I love taking pictures of my pets. Do you? Our pets are members of the family and while they may not enjoy having a camera pointed at them, it sure is as important to capture their personalities as it is to snap images of your human family. Admittedly, it can be tricky to get a great photo of your active dog or shy cat. But, since most of us have a camera at the ready in a pocket or bag, it’s pretty easy to get a good photo of those silly, loving little buddies.
Those cuties are Gus and Max. They’re both full of personality and love to go hiking with us. I’m lucky to have such great photo backdrops here in New Mexico: blue sky, large rock formations to scramble up and great light. Locations like that are wonderful but really, all you need is a space without too much clutter and with good light. Look for a fence or wall or even a light painted wall or a window inside to start. Next, pay attention to the quality and direction of light. In our previous home, our dining room had beautiful light coming in through east facing windows. That made it a perfect spot to shoot in the morning. As a plus, the carpet was light colored and so it acted as a sort of reflector. Glance around your abode and see if you can find some pleasing light, inside or out, and pay attention to the time of day when it looks best; not too dark and not too bright! The above picture was taken with my iPhone 6 using the native camera. I didn’t do anything to it after capture. I think it’s an amazing camera!
That’s our cat, Scout. He’s pretty shy but loves to sit by windows to look at birds and to bask in the warmth. Notice where your pets like to hang out. Part of photography is telling a story and it’s always nice to look back and remember where your dog loved to sleep or play with his toys or what crazy locations the cat got herself into! Then watch for your pet to take a nap or rest there. If you want to catch them napping, try quietly sneaking close and snapping a few frames before they wake up. Some of my favorite pictures of our pets have been taken while they are snuggled up on our bed, or while they are playing with their toys or when our cat has decided that a wooden bowl is the best place to curl up. Most of the time, I’ll get down to their level for a better perspective. It usually makes for a better photo.
Once you’ve scouted out some good locations to shoot around the house, start thinking about how to get the best possible picture! As you look through the viewfinder of your camera, or at the screen on your phone, get in the habit of seeing it as a rectangle divided horizontally and vertically into thirds. Sort of like a tic-tac-toe board. Where the lines meet is where you want to place the most interesting part of your picture. Or, an easy way to think about it…in most cases avoid putting your dog’s face smack dab in the middle of the frame.
Notice in the above pictures of Cody, Gus and Max how their eyes aren’t centered and are also in the top third of the frame. And, I’ve also gotten in pretty close to fill the frame with their sweet little faces. Once you’ve become used to taking pictures with the dividing grid of thirds in mind, getting good shots of anything becomes much easier! Lots of cameras now have those grids built in to the viewfinder or screen. It’s a great tool to have and use. As you can see in two of those pics, I was standing above the doggies. Sometimes I like that perspective, too.
Have you ever tried to get a perfect picture of your pet and he just won’t cooperate? I know I have! If your dog insists on looking the other way or running in the opposite direction do what I do. Bring out a treat! Most dogs will do anything for food. Right? It’s ridiculous how closely they’ll pay attention if you lure them with their favorite treat. It’s best if you have another person help you with this, but if not, don’t despair! Here’s what I do: if my husband is around, I’ll have him stand just behind my shoulder and after having asked Gus to sit and stay, Andy will hold out the treat for him. I have to act fast with the shutter but I always succeed in getting a shot of Gus looking longingly at Andy, er, the treat, off camera. If I’m on my own, I’ll hold my camera in one hand and the treats in another. That requires a bit more coordination, but with practice it can be done. Another trick I’ll use is to make all kinds of crazy noises to get them to look my way. I’ll meow, squawk, trill, do whatever it takes to get their attention! Don’t be embarrassed, it’s totally worth it!
And now for the technicalities. Don’t worry, I won’t go on too much about them! As I said, I have a fabulous iPhone 6. I typically use the on board camera but also have some apps that I love to use to get the perfect look. My current favorite is VSCOcam. I like the ease of use and the photo treatment options. Sometimes I’ll use the adjustments in Instagram to get the look I want. I also like Snapseed and PicTapGo. They are all available in the iTunes App Store.
If you’re using an iPhone, did you know that you can change the exposure and focus right on the screen? You can! If you’re looking at your cat on the screen and she looks so dark that you can barely see her, touch your finger on her face and see if the exposure changes. Touch around until things look good. Amazing! And of course, hold your phone as steady as possible, especially in lower light.
My other camera is a Canon DSLR. I have several lenses for it, but mostly use a 24-70 set at a large aperture so the background where my pets are gets blurred out a bit. The larger aperture lets in more light, too. I’ll often set mine at 2.8, but if your lens doesn’t go down that far, just set it to whatever your smallest number is and go from there. And remember to focus on your pet’s eyes! I like to shoot in RAW format, but if you aren’t into putting your pictures through Photoshop, just shoot in jpg. In another post, I’ll go into more about using a DSLR to get great shots of your buddies.
Go out and try my hints and let me know how it goes! I’m happy to help you get some memorable images :)