Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Five tips for photographing your four legged family members

I'm going to start this post by saying that I am in no way a professional photographer. I have a point and shoot camera and still have a lot to learn about taking photos. That is my disclaimer, however, I've spent the past year photographing my kitties with success.

unedited kitten photo

Firstly, we have to define what I mean success. To me it's about capturing the essence of a pet's personality-- the photos that tell their story. Also, good photos don't need a lot of editing. For the photo above, I spent a couple minutes tweaking it:

I used crop, auto adjust, clarify and depth of field

The point is the original is really good enough by itself. I only edit photos that will end up of scrapbook page. And that's the point really. You want to take photos you don't have to go crazy editing. That can feel impossible with pets because they don't react to cameras like people. How do you deal with photographing pets then?

Tip #1: Turn off your camera's sound.

You want your pet to act like your pet, not like your pet reacting to the noises your camera is making. 

Tip #2: Turn off the flash.

Animals eyes are more sensitive to light than humans. We all know how blinding flash can, so imagine what it must feel like for Fido or Fluffy. I would even dare to say it could possibly be damaging to such light sensitive eyes, especially for young pets. 

What do you do instead of using a flash? Two things: have good natural light and/or use your camera's manual mode. I use manual a lot on my camera, normally at +1 or +2 exposure and use the auto ISO setting. You can read more about manual mode HERE

Tip #3: Get down on their level.

When I'm taking photos of my kitties, I'm normally on the floor. I often set the camera on the floor to stabilize it. I think it gives you a feel of the world through their eyes. If they aren't on the floor or ground, then adjust, but don't take a photo from above unless you have a very good reason. Sticking to their eye level or below gives you better, more interesting images. 

from above

at his level and unedited
In the first photo of James Q, I took the shot standing over him. It isn't terrible, but it's just another photo of a cat looking like he's having a camera held over him. The second photo is a really authentic representation of who James Q is and what he's like. He isn't looking at the camera. There is also context. You can see his toy, which he also has in the first photo. You can see where he plays-- he loves to play under the table. That context will jog memories 20 years from now. 

feathers are fun!
Tip #4: Make it a positive experience. Here's what you are going for: Camera = Quality Time with Human

The advantage of being on your pet's level is getting to interact with your pet. Your pet will love it and not mind your shutter-bugging. You may even want to give your pet a treat or two after each photo session. Play with them and their favorite toy with one hand, snap photos with the other. You'll get photos of your pet in a way that is authentic while and your pet's reward is some form of play or love. After awhile of including the camera during these times, you may find your pets love your camera! 

ready to play

toys are important for pets 

Tip #5: Take a lot photos.

Don't wait for the right moment to snap a picture. Animals move quickly, often without warning, so taking a lot pictures and not worrying about the 'right' moment will give better results. There are so many times when I took a couple photos of my kittens that I thought were going to be awesome, but were blurry because I took them one second too late. Now I just click away on the camera and when I'm done I normally have one or two really awesome photos to work with out of fifty. 

Here's a series of photos I took of Thor, our baby. I thought photo two would be 'the one', but turns out the third photo was better: 

photo 1-- okay but not quite right

photo 2-- wanted it to be awesome, but it is a little blurry

photo 3-- this is sharp, clear, and won't require much tweaking

There you have it. My secrets are now shared. You may find that it's more fun to photograph pets than humans from this point forward. :) 

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