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Pet Photography — Photographing Cats and Dogs

Pho­tograph­ing cats and dogs is a fun way to cap­ture the magic moments that make up the lives of your pets. Cats and dogs are always get­ting them­selves into per­fect pho­to­graphic sit­u­a­tions and it™s up to you to cap­ture them for pos­ter­ity. There is no rea­son at all why you need to be a pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­pher in order to take really good pic­tures of your cats and dogs. The fol­low­ing arti­cle is non tech­ni­cal and it is geared toward the per­son with no pho­tog­ra­phy back­ground. It is a very gen­eral arti­cle for any­one with any type of camera.

Flash and lighting

Pho­tog­ra­phy is all about light and using ordi­nary film, you can­not take a pic­ture of any­thing with­out it. You can take pic­tures using nat­ural out­door light or light from another source like from a room or from a street lamp etc. You can also take a pic­ture using your on cam­era flash to light your cats or dogs though this is not rec­om­mended. When most peo­ple take pic­tures of their cats or dogs they put the cam­era on some auto­matic set­ting and shoot. This auto­matic set­ting espe­cially when shoot­ing indoors, usu­ally pops up the flash auto­mat­i­cally. When pho­tograph­ing cats and dogs it is best NOT to use flash. What hap­pens all too often is that due to a phe­nom­e­non called red-eye your pet ends up with, you guessed it, red eyes. This gen­er­ally pro­duces a weird look­ing photo that is not flat­ter­ing. If at all pos­si­ble, don™t use the flash. When you are out­doors in the day this is not a prob­lem because there is plenty of light. There­fore, out­doors in the day is the eas­i­est way to get a great shot of your pet.

If you are indoors you must be sure that there is enough light falling on your pet. Due to the fact that most films are cal­i­brated for shoot­ing under day­light con­di­tions, this is the best type of light to use. So get your pets near the win­dow, open the blinds all the way and shoot. The only other thing to be aware of is back light. This means that if the light is in back of your pet (i.e. your pet is in front of the win­dow or in front of the set­ting sun) and you press your shut­ter what will hap­pen is that your pet will show up really dark or in sil­hou­ette. This isn™t attrac­tive so pho­to­graph your pets from any angle except this one.

Get down to your pet’s level — change angles

All too often we pho­to­graph pets from our eye level, even though their eyes are prac­ti­cally at floor level. Your pet pho­tog­ra­phy will be far more inter­est­ing if you take some shots from the point of view of your cat or dog. This means get down on the ground and start shoot­ing from your pet™s level. Other inter­est­ing angles are every­where though we rarely exploit them. Try stand­ing on a chair and shoot­ing directly down at your dog or cat while they look at you. Get right under a cat tree. If you have a zoom lens, try zoom­ing in and get­ting a close face shot. Or if you™re in an inter­est­ing envi­ron­ment pull back and cap­ture the whole scene.

Think like a dog or a cat

Cats love to hang out on high places and lick the water droplets inside sinks and bath­tubs. Dogs love to chew on dif­fer­ent things and tend to give you inquis­i­tive facial expres­sions when you talk to them in cer­tain ways. There are loads of activ­i­ties that are unique to cats and dog and many oth­ers that are unique to just your pet. These unique behav­iours or per­son­al­ity traits make excel­lent pho­to­graphic oppor­tu­ni­ties. When you notice some­thing that your pet does that is uniquely him or her, that™s a great pho­to­graphic opportunity.

But how do I get them to stay still?

Some­times you may want to pose your pets instead of catch­ing them in can­did sit­u­a­tions. Some dogs are already trained to sit or stay. Oth­ers are less eager to stay still. For this your best friend is food. Make sure you have the stuff they love. Dog treats, kib­ble, fruit, what­ever they love that™s also healthy for them. Reward them with food for stay­ing still, and they will prob­a­bly stay still to get the next reward. Shoot in between.

Cats can be more dif­fi­cult than dogs because they have rarely learned the stay com­mand so that even when you bribe them with food, they will come and not stay still. If you™re try­ing to pho­to­graph cats they may or may not be co-operative. Wel­come to cat pho­tog­ra­phy. It™s far eas­ier to start tak­ing some shots while rest­ing near a win­dow at first. If they are out­door cats, try to take sim­i­lar rest­ing shots to start.

Cam­era type, lenses, film

All these will have an effect on the type of pho­to­graph you can pro­duce. Dif­fer­ent lenses will give com­pletely dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives when you look through them. Wide angle lenses, zoom lenses, por­trait lenses can all pro­duce amaz­ing results when used with some knowl­edge. Black and white film is always a great way of get­ting an ‘artsy’ pho­to­graph of your pet. There are even black and white films processed in the same way as com­mon colour films that can be printed in black and white or even in sepia (antique brown).

35 mm SLR cam­eras are rec­om­mended for the ama­teur pho­tog­ra­pher who wants to have pre­cise con­trol over focus­ing, and the abil­ity to adjust each expo­sure if desired. 35mm cam­eras can also be put on com­plete auto­matic, even auto focus and yield fan­tas­tic results. Smaller point and shoot cam­eras are more con­ve­nient and well suited to the casual pho­tog­ra­pher. Although they often pro­duce accept­able results, their lim­i­ta­tion is that the cam­era is doing the focus­ing for you. The cam­era can™t always be sure if you wanted your dog or the tree it was stand­ing in front of, to be in sharp focus. You also have no con­trol over other tech­ni­cal aspects like shut­ter speed. Dig­i­tal cam­eras come in all sizes and qual­i­ties and have the huge advan­tage of being able to see the image right on screen before you record it.

The most impor­tant thing is to shoot and have fun. Your first roll of film won’t be the best but there will still prob­a­bly be a few shots that you are proud of. Prac­tice makes perfect.

Happy shoot­ing!