by Andrea Mykrantz, CVT and Pet Photographer
Animals are one of life’s more difficult photographic subjects. They are generally moving; occasionally frightened of the camera and of course there is the pet version of red eye to contend with.
Light and plenty of it is the number one necessity when taking pet photos. It is preferable to have natural lighting but if that isn’t available a flash must be used. When possible take your pet photos outside on a bright day but try to avoid direct sunlight. Pay attention to where the sun is and where shadows fall, nothing is more disappointing than capturing a great shot only to realize your shadow is falling across the entire subject of your picture. If you must use a flash I have found that using the “red eye” setting seems to diminish the incidence of the creepy pet eye glow. The reason for this effect is a reflective disc in the back of the eyeball known as the tapetum lucidum. This is what assists animals in being able to see better in low light than their human counterparts. It takes existing light (such as a camera flash) and reflects it brightening the animal???s surroundings. The more straight-on you take a picture the brighter the reflection will be. Aim to be slightly above, below or to the side when photographing your pet with a flash.
Next, get down on your pets level. She is likely to be interested in what you are up to when you sit on the floor but look at it as an opportunity to take some great close up shots of your pets face or possibly even her nostrils! Have patience, you may need to stay on the floor for 10, 15, even 20 minutes before your pet gets bored with you and starts doing her own thing and then you can start capturing some great images. Animals don’t frequently “pose” for photographs so it’s great when you can catch them relaxed and doing their own thing. To set up the perfect shot I recommend sitting or lying on the floor and watching your pet through the camera. When you feel like you are ready to take the picture you need to get your pet to look towards the camera but not be intensely focused on it. Try making a small distracting noise (I tense my lips and blow air through them to create a high pitched squeaky sound that dogs find irresistible). Hopefully this will be enough to make your pet glance in your direction and you can snap the picture. Be sure not to overuse your distraction sound or it becomes ineffective.
Timing and patience are everything, especially if you are looking for that perfect stop image shot of pets playing or running. This is where you will need a fast shutter speed (a sports or action setting) and lots of light to avoid a blurry photo. Again, being on the ground will offer a much more interesting vantage point and take a lot of pictures! Anticipating where the animal will be in three seconds vs trying to focus on where they’re at now is a technique to keep in mind too. If you are trying to capture your cat playing with one of those “feather on a string” toys, first, observe him playing for a few minutes before you start shooting. This way you will recognize the body language of when he’s getting ready to go in for the kill. Then, press the shutter release just before he leaps and you will have captured him in midair at his most fierce!
The beauty of digital photography is being able to take literally hundreds of pictures and not worry about cost! You can simply delete the images that are no good and there was no film to waste. Keep in mind a 30 minute session may only deliver two or three fabulous images, a handful of good ones and a whole bunch of blurry, missed subject shots. As with anything, practice makes perfect and if you keep at it before long you will have many wonderful memories.