As I shared a few weeks ago, my number one tip when it comes to photographing pets is just to get out there and take LOTS of pictures. Even I have to remind myself to *make* time for photographing my own dogs! With that said, once you have your camera out (and possibly dusted off) here are a few tips that will hopefully be somewhat helpful. Please keep in mind that these are intended for the average user with a basic camera – hey mom, are you reading?
1. Lighting: Whenever possible, try to use natural light. Outdoor lighting is particularly lovely early in the morning or late in the evening, and it’s usually best to avoid strong direct sunlight that you’ll find in the middle of the day (especially here in sunny Florida). However, overcast skies can make for some really nice lighting, so don’t be afraid to bring your camera out on a cloudy day. “Even” light is generally best – if you are working in an area with both sun and shade, or strong backlighting, your camera will likely have a hard time finding the correct exposure.
If you are indoors (and if your camera will let you) try turning off your flash and find a nice well-lit area near a window. If you have ISO control on your camera (remember the “film” days?), you can try using a higher ISO (400+), but keep in mind the higher the ISO, the more likely you’ll have issues with camera noise and grain. If you’re in a pinch and must use your flash, you can avoid or lessen the effects of red eye (or more often green eye with pets), by not having them look directly into the camera.
2. The camera user manual is your friend: Ah, I can hear the groans now! Seriously though, know your camera. I understand that sitting down to read the manual is about as much fun as watching paint dry, but you might be surprised at what your little camera can really do! At the very least, make sure that you have your camera set to the highest quality file setting. RAW files are best, but you’ll need to make sure you download (and use) the software that comes with your camera. Otherwise a JPG set to the highest setting (usually super-fine or fine) is the way to go. If needed, you can always reduce the file size later.
There are a number of good photo editing software options out there, but more than likely the software that came with your camera will be be sufficient. Here you can make basic color corrections and adjustments to the exposure, brightness, and contrast of the image. While it’s always best to try to get your image as technically perfect as possible to begin with, your software can certainly help.
3. Action!: Let’s face it, most pets like to *move*! Of course this is fun, but often results in blurry images. This is another case where it really helps to know your camera! In general, point in shoot cameras are not known for their ability to capture great action shots, but if you are able to adjust your camera settings, you should see an improvement. For action, you’ll want a high shutter speed and a good amount of light. Some cameras have a “sports mode” which can be helpful and others may have a shutter priority mode where you can manually enter your desired shutter speed. You also might be able to manually adjust your ISO to a higher number, as mentioned above. Regardless of your camera’s abilities, I generally recommend following your subject with the camera (panning) and snapping the picture while both the subject and camera are in motion. This can take some practice, but is especially helpful when using cameras that have a bit of a delay from shutter lag – the time time between when you press the button and when the images is actually captured.
4. Location: Probably the most common concern that I hear is “but my backyard is not pretty!”…and while I can most definitely relate, a “pretty” location is generally not a big concern for me. Since my primary focus is always going to be the pet, the background is well, just the background. As a general rule, less is definitely more, and a clean, simple background will keep the focus on your pet. Look at what you have available – fencing, the side of your house, foliage, and even plain ‘ol grass works. Even if you don’t have the “perfect” setting, using your camera’s zoom lens (if you have one) relatively close to your subject, is a great way to help blur the background. And if you have an aperture priority mode on your camera, you can use a wide aperture (which is actually a smaller number) to help throw the background out of focus.
5. Smile!: So you have good light, an idea of your camera’s capabilities, and your location, so the only thing that’s left is your pet, correct? I generally tend to take a very hands-off approach when photographing pets – and yes, this applies to even my own dogs! While I’ve certainly met a number of natural “models”, most pets are not exactly thrilled about sitting perfectly still for a picture. And that’s okay…making sure they are happy is the key to capturing their personalities! Keep it casual and fun – treats, toys, funny noises – these all come in *very* handy.
Try sitting down on the ground so that you’re at eye level with your pet. Shoot from different angles. Focus on the eyes. Be silly. Have fun. And don’t be afraid to experiment. I had one of my overdue “spotty dog sessions” this past weekend and decided it was time to play! The two images taken below were at a very slow shutter speed. The result…a little different, but fun! I love the strong feel of motion in these images…
I think that’s about it for this post…now go grab your camera and have some fun photographing your pets! 🙂