1. Snap pets when they are sleepy and happy
Animals generally have somewhat predictable patterns of alertness and sleepiness. Like at 6am, they are usually wide awake. “Yap yap yap! Good Morning! I’m up, why aren’t you? ” Obviously, you don’t want to photograph a pet when they are rocketing around your living room or fast asleep. Try to find a time where they are fed, happy, and partially sleepy. That way they will be patient enough to sit and pose for you. Keep a few little treats in your pockets to keep that “happy-time” glimmer in their eyes or just to give you some extra snapping time.
2. Photograph pets at their eye level
Photos taken of animals from above are less personal and look observational. If you want to show the personality of your fantastic pet, then you’ll have to shoot them at their eye-level like this shot of +Leo Laporte’s smiling papillon, Ozzie. Shooting from below often means crouching or lying down in some uncomfortable position in something wet, itchy, or hard, but it’s worth it. If you have smaller pets, you can prop them up on a pillow or a chair to make it a bit easier on your knees.
3. Find a simple, contrasting background
Use a simple background that contrasts with the colour of your pet’s fur, feathers, scales, tentacles (?) A grey cat against a grey wall will not stand out enough. Opt for a lighter colour if your pet is dark and vice versa, to make your pet pop from the background.
4. Shoot in soft, even light
Indoors: Shoot in front of a big open window. Use a sheer curtain to diffuse the harsh light if it’s really sunny, or shoot a bit later in the day (about 1 hour before sunset). If you are getting a lot of shadow on your pet, use a bounce or a whiteboard to reflect light. Make sure you don’t blind your pet in the process. Meow!
Outdoors: Shoot in the shade or on a cloudy day. Make sure the light on your pet is consistent and not dappled (shaded spots or patches from above objects like leaves or tree branches). Harsh bits of sun mixed with shade never looks good and you can never really correct it in post. Avoid dappling and move your pet into better light! It can ruin the best of pictures.
5. Focus on the eyes
Whatever you do compositionally, make sure your focus on the eyes is tack sharp. It’s also nice if you can get the nose in focus as well. If you have sufficient light to increase your aperture, set it around f/5.6. If not, you can try using a tripod (depending on how patient your pet is), or try shooting your pet in profile.
6. Try some action shots
Take your canine friends to a field or beach and play fetch. As your dog is returning fetch, crouch down and snap shots of him/her approaching. You can get some lovely shots of your dog in motion. If you have someone else to help throw, then you can try different angles. Use an aperture of about f/5.6 to get your pet in focus and the background slightly blurry. You’ll need a fairly high shutter speed to freeze motion (about 1/1000). You can set your camera to Tv mode and test out different shutter speeds, and see what works best.
Cats don’t really do fetch, so you’ll have to get crafty if you want kitty motion shots. 😉
If you have any other tips or tricks for photographing pets or any photos you’d like to share add them to the comments.
Good luck and remember to fill your pockets with tasty treats for your pet model!