While having your pet professionally photographed is the best way to get quality images of your pet for your walls, you can’t always have a photographer with you. There are a few simple things you can do to help improve your own photos of your pet so that you can get nice photos of your pets in between sessions.
For my pet photography, I use a Canon 60D (DSLR) usually paired with a 50mm 1.8 or a 70-200 2.8 IS lens. However for your personal pet photography you do not need a lot of gear. It is absolutely possible to get fantastic shots using a simple point and shoot! As long as your camera will focus, you should be able to get some nice shots out of it. The key to good photography is not in what gear you use (though it can certainly increase where and how you can shoot) but in how you use it.
The below image is one I took of my Heading Dog, Flight, 5 years ago using a 4 megapixel point and shoot camera (most phones have more megapixels than that these days!).
The best times to get good photos of your pets outside are early morning and during the evening. This is when the light is softer and less harsh shadows. But this does not neccesarily mean that you can’t create beautiful images of your pet at other times of the day! If you are outside, try and find some shade to place your pet in to soften the light.
Indoor images can be tricky to get the lighting right. The best way to get some good light on your pet is to try and place your pet near a natural light source ie a large window or glass/open door. If there are no natural light sources available, turn on as many lights as you can.
In general pet photography, we aim to have a well-lit subject and to have catch-lights in the eyes. These are the little reflections of light in the eyes which really brings the eyes to life. Without these catch lights, the eyes can sometimes look very flat and ruin the image.
Try and avoid using flash. Not only does this frighten the animal, it can also leave a nasty green glare in the pets eyes which I like to call “Zombie Eyes”. Natural light or continuous lights are best.
Below you can see an example of nice soft evening light, and in the close up you can see the catch lights in Patch’s eyes.
Too much clutter in the background can be very distracting. By keeping the background simple you can keep the focus of the image on your pet. For my backgrounds I like to use grass, trees, a skyline or even a simple wall. For example in the image below, I have used some grass in the background to create a non-distracting background so that Moxie would stand out.
Though rules were made to be broken, there is one major rule I use a lot which can be very useful when starting with your photography. This is the rule of thirds. The idea is that by placing the subject of your image (your pet) slightly off center you can make a far more effective image. By imagining a tic-tac-toe grid over your image, you should place the focus of your pet where two lines intersect. This is a very useful rule to remember and can really strengthen your images.
In the image below, I have placed the top left intersection over Bonnie’s head creating a good example of the rule of thirds.
5. Get their attention
While some of the cutest shots are when you catch the animal doing something cute all by themselves, we usually want the pet looking at us. Try using treats, their favourite toy or making crazy noises to get them looking at you. I have a squeaky duck toy which works wonders with some of my dogs, with others I use Smackos and for others I just need a tennis ball or a high-pitched voice to get their attention. Find what works for your pet and you will be rewarded.
For this shot of the stunning Ali Baba, a friend had a noisy horse toy right next to my camera. Ali Baba called out to it and I got this adorable shot!
6. And finally, practice makes perfect!
The old saying is once again correct. All the gear in the world won’t help you if you don’t practice. Use your camera as much as you can. Shoot anything and everything you can. But most importantly with pet photography – learn how to work with your pet to make it fun for them while still getting the shots you want!
So there you have it – six things to keep in mind next time you want to take some photos of your own pets.
To recap – The equipment isn’t everything, find the best light you can, don’t use flash, keep your backgrounds simple, use the rule of thirds, get their attention and practice, practice, practice!
If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comment section below and I will answer them as well as I can. Feel free to share some of the photos you’ve taken of your own pets too – I’d love to see them.