HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH YOUR PET WELL!
Hi, my name is Annie and I am a tech here at Monroe Town and Country. In my free time I am a hobby photographer, and I have been fortunate enough to take a few photography classes to better my skills in something I am so passionate about. The goal of this blog is to give you a few tips on how to photograph your pets well, creating photos that you will cherish forever. If you don’t have a “fancy camera,” don’t worry about it! I’m willing to guess 99% of the people reading this (maybe 100%!) have a smart phone with a camera on it. While a “fancy camera” can be nice (I often shoot with a Nikon D5000) it’s not entirely necessary to get a good shot—some of my favorite pictures were taken with my iPhone!
Lighting can make or break a photo. I could literally write a book on the importance of light and the way you can use it to your advantage, but I’ll try to keep this short! If you’re shooting outside, the best times of day are early morning or late afternoon. These are the times of day that the sun is on either side of the sky, rather than around noon when it’s directly overhead. Side lighting makes for better pictures with less chance of distortion. When you’re taking pictures, the sun should be shining on your animal and your back should be to the sun. If you are shooting into the sun, this is called back lighting. Back lit photos do have some artistic value, it depends what look you’re going for, but remember that details of your pet will be shadowed. If you are shooting indoors, the same rules apply. You can take advantage of natural morning or afternoon light, or you can use artificial light to manipulate the same light effect.
Top left: An example of back lighting. Notice he is shadowed and features are not clearly defined. (Dylan, German Shorthaired Pointer)
Bottom left: An example of natural morning light in an indoor setting. (Lucy, Portuguese Water Dog)
Right: An example of manipulated artificial light in an indoor setting.(Luke, German Shorthaired Pointer)
2) ANGLES ARE EVERYTHING!
You’ve probably experienced this at least once. You take a picture of your pet. You are standing up, taking the picture down. You look at the photo, and for some reason it looks like your pet’s head is way bigger proportionately than the rest of its body. Ahh, the beauty of angles! You can make your pet look fat, skinny, like he has a huge head, or a small head…you really could do a lot with angles. But the most important piece of advice is this: when photographing an animal, you should be at shoulder level. Yes, this means unless your pet is quite large, you’re going to need to get on the floor. Or maybe you need to prop your pet up somewhere! The photo below is a perfect example of how angles can impact the way your pet looks. These are two photos of my Quarter Horse, Concho.
The right photo was taken standing at my normal height, with my body positioned in front of his shoulder. He looks short, stocky, and like his head is too big proportionately to his body (not to mention the lighting wasn’t great—what was I thinking?!). The photo on the left was taken more in line with his shoulder and at shoulder height (hard to believe you need to bend your knees even taking a picture of a horse, but it’s true!). As soon as I bring the height down a bit and change my position in relation to his body, he looks like a completely different horse! In this picture he looks proportional and muscular. Amazing, right? The same principle applies for all animals!\
3) NATURAL SETTINGS vs. BACKDROPS
If your pet is doing something absolutely precious, of course you wouldn’t hesitate to take a picture even if there are dirty clothes on the floor. But if you’re setting aside time to specifically take photos of your pet, you should be mindful of the background in the photos. If you are outside, one tip is to emulate what your pet would naturally be doing. For example, since I have a German Shorthaired Pointer, I tend to photograph him in the woods or tall grasses, where he will naturally point and will look like he’s in his “natural” habitat. Sure he points in my living room when he sees a squirrel through the window, but a pointer pointing out in the woods looks a lot more legit. But even if you can’t match your pet’s “natural” habitat (I’m not sure many Rhodesian Ridgeback owners have access to the Sahara Dessert and lions), generally the woods, wide-open spaces, the beach, etc are good places to photograph your pet. If you are shooting inside, a simple sheet hanging up on the wall to make the background neutral is a great tool. If you have a dark colored pet, use a light colored sheet, if you have a light colored pet, use a dark colored sheet. (Of course my dog is light AND dark which makes things tricky, but I tend to go with light colored backgrounds because his face is dark and that’s where I really want the contrast).
Notice that in both photos, I was at shoulder level with Luke. This means in the left photo I was kneeling and in the right photo I was lying on the ground. Also in both photos, side lighting was used.
4) IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE PERFECT…LET YOUR PET BE WHO THEY ARE!
I think people get frustrated sometimes because they see photos of animals in magazines that look perfect. They are sitting perfectly, looking directly at the camera, and have a flawless coat. While these “portrait” photos are certainly nice, it is not always necessary to stage your pets to get a nice photo. I try to capture my pets doing things they love, and acting according to their personalities. All animals are unique and I try to portray this in my photographs.
Left Photo: Concho’s favorite thing is going for a gallop in the snow. Middle Photo: Luke and Lucy love playing and going wild together. Right Photo: Savannah tends to get over excited when it snows, and loves to show off her athletic abilities (Savannah is a Hanoverian Horse).
None of these photos were posed, I simply allowed these animals to do what they wanted and was standing by with my camera!
5) HAVE FUN WITH IT!
I try to have a sense of humor when photographing my pets, especially my (very tolerant…especially Luke) dogs. I like to take funny pictures of them, which usually involves dressing them up in some way. While I am certainly not William Wegman (don’t know him? Look him up!), I do my best to add some wit and personality to my photos. I also enjoy looking at other photographer’s photos to get ideas of what to do with my own pets.
Left photo: My dogs Gracie (lab mix) and Luke sporting their Sunday best. Neither “outfit” is over-the-top (Gracie is wearing a pearl necklace and Luke has a necktie on), but it adds a bit of personality to the photo. Right photo: Not all animals are as tolerant as Luke, but the photos I take of him wearing hats always get laughs.
Once you master the above techniques, you can start playing around with focus. Whether you’re shooting with an iPhone or a more advanced camera, you have the option of focusing on one specific area or subject when taking a photo. Don’t be afraid to play around and see what works! Believe it or not, sometimes focusing on something OTHER than your pet can create a beautiful, artistic photograph.
Left Photo: Focus is on Luke’s paw prints rather than on Luke. I also chose to back light the photo to add to the artistic effect.
Right Photo: Focus is on Luke, while Concho is blurred, blending into the background.
7) FINAL THOUGHTS
- Be willing to take lots and lots of photos. Don’t be afraid that you’re doing it “wrong” and try not to get frustrated. The beauty of digital photography is that you CAN take 100 photos and it doesn’t matter if 98 of them are not what you were going for. You can delete them and move on.
- I recommend not deleting any photos (unless they’re very obviously blurry, etc) until you’ve uploaded them on your computer. Photos I’ve thought weren’t great when looking at them through the viewfinder on my camera turned out to be great when I put them on my computer and was able to look at them full sized.
- Don’t worry about looking silly. I have to admit, it took me awhile to get comfortable in my “photographer shoes,” but now I really have no shame about lying on the ground in the middle of the dog park to get a good shot of my dogs. The sooner you embrace it, the better your photos will be!
- Thanks to all of the photo editing software available (iPhoto, Aperture, Instagram, Photoshop, etc) there are so many things you can do to photos once you’ve taken them. Don’t be afraid to play around with the color saturation, exposure, contrast, etc. As you probably noticed, I love putting photos in black and white. I also enjoy playing around with my options, knowing that an original copy is saved on my computer (gotta love technology!).
- Practice, practice, practice! I spend a ton of time taking pictures, and I can honestly say I learn something new every time I do a photo shoot. I am way better at taking photos than I was a few years ago, and I hope in a few years I can say the same thing! And I hope you are able to say the same thing too! Happy shooting!
**all of these photos are owned by Annie, please do not reuse without her permission**