Photography for Pet Lovers
Pets can be quite the handful, but they can make the most adorable subjects of photography. Sneha Ullal shares some pointers on how you can pay a special photo-tribute to your pet dog or cat.
For some of us, pets are like our own children. And in more ways than one, they are just like children when it comes to posing in front of a camera—both can be highly energetic, and it takes a lot of patience and effort to get them to stay still. But in the end, they just need to be themselves in order to make the most beautiful, striking photographs. And honesly, what better way to show how much you care about your pets, than to make a portfolio of their antics! Here are some simple tips to help you get started.
Choose an Apt Location
Photograph your pet at a place that goes well with its personality. For instance, if your pet is very active and energetic, then take it to the local garden, where it has enough space to run around and play. On the other hand, if it is more laidback, photograph it right in the comfort of your own home—whether it is lazing by the window, or quietly chewing its food in the kitchen.
Shoot When Your Pet is Engrossed
Plan your shots around your pet’s favourite activities to capture different kinds of pictures. Does your dog love playing ‘catch’ in the local park? Does your cat love running after a rolling rubber ball? Then use your camera’s burst mode to shoot several frames of them indulging in their favourite pastime. Freeze their motion, use slow shutterspeeds to introduce blurs, or pan the camera with your pet to capture the action in your frames. To be quick with your shooting, set your camera on Shutter Priority mode and choose the desired shutterspeed.
Get Down to Their Level
Avoid taking pictures that appear to be looking down on your pet, as it shows a more pet-master’s perspective than a petlover’s. Instead, go closer and shoot from their eye-level. Do whatever it takes—lie down on the grass or on the floor—and see what the world looks like from their level. This way, you will get more realistic and intimate pictures.
Focus on Unique Features
Use focal length to zoom in close and isolate only one unique feature of your pet, be it your dog’s unusually long ears, or your cat’s striped tail. Their strongest features are their eyes and nose. To create a really stunning portrait, keep only the eyes and nose in focus and the rest of the body slightly blurred. A pet’s soggy nose, pudgy paws and long sloppy tongue can make good subjects too, because of their interesting shapes and textures.
Natural Light is Best
Always use natural light to shoot your pet’s portrait. The light emphasises the texture of the pet’s fur better. For instance, backlighting works well with pets that have very heavy fur, whereas sidelighting is preferable for less hairy pets. If you are shooting outdoors, morning is the best time, because the sunlight is not too strong and it can also lend warm tones to your photos. Avoid shooting in the afternoon sun, as your pet will not be able to stay in the heat for too long. Also, most pets feel a lot more comfortable basking in the warm sunlight than in artificial room-light. If you are shooting indoors, choose a room where enough sunlight coming in through a window.
Work with Simple Backgrounds
Consider the backdrop carefully—it should not compete with your pet for attention. Uncluttered backgrounds are best to work with. Use contrasting backdrops; for instance, if the animal is dark, place it against a well-lit, light background, and go for a darker background for a lightcoloured pet. If you are shooting in a room with printed walls or in a crowded park, use a wide aperture; which will make your pet stand out.
Go Trigger Happy During Nap Time
Be it a dog or cat, pets make the funniest expressions when they are fast asleep. Also, since the pet is more still, it will be easier for you to focus on them. Some animals sleep in the most hilarious positions too. So, whether your cat is lying flat on its stomach or your dog is lying on its back with its legs pointing skyward take advantage of this and shoot some funny photographs.
Grouping Pets for Great Pictures
If you have a mix of dogs and cats, keep them in one frame, watch them play with each other and you will surely end up with some funny pictures. For pups or kittens, keep them in a box lined with a soft material so that they do not crawl out. You can also place them on a table, and capture them from a low angle while they peer over the edge.
Remember to try different angles, compositions and poses with your pet. It will be a refreshing change from the mundane snapshots, and you never know what surprises come through. An interesting idea would be to use the burst mode and shoot a sequence of shots, like when your dog chases and jumps up to catch a frisbee. You can view these images in quick succession, or make a flip-book to get the feel of motion.
Yes, you will need a lot of patience and free time, in order to get the shots you need. But while doing so, remember to have fun and build on that special bond you share with your pet. When you look back at the photographs, you will surely have several memories to cherish and stories to share.
Three Other Interesting Pets You can Shoot
If you have trained your bird to sit on your finger, this can make a brilliant photo opportunity as it can give you its most natural poses. If your bird has colourful feathers, make sure that the background is plain and it contrasts with the bird’s plumage. This will make it standout better. Avoid shooting your pet bird when it is in its cage.
Wen shooting pet fish, include other elements like water bubbles, pebbles and vegetation in your frame. If your fish tank is bare, place a plain sheet of paper behind the tank. Its colour should contrast with the colour of your fish. Turn off the flash, to avoid glares. Above all, to get clear photographs, make sure that the tank or bowl is cleaned properly.
Rats, Hamsters, Guinea Pigs
These critters love to scurry about. Have someone hold it in their hand, or make sure that it is well-fed, so that it does not move about too much. Another idea is to place them in a shallow plate with high rims, so that they are restricted to that space. Have fun with close-ups that focus on their tiny nose or long whiskers.
Tips to Getting Your Pet to Co-operate
- Never use anger or intimidate your pet, just to get it to listen to you. Instead, keep it busy by letting it play with its favourite toy. You can also reward it with its favourite treats every time it gives you a great pose.
- If you want your pet to look straight into the camera, call out its name, its favourite word or sound. The animal will sit up straight, wag its tail or perk its ears up to give you the look you want.
- Let it pose with the person it bonds with the most. This can make the pet feel more comfortable and at ease, giving you beautiful pictures that show the relationship between the two.
- Photograph pets in their comfort zone, like a place they visit everyday for walks, exercise or play.
- Avoid overdressing or using too many props around your pet. This might make it feel too uncomfortable and it will get tired quickly.
- Do not force the pet to pose for you, if it is too tired or sick. Simply postpone the shoot till it gets better.
- To Flash or Not to Flash? It is best not to use flash when photographing pets. They are most susceptible to the red-eye or green-eye effect. Also, a burst of strong flashlight can scare away your pet and can even damage their eyesight. If you have to use a flash, use it only as a fill-in, or with its intensity reduced. You can also use an external flash and hold it off-side, so that the light does not directly fall on the pet. This makes the lighting dramatic as well.
- Expose Them Right: If your pet has very dark or very light fur, it can be a challenging task to expose them correctly. You might end up with black or bright blob instead! If your pet has dark fur, especially if it is jet black in colour, underexpose by a stop to compensate. On the other hand, if it has white or light-coloured fur, remember to overexpose by a stop.
This article originally appeared in the March 2009 issue of Better Photography.Tags: Shooting Technique, march 2009, Sneha Ullal, Pets, Dogs, Cats, vantage points, fast shutterspeed