Expert Tips and Advice – How to take better photos of your pet
They fill the phone photo albums, screen savers, social media posts, apps and photo frames of most pet parents. Yes, they are our cherished pets who provide us with so much fun, love and laughter. But, how do you capture that perfect photo that reflects their individual personality?
To help you out Bow Wow Meow reached out to some well-known professional pet photographers and asked them a series of questions. In this blog they provide us with their ideas and insights about taking the perfect shot.
So, here are some of their top tips that will help you capture that special moment in time:
STUDIO NOAH – BRENDA MAE
Brenda Mae is a Perth based pet photographer who has been photographing pets and their people for over 11 years. She is supported by loving staff as well as her four legged team Bello the Bichon Frise, Jo Jo the Spoodle and Mr Ginger the tabby.
- Photographing pets is much more challenging than photographing humans, even children. There are so many different personalities and unique habits in pet photography, they move, and change their expressions dramatically in the wink of an eye.
- Remain flexible, and if something doesn’t work, try something else. It is always harder photographing your own pets because they want to be next to you. Think about why you love them, and capture that.
- You can use treats or noises to capture the attention of easily distracted pets. You need to keep your eyes open and your trigger finger ready as they will pose when you least expect it.
- Some pets are very dark or black, so to be able to see them clearly, always shoot with the sun behind you, and on a bit of an angle.
- The beach and parks are great to capture your pet in his/her natural environment. Try using balls or toys to add a bit of interest and fun. I like using all angles in pet photography, including going down to their level and seeing the world from their point of view.
- Don’t forget to have fun during the process. If you’re stressed then your pet is going to be stressed too.
White dogs can be too contrasty in full sun, so try photographing in the shade.
JESSE FREIDIN PHOTOGRAPHY
As one of America’s leading dog photographers Jesse Freidin works exclusively with traditional analogue film processes. He is dedicated to a return to realness, to craftsmanship, and to lifting up the household dog to its rightful place as a contemporary muse.
- The goal is connection, curiosity, a desire to articulate a deeper understanding of the subject’s character and values while simultaneously making a beautiful image.
- For cats and dogs, there is a balance between creating a space of calmness and security, while choosing which moments are most real and beautiful.
- Most cats are on their own schedule and aren’t as charmed by the fact that I want to photograph them. When they think the session is over, it’s over!
- Keep your energy calm, meet your animals on their level, and be sure to use natural light to your advantage. Stay out of direct sunlight or shadows, and if your dog is stressed take a break!
- Don’t over-use treats or over stimulate your dog with toys and noises. Just play it cool and let real moments develop because that’s where the good images come from.
- Before working with any client I always take time to sit down with them and discuss their relationship with their companion animals. This is a way for me to analyse what is most important about that bond, and that animal.
Every dog is different, but I always cater to what is unique about that animal and what is unique about the relationship between them and their human.
BRINDLEBERRY – HOLLY MONTGOMERY
Holly Montgomery is a pet photographer from Canada. She has had a lifelong connection with animals and she approaches her sessions with a sense of compassion and a sense of humour!
- People are self-conscious and awkward most of the time. For the most part, dogs are just themselves; hyper, shy, playful, etc. It’s my job to capture that.
- Cats are not usually as well socialised as dogs, so they can take longer to warm up to the idea of strange, camera wielding guests.
- Most pets are very eager to please and if they aren’t cooperating, it’s because they are not sure what we want. Therefore, having treats on hand to reward desirable behaviour is a must! Also, keep sessions short and happy.
- I always ask pet parents to exercise their dogs before a session. Also, bringing their pet a little hungry helps. I also make a lot of attention-grabbing noises like barking, growling, yelping, etc. I also bring a number of other noisemakers like duck calls and squeaky toys. Limiting the session to only the subjects that are being photographed also reduces distractions.
- I always, ALWAYS, allow the pet to dictate their pace and comfort level and let pet parents know that I am not ignoring their pet, but rather reading their body language and their cues and responding appropriately.
- Most pets when given space will eventually warm up. If they don’t, I would put on a telephoto lens, and keep them at a distance. Reactive and shy pets deserve photos too so I do my best to make that happen!
- Even shy dogs are usually more at home in their natural environment. I look for leading lines like bridges, fences or highways. If I can, I like to include locations that are “all natural” and locations with some architecture, but it all depends on the animal I am working with.
- If pets are interacting with a toy, or sleeping in a bed, then I’ll use it, but not just for the sake of plopping it into a photo.
- I have had clients get more excited about their pet photos than their wedding photos and that’s when I know – those are my kind of people!
I shoot downward, upward, straight on, through trees and bushes, and more and I’m not overly big on props.
THE FURRTOGRAPHER – JOSH NOREM
Josh is a San Francisco based photographer who is the winner of the A-List San Francisco’s Best Pet Photographer Award in 2013, 2014 and 2015. He is also listed as the Best Dog Photographer for 2014 in Bay Woof magazine’s Beast of the Bay award.
- Cats and dogs are just like humans and you have to be able to know how they are feeling, and be able to anticipate their movements. While dogs can be motivated to pretty much do anything with treats or food, cats are much harder to motivate, so the crucial skill with a cat is patience.
- When taking a photo try to find and use good natural light. The easiest way to do this is to just get your cat or dog to look at a window in the middle of the day, as the light is usually quite nice and no flash is needed as it’s bright enough to illuminate their face without being too harsh. Just put your back to the window and have your pet facing you, and fire away.
- If a dog is really active I’ll have him or her run around for an hour or so, and just as they plop down on the ground from exhaustion we do the portraits of them lying on the ground or sitting, with their mouth open and a wide “smile.” It usually works out perfectly!
- To get their attention try holding a treat directly on top of the lens, or have an assistant hold it. You want to make sure you don’t just hold the treat up in the air, put it right on top of your lens so the dog will look directly at the camera.
- If you are photographing cats you are on their schedule – period. You can try to persuade them to look cute with toys and treats but if they are not into it, and don’t want to be there, you won’t be able to take their photo. You can try to wait them out, which can work sometimes, but not always.
- Try giving a cat a treat and then taking their photo. It’s a great way to get a “licking face” shot. Or with dogs, they look great running, but you need them running towards you, so have someone else throw a ball to you and then they can chase after it.
- Dog parks provide great locations and I personally prefer shade to direct sunlight. People think a bright sunny day is great for dog photos but it can be really tough on dogs with dark fur, or dark eyes. A quiet park with flowers and shade, or a wide-open field with a pretty background and some cloud cover – beautiful!!
- For cats I do all the shoots in the kitty’s home, as they are the most comfortable there, and most cats don’t travel very well. For cats, you just have to work around their schedule, and all I ever use to get their attention is a dangly toy. It helps to have the owner dangle it in front of them. Some cats like treats, so holding one of those (or a catnip toy) over the lens while you fire away can give some great results too!
- If you have a camera that lets you move the focus point, move it onto the dog or cat’s eyes in every photo session and just start with that. Portraits where the eyes are not in focus are wasted shots. You have to start with getting the eyes in focus before you can move onto more advanced photography. Also if you want the background to be out of focus, just move your subject as far away from it as possible, and then get as close to your subject as you can (about one metre). This should make it nice and blurry.
For props I recommend the free iOS app named Dog toy, or a squeaky toy. It doesn’t hurt to have a ball around too, and treats go a long way in getting a dog to pay attention.
SARAH BETH PHOTOGRAPHY
& JOY SESSIONS
Animal lover Sarah Beth, worked as a designer for many years before pursuing photography full time. Sarah Beth has developed Joy Sessions® which are special end of life photography sessions for terminally ill or elderly pets.
- When dealing with the impending loss of a beloved pet, there are countless things to think about: vet appointments (and costs), treatment options, alternative medicine, keeping them comfortable, and what to do when, and after, they pass away. For many pet owners, taking some photographs during this time can be a beautiful, cathartic activity.
- Hopefully you’ve been taking pictures throughout their lives so you can remember them from when they are young and healthy, but a lot of people realise at this time how few photographs they really have of their best friends. We all know our pets don’t live forever, but there’s something about getting a prognosis – about starting that countdown – that makes us look at our pets in a new light, to appreciate them more and make time for things we maybe didn’t make time for in the past.
- Don’t worry if the pictures are a little dark, or don’t have perfect focus… these pictures are for you, and if you feel compelled to snap a picture and freeze a moment in time, you’ll always look back on that picture with a smile.
- One downfall, however, of taking lots of pictures of your own pets, is that you’re probably not actually in very many of them! Sure, you probably take “selfies” now and then, but there’s something really wonderful about having a picture of yourself with your pet, from someone else’s perspective. They can get farther back from the scene and take in what’s happening around you to capture your interactions together, and the feeling of the moment.
- A lot of us don’t really like having our picture taken (myself included!) but taking pictures with our pets is easily the best way to do it. The two things I think most people struggle with when having their picture taken is the intimidation of looking into a camera and not knowing when people are going to snap the picture. Or, feeling awkward and unsure of how you’re supposed to look, etc. and what to do with your hands.
- Both of those concerns quickly disappear when you can hold and pet your dog or cat, and look at them instead of the camera. It’s nice to have a “portrait” of you and your pet both looking at the camera, but my favourite images are – by far – the ones in which the owners are completely relaxed, interacting with their pets. When they seem to forget the camera is even there.
- I love capturing sweet moments that really show people’s relationship with their pets – making eye contact with each other; embracing their pet or kissing their ears; playing tug, shaking their paw, or giving belly rubs.
- Seeing yourself embracing your pet will trigger memories of what their fur felt like, what it smelled like, and how you felt at that point in time. Long after the vet bills have been paid, and life has moved on, photographs of your loved ones help keep their memory alive in your heart. Take as many as you can, with whatever device you have on-hand, and ask friends or professionals to photograph you together with your pet. I promise you won’t regret it.
Make a point to have a camera nearby – whether it’s your smart phone, a point-and-shoot, or something higher-end – so you can capture the little, everyday things that you love about your pets like the way they cross their paws when they sleep, or a particular curl of their tail.
If you count up all the pet photographs on social media it seems that taking photos of our pets is a very common pastime. We hope these tips will provide you with the right advice so you can continue to add to your pet photo repertoire. Why don’t you try some of these tips and share your results our Facebook wall? We would love to see your work.