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Pet Photography

Never work with kids or animals!  Probably very good advice but all pet owners crave that perfect photo to sit amongst the family on the mantel piece or to use as a screen saver on the computer.  But, taking photos of them is not easy and can even be frustrating.  Here are twelve really great tips that are sure to help and hopefully inspire you to have a go at capturing that most precious of things – the perfect pet portrait.

1. Lighting Matters
Where possible, photograph your pet in natural light.  Avoid using the flash as this will not only cause red-eye but also frighten the animal or at the very least, distract him.  Photos taken outside on a cloudy day are always great as there is plenty of light without the harshness of full sun.  A bright but overcast day is perfect.  Alternatively, photos can be taken inside as long as the room is well lit with large windows.

2. Go to the Source
Whilst it may seem that some animals come running when there is a camera nearby, in most cases it is far better to go to the pet, wherever it may be.  It is important that they feel comfortable and at ease so trying to force them to sit or pose for a photo is not only going to be frustrating but probably fruitless as well.  Catch them doing what comes naturally in areas of the home or garden that they enjoy.

3. The Eyes Have It
With pets, the eyes have it.  It’s all about capturing the expression within them.  Whilst dogs’ eyes are sometimes goofy, loving or excited, a cat’s eyes range from sleepiness to superiority or just “look at me”.  All animals use their eyes to show emotion and mood and this is what is captured in a wonderful animal image.  Focus on the eyes.  Make sure that they are sharp, clear and placed well in the frame.

4. Patience is a Virtue
Pets are never going to pose on cue and smile for the camera politely but it helps if you choose the time of the day that suits the mood that you are after, get the camera ready and simply wait and observe.  Try different angles and compositions and become almost snap happy.  Use toys to encourage them to be playful or simply let them fall asleep after a good feed or some activity.  When you review your photos later, you might find a real gem.

5. Get Down and Dirty
Getting down to the pet’s level is the key to a great photo. Sit on the floor or lie on your belly and zoom in quite close to really capture their character.  Avoid squatting on your heels as your body will rock whilst you are taking the shots, probably resulting in camera shake and blurring.  A photo taken from the pet’s perspective will provide a different element and appear more personal than those taken standing up and looking down.

6. Keep Your Eye on the Background
The best photo in the world can be ruined by an ugly or overpowering background.  For those with photo editing skills, these can be etched out later but for most, it is better to position yourself so that the background is full of shrubbery or sky instead of a rubbish bin or a dead bush.  A zoom lens allows the camera to focus in on the animal whilst blurring out the rest which is one way to overcome an uninspiring background.

7. Up Close and Personal
The rule for taking really intimate photos of pets is the same as for kids.  Get in close, and then get in closer again.  If you can’t physically get close, use a zoom lens to focus in and isolate the depth of field so that the face stays sharp but the surrounding fur or background gives that soft, blurry effect.  Try filling the frame with the pet’s face to finish with a true pet portrait.  Using a tripod will help to stop camera shake.

8. Fast Frame
Animals are always on the move but a fantastic action shot can be taken with a bit of forethought.  Set your camera to a fast shutter speed.  The easiest way to do this on a digital camera is to choose the ‘sports’ or ‘action’ setting meaning that the shutter speed is the fastest possible.  Add continuous shooting or ‘burst mode’ to allow the camera to take a quick succession of shots of a fast moving animal such as a jumping dog or galloping horse.

9. Stay Alert
To capture alertness in a pet, let him play or spend time quietly and prepare your camera in just the right position.  When ready, get someone to call or whistle to the pet.  His ears will prick up and his eyes will open wide as he looks to see where the fun is.  The photographer can take the shot but it may result in camera shake and a blurry photo.  If possible, use a tripod or try setting the camera for a 10 second delay and calling the pet at the last second.

10. All in the Family
Photos of pets with their family or with the kids are often magical and full of joy.  They show the true bond that exists between the animal and their human friends.  It’s worth trying a posed shot but almost always, a candid shot of the pets at play or simply relaxing with their family are the best.  These add to a family’s memory and remind everyone of the stories and events that surrounded those few minutes together.

11. If All Else Fails!
If you still haven’t managed to take that perfect photo and your patience has been worn to a frazzle, you have one more option.  Try doing what people all over the world are doing to get fantastic photos of their dog.  Lay the dog on its back so that his eyes boggle and jowls hang down and take a photo looking down on him.  When you turn the photo up the other way, the result is usually hilarious!

12. Set the Shot Up
It is possible to set up a photo opportunity, even to replicate others that you may have seen.  This shot of a dog looking up in hope of getting the steak on the plate is easy to do with your own hungry dog and a sausage.  Similarly, props can be used for Christmas or birthday themes and of course food is always fun and might help get the pet more focused.  But again, remember that animals have a mind of their own and you can never expect them to pose on cue.  After all, have you ever heard of a Super Model called Fido?

Camera shake causes images to blur and is from the photographer slightly moving the camera as she presses the button.  A tripod will stop this as will utilising the 2 or 10 second delay that is on most digital cameras.

One of the few times when a flash is useful is when photographing pets with dark fur so that their features stand out.  The dark fur absorbs some of the light from the flash adding detail to the final photo.

Try holding the camera at an angle and getting down to the animals level to take a photo as he or she walks towards you.  Having the frame at a different angle to the pet adds interest and movement.

This isn’t easy and takes a lot of trial and error.  The aim is to capture the vibrant colours of fast moving animals that live behind reflective glass or acrylic.  Tricky!

If at all possible, use an external flash.  Two is even better.  Aim one from above and one from the front at 45° angles to the glass positioning the camera parallel with the glass.  If using a digital camera with inbuilt flash, hold the camera at a 45° angle to the glass to stop the flash reflecting back into the lens.

Darkening the room will make the colours in the tank more vibrant when the flash goes off and of course, the glass must be clean and free of streaks.  Try using a macro lens with a very fast shutter speed or alternatively, it is worth testing a slow shutter speed making sure that the camera is on a tripod to avoid camera shake.

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