Sit, Stay, Smile! ...Pro Tips to Capture Your Animal on Film
08/21/2015 02:33PM ● Published by Aubray Onderik
By Sharilyn Wells
While scanning through pet photography on Pinterest, do you ever think to yourself, “Hey I can do that … that looks pretty easy.” So then, you grab your camera and Fido and attempt to photograph your beloved dog. But he just doesn’t sit … he knows the command sit but he’s more interested in the bird that’s flying around the birdfeeder you have in your backyard. Or when Winifred, your stubborn cat, is laying cutely on the sofa and the second you grab the camera to snap a photo, she rolls over giving you the stink eye.
Yes, photographing animals really isn’t that easy and can be very unpredictable. Pet photography professionals are professionals for a reason. They have the skill, the patience and the technique to capture the attitude and spunk of you furry creatures. However, you too can achieve adorable pictures of your animals. I, Sharilyn Wells from Sharilyn Wells Photography, with two other local photographers want to share some of our tips with you in capturing the perfect shot of your furbaby.
Kamrie Slate of Babes & Brutes Photography said, “The biggest thing is making sure they're not too excited, so taking them for a walk before hand is a good way to get some energy out.”
You know your animal better than anyone. If your animal is hyper and doesn’t know commands such as ‘sit,’ ‘stay,’ or ‘lay down’ you might want to either capture candid shots inside your house or go to a secluded area where the animal won’t be distracted and he or she will be safe.
Also, animals respond to how you’re reacting. If you’re hyper or frustrated, they are going to mimic your emotions and it’s not going to be pretty.
“If you’re looking for interactions between you and your pet or even your kids and your pets – the best way to photograph this special bond is to sit back and relax,” says Slate. “Patience is key with animals. Your pets naturally love you and look to you for guidance and letting them do that in their own time without force will give you the best photos possible!”
2. Focus on their eyes and expressions
Your animals have their own personalities, so capture that. Don’t be worried if it’s not the perfect shot, it’s your animal, being himself. “My personal preference is to catch animals when they are just being normal, but clearly saying something with their expression,” said Jamie Lawson from Jamie Lawson Photography. “My dog brings me such joy, so I love images that are both taken well but also make me laugh. They are my favorites.” Always remember to focus on your animal’s eyes. Recall the saying, “the eyes are the windows to the soul.” Well, it’s the same for animals. You will get the most expression from your animal’s eyes … even if it’s a look of annoyance. I photograph a lot of shelter animals. These animals come from various backgrounds and you have to roll with what they know and how they react to you. A quick puppy whine or funny sound from me creates a short-lived moment of that animal’s personality. Even if an animal is skittish or scared of me, I try to focus on that animal’s emotions by capturing it’s eyes – even if they look sad. “Don’t be afraid to make funny sounds to grab their attention. I squeak my lips, click and whistle all the time to grab attention,” added Slate. “It usually results in a pretty adorable head tilt.”
3. Try different angles and don’t be afraid to join their world.
My favorite shots are when I have an animal looking up at me and I’m shooting down on them. They look so stinking adorable with big eyes of curiosity. However, I never forget to bend my knees or lay on the ground. There is nothing cuter than a pup sniffing your lens because you’re rolling around in the grass with him.
“Don't be afraid to get in close to them or stand far back and include the landscape in your composition,” Lawson agreed. “Experiment with angles … stand on benches, lay down on the ground but generally stay near their own level.”
If you’ve every watched a professional pet photographer in action, you will notice he or she doesn’t stand still. They are always prepared to sweat their butts off to get the shot. Be prepared to move around and don’t forget to get eye level with them. You may need to get a step stool if your cat is lounging high.
4. Pay attention to the light and environment.
Lighting is everything when it comes to a good photograph. How annoying is it when you get a great image, but then there’s a huge shadow on your animal’s face or worse, you can’t see you black dog in the shadows?! When scoping out a location for your animal pictures, pay attention to how the light will hit your animal. “Especially for solid black dogs or those with dark faces, facing the sun allows good catch lights in their eyes (the white reflective parts),” said Lawson. “The light also helps to distinguish features and shows more depth and texture in their coat.”
Also remember to “declutter” the area you will be shooting in. Yes, you want to capture your animal in his environment, but you also don’t want that tattered, bright orange chew toy distracting from your black pup’s adorable face. Do you really want to see your morning’s coffee mug in the picture with Winifred? If something in your background doesn’t enhance your pictures in some way, get rid of it. “Also for dark-faced animals, whenever possible use lighter, more reflective surfaces to photograph them on,” added Lawson. “Pay attention to backgrounds so they don't blend.”
5. Reward your animal
Think about it … what would you do if you were being told what to do, how to do it and when to do it and getting nothing in return? Would you work an eight-hour shift flawlessly and never get paid? Yeah, you wouldn’t be too happy and probably wouldn’t do it again would you? Nope. Same with your animals. Don’t forget to reward them. A squeak toy, treats, pats on the head, belly rubs, anything that shows your appreciation for your animal’s hard work. Yes, even if you didn’t get the perfect shot. Your animal surely tried very hard to please you, reward him. “Positive reinforcement is always the best and it helps grab their attention,” said Slate. “I always give lots of love and belly rubs as a reward to fur-family, a few bacon treats never hurt anyone either!”
6. Patience … from you.
Animals have their own minds. They may know the commands that are coming from your mouth, but like a toddler … they may just not WANT to hear them. All three of us agree that the most helpful tip we can give you is that you have to be patient. We all enjoy capturing animals being themselves and sometimes that means capturing them rolling in the mud or giving you the stink eye. It’s them. Pure, bold, unstaged and sometimes messy. You can’t make a person like the camera, so what makes you think you can make an animal?
“Whenever a dog seems uninterested or fidgety during a session, I always move on. I want the dogs to feel as comfortable as the humans during our time together,” said Slate. “It’s unnatural for a dog to sit for photos, so allowing them to be comfortable is important. Not only does it allow for better photos, but you’ll be able to capture their personality much better too!”