Polly is a black mutt and from a photography point of view it I couldn’t have picked a harder subject. If you’ve ever tried to photograph a black dog you know exactly what I mean. In half the shots doggie comes out as an unidentifiable black blob, while in the other half the background gets so “blown out” so that all you can see is an alien white mass (with black blob in front).But thankfully I’ve got a trick or two. This past week in the forest we’ve had the absolute perfect conditions (soft, filtered light and a neutral background) so I snapped up a bunch of Polly shots and decided to share some of my tips on the blog with another addition to my photography series. So, here ya go:
1/ Target Soft, Diffuse Light - I’ve always gotten my best pet shots in a soft, diffuse light. Bright, direct light tends to bounce hard off shiny pet coats and “blow out” the picture. It’s just far too harsh and the effect is even worse on dark-colored pets. A much better option is to find somewhere the light is filtered (e.g. through a window or under a forest canopy), or use very late evening or early morning light. Cloudy days are another great time to shoot. This kind of light will even out the coat and allow you bring out the details in your picture.
2/ Go Fast – Pets, like kids tend to move around a lot and sometimes it can be hard to capture the moment without blur. You best bet with pets is to go fast. So, set your camera to a fast shutter speed (around 1/200th is pretty good, or even faster if doggie is very active) and snap away. If the pictures look too dark I’ll usually up the ISO (to 400 or so), but I’ll always try to keep the shutter speed fast. On my Nikon SLR camera I use a simple fast lens (50mm f/1.8) for all my pet shots. On my point and shoot I’ll fix the shutter speed and let it chose the rest of the settings. Some point and shoots have a “pet” setting which does the same thing.
3/ Get Those Eyes – One of the secrets to any kind of animal photography is to get the eyes in focus. The eyes are the window to the soul, and for pets in photos that certainly rings true. Even if the rest is out of focus, if the eyes are sharp the picture is really appealing. So, try to focus there and worry less about the rest.
4/ Choose a Simple Background – When you’re doing any kind of portrait work you want the focus of the shot to be on the subject. A busy background is always distracting, so try to choose a neutral or very clean background. For up-close work an even neutral-colored background works great (leaves, ground, wall etc.). For wider shots you can include some clean background (e.g. ocean, forest), but make sure the pet remains the main focus.
5/ Get Low and Close – Most of my best pet shots come from playing with perspective. So, I usually try to get down low and close to the pets’ level, or shoot from above or the side or below. Getting down low and close will get you more into your pets’ world and that’ll show in the shot.
6/ Cheat, Play & Bribe – I almost always bring treats or toys when I’m shooting pets. With Polly I’ve trained her to look at the camera, and get a treat for it, which helps to get that connection with the shot. You can dangle the treat right next to the lens as you’re shooting or get great “action” shots while your pet plays around with a toy. With the cats I’ll usually dangle a toy or treat. Interacting with people can create wonderful moments too, so bring in your other half to capture some family moments.
7/ Snap Away – In the digital age it’s so easy to snap away and I definitely encourage that with pets. Don’t be discouraged if your first shot isn’t any good. Just snap away and see what you get. Sometimes catching unusual moments (such as kitty yawning, or doggie laughing) can create really interesting shots and it only takes that one moment to get the perfect shot!
That’s about it folks. Got any tips of your own?
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