My dog, Cooper, strikes the most adorable posts. That ends, of course, the minute I pull out the camera. Upon sensing my intent to photograph him, Cooper immediately becomes uncomfortable, tense and fidgety.
Pet photography is never easy. Those adorable expressions can disappear in an instant. Your subject may decide to climb on you lap, nuzzle the camera, or just run in the opposite direction.
However, with a little patience and effort, it’s entirely possible to take shots that will capture the qualities you love about your four-legged friend and let your pet’s personality shine.
1. Patience, Patience, Patience
Don’t pressure yourself to get it right the first time. Remember, you’re dealing with a live, unpredictable subject that has a mind of its own. By keeping the photo session relaxed, you will help put your pet at ease.
2. Generate Some Energy
Before you begin shooting, spend a little time playing. Throw a ball, run around the yard, get active. Then shoot. That energy you generated will translate into a happy, engaged subject and result in a more dynamic, spirited shot.
3. Enlist an Assistant
An assistant can help keep your subject’s attention while you shoot. Make sure it’s someone your pet is familiar with and comfortable being around. (As stated earlier, comfort is key).
4. Get Your Subject’s Attention
Treats. Squeak toys. Funny noises. An assistant acting silly behind the camera. Teasing your subject with a treat. Every dog and cat is different, and responds in its own way to stimulus. Vary your approach throughout the photo session. Repeating your pet’s name over and over or issuing the same commands again and again can leave your subject confused and anxious.
5. Play with the Angles
Get down to eye level with your subject. Crawl around. Lie on the floor and shoot from below. Mix it up. Experiment with different perspectives and constantly look for new ways to frame your shots. Be creative. A small change in the angle can make a big difference.
6. Sometimes You Need to Be Still
Sometimes you need to move slowly to keep things relaxed and keep your pet still. Quick movements may prompt your subject to move. If this is the case, try keeping your body stationary and using just your arms to reach your camera high and low so you can shoot from different levels.
7. Capture the Whites of their Eyes
The eyes are windows to the soul. Eyes are critical to communicating mood and expression, and ultimately become the focal point of a portrait. Make eye contact with your pet when you shoot. Make sure their eyes are sharp, engaged, and not in shadow.
8. Use Natural Lighting
Lighting can make or break your shot. The easiest lighting to work with is bright but diffused. When indoors, try placing your pet near a window or other natural lighting source. Natural lighting is preferable to a flash, which can make your subject anxious. When outside, shade typically works best, because you avoid the harsh shadows that result from direct sunlight.
9. Find a Clean Background
Don’t let your background distract from your subject. Straighten up before you begin. Take a critical look at your space. Is there anything in the frame that doesn’t add to the photo? If so, move it, or change your angle to frame your subject with a clean background.
10. Embrace the Unexpected
While you may have that “perfect shot” in mind, be open to the unexpected. Trying to force your subject to hold a pose when they’re just not feeling it just doesn’t work. Capturing unplanned gestures and spontaneous expressions will capture your pet’s character and better express its unique personality. The things you least expect are the exact things that can turn an average shot into something priceless.
After you’re finished, don’t forget to properly thank your model with treats, toys, walks, or whatever else is a fitting reward for a successful modeling session.