I remember back when I bought my first DSLR and wanted to try it out, the first thing I did after un-boxing it was to try it on Cookie our dog. Our Cookie is a small white female dog, very playful and energetic. I still remember the frustration of not getting those sharp images I wanted. But I was learning at the time. Proper exposure, lighting and shutter speed where all Chinese to me.
So here are my viewpoint and tips for shooting pets (No technical lingo here):
Choose a proper location: from the same spirit of 1 above, choosing your location is crucial if you want to transmit your message. Choose a place where your pet is comfortable with. While at it, don’t forget about the background of your shots (read my blog about Choosing a Background First). Like in portraiture you should blow out the background and eliminate distracting elements.
Character: before you start shooting, understand your animal character traits. What type of personality your pet has? Is it energetic and bouncing all the time like our Cookie? Or is it an 18 hours sleeping machine like most cats are? Try to capture some of that in your shots. For example shooting a sleeping cat sums up your cat personality as a sleeping beauty. Alternatively if your pet is a bouncer and always running in the house like Cookie consider taking her to the open space like your parking lot or your garden and try shoot her in the act while racing around, jumping for balls or playing with other dogs.
Zoom in on them and get low because they are smaller than humans. If you can’t physically get close to your pet equip your camera with a zoom lens. This will also help in eliminating distracting elements as longer focal length help achieve a shallower depth of field. Like shooting children, you shouldn’t shoot them from above. Get down to their eye level and should. Getting down to their level means you enter their world and get a glimpse of what life looks like from their angle.
Lighting: in general animals hate flash so refrain from using it at all times unless you caught them by surprise and you really need that light for a good exposure or a dramatic scene. Direct flash light is harsh and if at eye level, it will create that wolverine red-eye look. Outside photo shoot is always better but out of direct sunlight. It goes without saying that the best mode to shoot animals (like kids) is Shutter Priority (TV) and don’t be afraid to increase ISO if need be.
As a conclusion, remember that pets are generally playful. This is why you need to get in their game. So be playful before you even remove your camera from your bag. Play with your dog with his favorite toy for 10 minutes in the park before starting to compose and shoot. Try holding a bacon treat above your head or take a picture with them including people wrestling on the grass. Make your outing with them a mutually fun experience and your shots are likely to reflect that as a result.