How to take better pet photos...
Whether you're a total camera novice, or your pet has a booming Instagram account - These tips will help you level up your portraits with a few simple tricks.
Focus on the eyes
The eyes are the window to the soul.
So unless you're going for something funky and artistic like a close -up nose print, you're going to want those beautiful eyes to be sharp and sparkly! Practice changing the focus points on your camera, or tap on the eye with your finger if shooting with your phone.
Some newer cameras have auto-eye focus, which is amazing, but doesn't always work on animals, or in low light, so practice getting this right manually first to avoid missing the moment.
If you have a wide aperture on your camera F4 or lower (or portrait/blurry background mode on your phone) grab that focus on the eye nearest to you.
Another great tip for drawing attention to the eye is to GET LOW. Try to have your camera at the dogs eye level or below, this will create a much more engaging image.
Shoot in good light
Unless you're super arty or have a professional camera, shooting in the dark is always going to be much tricker! And when I say dark, a tungsten bulb lit room in the evening is considered dark to an average phone camera.
You will find it much harder to get a sharp focus, so find a light source such as a window if you're inside and move towards and face that.
On the flip side 'good light' is not harsh midday sun. This can create big ugly shadows in unpleasant areas and blow out brightness in other spots. Try shooting in the morning or evening when the sun is low and keep that bright sunlight either behind or to the side of your pet to add dimension.
After all - photography is the art and science of recording light.
Getting their attention... or not
So they're sat in the right place, the light is perfect, the background is lined up.... now if you could just get them to look at you instead of that kid playing with the ball!!
So it's not so hard to get their attention once or maybe twice. But even I don't always get the best shot first time. So you've got to have a few tricks up your sleeve here as most dogs won't give you more than a few seconds to get this shot!
Now also remember that if you tell your dog to wait, and then call their name to get their attention, it's going to be very confusing for them whether you want them to stay or run to you... so the best trick is to get their attention through an interesting sound.
This could be, a rustling bag of treats, a cat meow, a funny howl, or my favourite - a toy squeaker.
I have to tell you though, each sound will only work once so you better be ready to hit that shutter button the moment they look to see what it is, and if you're lucky, you may even get an adorable head tilt!
Or, perhaps you want it to look like the dog is interacting with something other than you - for this you may need a helper, for example if you want the dog to be looking at a child, have someone stand behind the child just out of view and make some noises.
To lead or not to lead...
One of the awesome things about being a pet photographer is that I can turn dogs who cannot be off the lead into beautiful wild spirited animals running free without a moment of training. And safety ALWAYS comes first.
Sometimes, your dogs fancy new harness and lead is exactly what you want the photo of, which makes it easy, but here's a tip for those who want to achieve a more natural look.
Purchase a slip/show lead of the same colour as your beloved pooch. You can slip them on for the few moments you are taking your photographs and then pop them back into their regular attire. Show leads are very thin and blend in easily to most dogs fur. This can be left as a discreet lead, placed behind the dog out of sight for semi-trust worthy behaviour, or you can consider using a basic photo editor to remove this. Even newer phones often have a magic eraser tool but photo editing apps will help you out here too.
Look for framing
A common mistake people make when taking portraits is to not consider what is behind the model. This is really important as it's easy to end up looking like a tree is growing out of the back of their heads, or something is distracting the viewers eye from looking at the model. Think about where in the background your subject can be placed, what elements are around that you might want to crop out or use to frame. This could be trees, lamp posts, people or doorways. It's always good to move around with the camera a little to see what fits.
Composition is a subject that can be simple to understand, but way more tricky to execute every time, especially with moving subjects.
Here are some basic ideas for better composition- see images below for examples:
- Framing -(read above)
- Rule of thirds - Imagine 3 vertical lines drawn down your image, try placing your model on the line to the left or the right and have their body and head facing towards the inside.
- Leading lines - A tip to really lead the viewers eye to your subject - use walls, paths or even a row of trees to create a line leading right to your model
- Depth - As a general rule, a great photo has interest in the foreground, middle ground and background. If possible, move around and find something that can be placed in front on the subject (covering just a little area of them) -If your location is quite open and empty, add some foreground blur by getting your camera as low to the ground or ledge as possible - this always gives a unique perspective and is why you will see me lying on the floor in parks!!