Taking photos of your pet can be really easy, or completely infuriating, depending on the level of your pet’s cooperation. Like when your cat insists on rubbing their cheeks on your camera/phone every time you try to get a close up and then turns and walks away! There is no reasoning, so you need to arm yourself with some patience and tricks (without them knowing)!
You don’t need an expensive camera, most mobile phones are capable of taking good quality photos and you are more likely to have your phone on you, so you can take a quick advantage of a good situation.
Shoot when your pet is comfortable, natural and in their environment. You need to relax and slow down as well! Animals are incredibly sensitive and will feel if you are nervous or frustrated. With some pets you might need to wait for the right occasion, so have your camera or phone handy, without having to run around looking for your phone, if you get a chance of a good shot. Don’t worry if it doesn’t work out right away, the right moment will come. Don’t rush it.
Talk to them
The calm sound of your voice can reassure and motivate them, and their reaction might give you a chance to get some great shots.
What is your pet’s personality? Are they calm and quiet or crazy and energetic? To express their personality the best, try to capture them in the situations and environment they are most at home at: playing with their favourite toy, catching a ball, swimming, snoozing…
Focus on their eyes and expression – eyes are so important and a lot of your pet’s personality is reflected in them. You can get really close and take a funny photo with a big nose, beautiful eyes or your pet laying on their back with their ears spread out. Your dog will be more likely to “smile” if he just had some exercise and is panting.
Photographing your pet on their level works very well as it looks more natural. You can even lay down on the floor to get a great low level angle.
Don’t force your pet to sit for you or do a particular trick if they are not in a mood.
Get their attention
To get their attention you can try to use a promise of a treat or a squeaky toy or anything they might be interested in. It might be helpful to get someone to help you, so you can focus on the camera. That’s particularly useful if you are trying to take an action shot. They can throw a ball or get your pet looking particular way by attracting their attention.
Make sure the lighting is good. Natural light is your friend! If you can take your pet outside they will feel more relaxed as well and the light should be good, particularly on an overcast day when the sun doesn’t cast harsh shadows. Whatever you do, do NOT use flash. It will not only create a very flat looking photo, it will also frustrate your pet. You can use LED strips or some other light source to highlight a particular area or create a moody photo.
If you are taking the photos inside, close to a large window is the best, to get the most out of the natural light.
The source of light should not be behind your pet; the best direction is from a side, or an angle somewhere between the front and a side. Beware of light that is very weak or yellow (or any other strong colour) unless that’s intentional for creating a particular mood.
Cats can be so funny but not always easy to photograph, unless they are very sleepy or actually sleeping. If your cat is comfortable where it is, particularly if the area is well lit, take advantage of that and don’t try to get them to move elsewhere. Act quickly (but calmly and carefully) as they are very unpredictable; you might think they are sleeping and the next minute they are gone! Focusing on their eyes works very well for cats; they are beautiful and have so much expression. You can also try to dangle a feather toy to get their attention for more of an action shot. Catching them stretching or yawning can also be quite funny. Cats are naturally curious so take advantage of that, like making noises with a piece of crumpled paper – they will look for the source of the noise.
Cats are small creatures so getting down to their level is often the best way. Don’t make any sudden movements. Move slowly.
You may want to use props for a particular occasion like birthdays, Christmas or just for fun. However, only use props your pet is comfortable with. Trying to force them into a cute outfit they don’t like will only get them frustrated, and that will be the end of the session. Most cats don’t usually like anything to be put on them, and they do have sharp claws and teeth, and are not afraid to use them!
Take lots of photos
Take loads and choose the best. Take photos from different angles and distance, experiment! There will be blurry photos and photos that are not interesting or not what you were looking for. Make sure you have a good selection to choose from. There are bound to be some perfect ones in that number! You can always delete the rest. (I sit down with a cuppa to do the “weeding out”.)
If you are taking an action shot and your pet is moving fast, point your camera/phone ahead to where they are going and press the button at the very moment they get there. You can also try the burst function, taking multiple photos in a short sequence.
Make sure you reward them (and yourself!) after the shot – they (and you) deserve it! 🙂