No, I’m not a professional pet photographer (yet!) but I have learned a few things along the way about composing a shot, lighting, and worked out at least a third of the settings on my “good” camera to be able to share a few tips with you on how to take better pictures of your pet; the kind of pictures that someday you might put into a memory book. Because let’s face it, our furry friends are with us for a very short time and when they do leave us, these photos will provide comfort and help us to remember the details that can fade with time.
Tip #1: Get down.
As cute as your furball of joy is, an aerial view is never going to be their most flattering angle. Is there more scenery than actual pet in the shot? Are they straining to look up at you? Taking a photo from above tends to “flatten” your subject (which is less interesting). So, unless your dog’s spots come together to form a heart when they are curled up and napping…
(case in point, my BFF’s beagle)
Tip #2: Engage your pet.
Find a way to get their attention (like with a toy, word, or treat) that will interest them but not make them completely freak out. Curious pets have the most expressive faces. With my pets the word “treat” is pretty effective, since they all know they won’t get the treat until they sit and pay attention. Toys have never worked for them; as soon as they see the objet d’estruction they are almost immediately out of frame.
Tip #3: Pay attention to what’s behind them.
Okay, this is a fussy thing of mine (almost typed “pet peeve”, almost). If you plan on taking pictures (as opposed to a spontaneous point and shoot) I suggest tidying up a little first. Gym bag, dirty socks, vacuum cleaners, crazy potted plants, a gaggle of electrical cords, a human foot (relax, it’s still attached to a human, probably)… don’t despair if the TV or any other undesirables make their way into the picture. You can almost always crop the photo to bring the attention back to your subject. Another way to “calm down” a photo with a busy background is to make it black and white. And, if you still have a damn time stamp going on in the bottom right corner of your photos… turn that option off, it’s taking up valuable real estate!
Tip #3 Zoom in, like, wayyy in.
Before I get into this one, keep in mind that these “tips” are just things that I try to incorporate into my pet’s brief photo seshes and I’m not assuming that ALL your pictures aren’t already adorable / amazing / sweet / casual / honest depictions of your pets. If you find these tips silly or overindulgent “it’s just a dog/cat/bunny/lizard/ferret, who cares?” you probably took a wrong turn somewhere on the internet and will want to exit stage left. I’m not obsessed with my pets (much), but I do treat them as family (sometimes better, unfortunately) and they are my “children”. That said, many of these tips will also work when taking pictures of children, not that pets are THE SAME as children. Who would EVER say that?
Right then, on to tip #3… get nostalgic with me for a moment. You know how you can almost remember what your puppy’s breath smelled like or how green your first cat’s eyes were? These details can get a little fuzzy as we age (no pun, intended). So, take pictures of what you love about your pet, their quirky qualities, their crazy spots or stripes, all their specialness. Take pictures of how awfully sorry they were when they destroyed an entire package of toilet paper or how happy they were when they pulled nearly all the stuffing out of the futon. Yeah…
Tip #4: Natural light = actual magic.
We all love pictures of cats with “laser eyes” but you can’t beat natural light. Shooting in natural, indirect (or filtered) sunlight really does a lot of the hard stuff for you: punches up the color, highlights details, shows you interesting angles, and it can make everything just a tad more heavenly-ish-esque…
Tip #5: Action!
If your camera has a sports mode, use it (it looks like a little running stick figure guy). Taking pictures of a moving target is hard. I’ve learned the best way to keep it fun (and brief) is to take pictures of my little minions in sports mode, that way if something cute happens (or your 15 year old cat actually looks at the camera) you won’t miss it. Plus, you can make silly animated gifs later on…