents the use of a tripod, so to keep the camera steady you may use a camera bean bag, or a sturdy book as support. To help reduce camera shake, take a deep breath before you take the shot. For the blurred background effect, choose a shallow DOF (f/2.8-f/8) and a fast shutter speed since pets can move fast! Shutter speeds of 1/400s and faster when you are outdoors is a good bet.
Avoid Using a Flash
There are various reasons why flash should be avoided when taking photographs of pets. For example, flash is bright and can be unnerving for a small animal. Flash can scare them or make them nervous and hide. Additionally, flash is harsh. Particularly if you are indoors, it’s best to use natural light since this won’t wash out feathers. If your pet is light colored, white fur in particular will look washed out with a flash. Another reason for not using flash is because animals can photograph with red eye, like humans. Finally, try to avoid using flash with animals that live in tanks, because glass will reflect the flash making an unsightly white hotspot. This also is true with metal cages, because once again, even dull metal will look white under the beam.
If you are capturing your pet in motion then use a fast shutter speed – don’t be afraid to push it up to 1/3200s if necessary. If you pet is still or relaxing then try to avoid using flash as animals tend to dislike it. Open the aperture to let more light in instead. This also keeps the background blurred and works for artistic shots.
A telephoto lens is useful if you need to capture your pet from far away, especially one with I.S. (image stabilization). A standard lens, such as a 50mm f/1.8 or f/2.8 is also useful because it can take good portraits and can work quickly in low light conditions without needing a flash.
Pets can provide a range of interesting photographs from cute to dramatic. Build up a rapport with the animal; use toys and treats to reward them if they are behaving well and let them leave if they are bored of having their photograph taken. Feeding an animal first is always a good idea if shooting portraits as it leaves them relaxed. If your pet is going outside make sure you have another person helping in case they break free. Take many shots, and amongst them could be a winning image.