Unless you have had formal photography training or photography is an avid hobby of yours, most of us use a basic, digital, point and shoot camera or our iPhones to snap photos or record brief videos chronicling friends or family engaged in everyday life or participating in special events. These cameras are convenient, small and easily carried, simple to use and take good quality images. Most of us have our cell phones with us constantly making it handy to snap candid photos when a good photo op presents itself.
Since most pet owners consider their beloved pets to be members of their families, pets are often the subject of photos. In fact, pet photos on the internet generate far more attention than photos of people. We have historically photographed our children’s lives from birth to adult and many pet owners have also begun to photograph their pet’s lives from puppy or kitten to full grown dog or cat. Just as taking photos of young, high energy children can be a challenge, taking photos of pets can be equally daunting.
To pose or not to pose? That is the question. Posed pet photos are much more difficult to take but often result in clearer, centered photos with well thought out backgrounds that are not distracting. The pet should be the star of the photo. Choose your background location carefully. Pets transported to a studio are often nervous in an unfamiliar environment with new sounds, smells, lighting and people. These photos can portray your pet looking panicked or fearful. A location familiar to your pet will help put it at ease and the photo result will be more natural and expressive.
Enlisting the aid of another person can be helpful in drawing the pet’s attention and directing their eyes to the camera. Bribery works well when trying to take a posed photo. Have someone stand behind you holding a treat or favorite toy, give your pet a command of “stay” or “sit” and reward them when they comply.
Generally it is best to get down on your pet’s eye level. This may mean positioning yourself down on the ground or floor. Position yourself as close as possible to your pet or use a zoom lens. They say “eyes are the windows to the soul”, therefore focusing on the eyes creates a very personal photo. Avoid using a flash which can frighten your pet and often results in “red eye”. Outdoor natural light or a well lit room is the best setting. Be patient and take a series of shots one after the other rapidly as it may take many shots to get an outstanding photo.
Props are used to enhance a posed photo or to create a themed photo. Props are often used for holiday or seasonal photos. We’ve all seen the photos where pets are surrounded by pumpkins or wearing a Santa hat or bunny ears, but props can also be used to show the interests or hobbies of the pet owner. A hiker who hikes with his dog as his companion may use a trailhead sign, hiking boots and a backpack as background props when photographing his dog. This photo commemorates an activity shared with his pet. A dog who loves his daily walk with his owner might be photographed waiting expectantly by a door with a leash on the floor. If you have a cat that has a favorite chair it likes to sleep in, the chair becomes a prop for a meaningful picture of your cat enjoying a nap. Be sure the focus of the photo is on the pet, not the prop. The goal of a prop is to enhance a photo, not to take center stage.
A growing trend is taking photos of pets wearing clothing or costumes. A walk through a large pet store will confirm that a vast inventory of these items is available for any occasion. Some pets have extensive wardrobes and are dressed on a daily basis. Halloween costumes for pets are big sellers for pet stores and the selection rivals that of children’s costumes.
There are two schools of thought regarding dressing pets in costumes or clothing. One group believes that pets are animals, that they should be treated with a certain level of respect, and are of the mindset that dressing animals may be unpleasant for the animals. Yet according to sales figures and the readily available inventory of pet clothing, many pet owners think pet clothing is fun. The most important question is, is it fun for your pet? I once saw a beautiful, large Sheep Dog at a 4th of July parade with star shapes shaved out of its fur and the dog’s skin where the stars were painted red and blue. A Lot of people were taking pictures of the dog and its owner who was decked out in red, white and blue all for the sake of a photo op. If your pet is uncomfortable with clothing and you really want a picture with your pet wearing an article of clothing, make it minimal, a hat or a scarf, a quick picture and be done with it. If your pet doesn’t mind, snap away.
Candid photos are fun to take and often capture your pet’s individual personality. Just as with people, no two pets are alike. Each pet has its own disposition, likes, dislikes and endearing traits. Candid shots can catch your dog playing, licking a child, watching the squirrels in the backyard from a window or catching a ball midair. The possibilities are endless. Candid photos are often action shots unless you have a pet that loves to sleep and a candid shot may capture sleepy eyes or a yawn. Be ready to play. Bring out the toys or add people to the mix for great natural shots of your pet in action. The best shots come when least expected. Have your camera or phone at the ready, use a fast shutter speed such as “sports mode” or “burst mode” and begin clicking.
Some words of caution. Never force your pet to do things they strongly dislike for the sake of a photo. It will most likely never be a favorite photo. And, limit the length of time for a photo session. Remember this is probably not fun for your pet.
Once you have some good shots use the editing features to make them even better. Crop, change colors, remove red eye or zoom in or out to get a great photo. Try black and white photos for dramatic and detailed results. The last step is to mat and frame you photos for display. A popular option is to make a collage of several photos in one frame. One interesting collage had photos of the dog’s eyes in one photo, his name on his collar on another, a full body shot, a family shot and a shot of his dog house. Creativity makes for interesting pictures.
Have fun with your camera, capture your beloved pet’s unique personality and create a meaningful keepsake.