For many of us, our furry friends are fully fledged members of the family, rather than mere pets. Endowed with unique characters and personalities, they can make for incredibly rewarding photography subjects when captured properly. That said, unlike a landscape, pets are emotional, flighty and excitable, which means they can be very unpredictable. Here are a series of tips that will help you capture the essence of pet photography, so you can get the most out of your camera.
Just like humans, the best photos occur when the photographer and subject are at ease with each other's company. It's important to make your subject feel comfortable with your presence. Before the camera even comes out of the bag, it's hugely beneficial to spend some time playing with the pet. This lets them get used to your scent, and ultimately relax and let their guard down.
Eyes are the key to outstanding pet photography portraits. They are the most expressive part of an animal's face, and if captured at the right moment, can make for incredibly expressive portraits. In order to make sure the eyes are in focus, change your camera's focus point from "auto-area" to "single point". If your camera is on auto-area mode, it will focus on what's closest to the camera (in this case the pet's nose), leaving the eyes blurry.
When photographing pets, you often only get out what you put in. It is advised to keep a supply of your subject's favourite treats at hand to solicit a range of reactions. Rather than just giving them the treat, slightly conceal the food, the animal will remain stimulated and often deliver animated facial expressions. A similar effect can be achieved with a squeaky toy or ball of string which can pique a pet's interest, and sometimes coax them into delivering that perfect inquisitive moment.
As a general rule, flash isn't recommended for photographing animals. Firstly, the bright light can distract or frighten your subject and their trust can be difficult to regain. From an aesthetic standpoint, using flash instead of natural light can make fur and feathers look washed out and lacking in detail. Red eye is a common drawback when using a flash to photograph humans, and it is equally as problematic when capturing animals.
Great pet photography captures moments in their world. We are accustomed to seeing our pets from the top down, but in order to capture a unique and engaging photo of our animal companions, it pays dividends to get down on the floor and shoot from below the animal's eye level. This can lead to natural and expressive angles that can't be achieved from standing. Ideally, photograph close to the subject with a wider-angle lens and avoid using flash if possible. Ensuring that the background is not too cluttered and using a wide aperture ensures that the pet remains prominent in the shot.
Capturing a beautiful pet portrait is one thing, but action shots require far more practice and attention to detail. There are few things as visually pleasing as a dog in full flight; however, capturing pets in motion is notoriously difficult. The solution is twofold: a fast shutter speed, and using a fast lens with a better tracking capability on a moving subject. Try enabling continuous shooting mode instead of single-shot where possible.
Capture incredible photographs that convey the special connection between you and your pet.