Taking Great Pictures

The difference between a good picture of your pet and a great one depends on several factors such as pose, perspective (angle) and lighting among other things.  Below I’ve outlined some basic guidelines for capturing the best images of your pet, including tips for handling nervous or playful pets who don’t want to sit still.

Digital Photos:

Today’s digital cameras and cell phones often have relatively good resolution options from which to choose.  Just remember that the higher the mega-pixels, the clearer and more detailed the image will be.   Detailed images are crucial when the image requires that I zoom in on a particular detail or when I need to crop the image for the best portrait pose.  So be sure to double-check the quality settings on your device, and set them at their highest levels before you shoot. 

The picture of Parker (left) was taken with a digital camera that was set to take high resolution images.  This allowed me to zoom in on her beautiful face (right)  and crop out the majority of the distracting background without losing the fine details of her eyes.

Parker is just a small part of this picture Parker image cropped for a close up

Lighting:

Natural light is the best kind of lighting for both indoor and outdoor photo shoots, but avoid outside shots mid-day when the sun is at its brightest.  The mid-day sun, especially during the summer months has a tendency to be overly bright and can produce excessive shine on glossy coats, and make your pet’s colors appear washed out.  It can also create dark shadows that obliterate critical details.  If you must take pictures at high-noon, try taking them in the bright shade of a big tree or under the overhang of a porch.

If at all possible plan to take your outdoor pictures either during the early morning after sunrise to about 8 am, or in early to mid-evening before dusk.  Overcast days also provide decent light.  The natural light in these situations have a soft and radiant quality that produces the richest details and colors.

When taking photographs indoors during the day, play with the light streaming in the windows by opening heavy curtains, adding sheer drapes, or adjusting the blinds until the light is bright, but not blinding.  If the natural light coming in just isn’t enough, try turning on as many of the lights in the room as possible, bringing in additional lamps if needed.  Avoid taking pictures of your pet with a bright light, such as from a sunny window, directly behind the subject.

Nighttime photos almost never turn out, so avoid that situation altogether.

Whether indoors or out, avoid using a flash, as this can cause the same unwanted effects as pictures taken in very bright sun.  Besides, the flash often creates white, red or green reflections in the eyes, obscuring one of your pet’s most important features.

Eye reflections due to flash Bright backlight reduces subject detail Ali squints in the bright sun

Perspective:

Most pets are much shorter than us, so get down to their eye level for the best shots. Photos taken from above and looking down into your pet’s face or onto the top of the head can make them look timid or fearful – unless it is a look you really like, avoid images from this perspective.

Shooting from above can create a tenative look Another poor angle from above (plus eye reflection)

Unless the background matter makes or breaks a shot, make your pet the main subject.  Either get as close as you can to them, or use a zoom lens, filling the majority of the viewfinder screen with your pet’s face or body.

Buck long shot Buck medium zoom Buck close up

Pose:

Head and shoulder shots are great for portrait work, as they brim with detail so crucial to depicting your pet’s character.  Profile, three-quarters and front-facing poses all work well for head and shoulder portraits.

For full-body pictures, any natural pose may be suitable as long as at least half of the face is visible.

Just remember – the more pictures you take, the more you have to choose from.  So, take lots of pictures in lots of different poses and I’ll help you pick the best ones to work from.

Buddy - side pose Rudy Milo - forward pose

Photographing Nervous or Playful Pets:

As mentioned above, the best poses are often those taken while your pet is in a relaxed, natural state, doing what he or she normally does when you don’t have a camera in their face!  My dog Milo loved having his picture taken, actually posing for me.  But my dog Buck never failed to give me his backside when the camera turned his way.  That goes to show that every animal has his or her likes and dislikes.  If your pet is or becomes overly excited or nervous when you try to photograph them from eye level, or if they fixate on the camera as if it were a toy, here are a few tricks you can try to help your buddy relax.

  • Take pictures when no other pets or people are around.
  • Select a time of day when your pet is most relaxed – such as after a meal.
  • Refrain from speaking to your pet at all, which can overly excite them.
  • Play soft music or turn on the TV (if they’re used to that).
  • If your pet is camera-shy, restrict their ability to run away or hide by photographing them within a fenced area or medium-sized room from which they cannot escape.
  • If your pet is overly excited to play, take them for a long walk or play fetch for at least 30 minutes.  This really helps to burn off excess energy and they will be more relaxed during the photo shoot.

All of these things can help relax an excited or playful pet.  But for those pets who tend to think that the camera is a toy, or that by sitting on the ground you are signaling play-time, spend 20 to 30 minutes each day for about a week just sitting on the ground with your pet.  Occasionally position the camera as if you were photographing them, but don’t – just pick it up, point it at them from time to time, then put it back at your side like it’s nothing.  Don’t take pictures, don’t speak to them, and by all means, don’t play.  Eventually they will get used to you being on the floor and go about their business (which is when you get to finally take the pictures).  Give your buddy a little treat at the end of each session as a reward for their good behavior.

Curious playfulness

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