How does the saying go? Never work with children or animals? Just in case you decide to break these rules and capture some images of your beloved pet/s, here are some tips for getting that perfect shot.
Make your eyes level with theirs. It’ll be different for each different animal and pet, and it also depends what situation or position they’re in but, it can make a world of difference to your images. We see dogs from above all the time, going eye to eye with a cat doesn’t happen all the time. You might have to crouch or kneel, you might have to stand on tiptoe if they’re climbing up the curtains, you might even have to lie flat on your tummy to get that nose to nose shot, but it’ll be worth it.
To get this shot, I have to lie flat on my stomach in my Nan’s kitchen, creeping closer and closer to a very unimpressed cat. He didn’t like the clicking of the camera or the way it moved when the lens auto-focused, but he did appreciate the tummy rub he got as a reward.
2. Come prepared
I know this sounds a bit boy scouts but it’s an important point to make. I’ll be covering coming prepared with regards to camera equipment later, for now I’m focused on food. I don’t mean you should bring a thermos and a box of doughnuts, this isn’t a stake out, I’m talking about bringing snacks for your model/s! If you’ve got a little stash of nibbles for the animal you’re trying to get photos of, you can reward them for their patience and good behaviour, but also gain their attention if needed.
3. Be patient
You are going to need a shed load of patience. It depends how you go about getting the photos to be fair. If you just spend half an hour playing with them, interacting with them, getting on their level and just seeking opportunities for different photos, different angles etc. the time will fly by. If you’re more restricted and there are certain shots you need to get – say for a commission, it’s time to bring out the special reserves of patience you have stored away somewhere because you might be there for a while. The point is, to not get worked up.
4. Use the right equipment
Of course, this depends almost completely on what equipment you have open to you. If you have the best equipment that money can buy, a variety of lenses etc. you can spend time using a 50mm lens, before switching to a 35mm, others are content or reliant on using their iPhone to take photos. I tend to use either my iPhone SE or my Canon 400d with the 35-50mm kit lens, depending on what I have with me. Don’t forget, it’s not just about the equipment you use in terms of taking the shot, remember the lighting and situation as well – natural light is always going to be better unless you’re creating something that requires very specific lighting. And beware of using flash or strobe lighting with animals present as they have sensitive eyes and it can spook them
5. Cool, calm and collected
Always stay relaxed. If you have a positive, warm manner with open body language and a friendly voice, animals WILL sense this. They’ll be a lot more relaxed when you’re taking photos of them – in much the same way as a human would be. Move slowly, get down low and edge towards your target, cats and dogs in particular will be spooked if you start chasing them around. It’s also important to keep your voice quiet and measured to keep your pet nice and calm. Confusing them with commands and multiple calls to action will just agitate them and you. If you need to give some instructions, keep it simple.
6. Check the environment
As well as keeping an eye on the lighting in the space you’re in. Look out for what’s in the background of your shots. This doesn’t matter so much if it’s a close up but, for any other type of image, you could take a fantastic shot of your pet, but if there’s a distracting or cluttered background, it’ll ruin the shot. Once again this does depend somewhat on the equipment you’re using, for example, some lenses will allow for the subject to be in focus, with the background blurred or bokeh – this depends on the lens size and the settings used, as well as how the photo is altered in the editing process, so best just to always keep in mind what’s in the shot!
7. What are you trying to show?
Even if you’re literally just practicing your techniques or trying out a new piece of equipment, there’s always a reason for taking a photo and they should always invoke some kind of reaction or emotion in the viewer. If you’re taking an image of a live subject such as a person, you’d expect there to be some sort of hint into their emotive state and their personality as a whole, from the image, this should be exactly the same for images of animals. Is your cat playful or lazy? Is your dog a tail-chaser or a sofa-hogger? Show that in the images and bear it in mind when you’re trying to get photos of them, show people who they are, what makes them unique and interesting?
So, those are my tips for getting decent shots of your pets, what are your tips and tricks? Let me know!