When I started shooting pets professionally, I walked into every session terrified. I was afraid I would fail to capture the dog’s personality, letting my client down as well as myself. Since then, I’ve picked up a few tricks that help me shoot pets with confidence. Learn from my experiences with these 8 easy steps to photographing animals and pets.
1. Talk to the humans.
Every pet is different, and so are their owners. Before you break out the camera, ask how they’d like the photos to turn out. Do they prefer full body shots or close-ups? Do they want more photos of their pet playing or lying down? Don’t compromise your style, but taking your client’s opinions into consideration will help ensure their happiness.
2. Be patient.
The first 15 minutes of a shoot are always the most challenging for me. Most dogs are so excited to see you, they can’t keep from jumping, licking the camera and darting around. Don’t stress if you have a hard time right out of the gate. Once they burn off a little energy, dogs become much easier models.
3. Come bearing gifts.
Treats and toys can be a lifesaver. When held next to or behind the camera, a pet’s favorite things will help you get the most emotive shots. Be sure to talk to the owners first, though, so you can be prepared for overly excited behaviors and avoid health issues.
4. Keep your shutter speed fast.
Dogs are always on the move. Avoid blur by setting your shutter speed as fast as you can. A wide-open aperture and high ISO can help. I chose my D700 because it takes great shots with sky-high ISOs, so I can get sharp shots indoors or even shoot with no flash at night when I have to. I also like to set my exposure compensation as low as -1.0, allowing me to increase shutter speed and easily correct exposure later in ACR.
5. Shoot on continuous mode.
This can help you get the shot you may have missed otherwise, especially when it comes to action shots. The results can also make for some adorable groupings.
6. Keep a (flexible) checklist of shots.
Sessions can be chaotic, and it’s easy to forget to snap a profile shot or a close-up of that spotted tail. Write out or keep in mind a checklist you can take into sessions to help you create a varied and complete gallery. Just don’t let it faze you if Otis doesn’t want to lie down in front of that rosebush. He’ll probably wind up inventing his own pose that will be even better.
7. Get low.
The first rule of pet photography is to get on the dog’s level (learn why here). Easier said than done. When you bend down, most dogs will run right to your face, making it tricky to get a shot. I like to pick a spot to sit and stay put until the dog loses interest in me. Then I can get some great shots of them doing them their thing or regain their interest with a noise or treat. Another trick is to put your camera on autofocus and hold it down low while standing up. You’ll end up with a lot of rejects, but usually a few gems. Read more on this subject here.
8. When all else fails, use your zoom.
A zoom can save you when a dog is too hard to keep up with or doesn’t like to get too close to the camera. A quick whistle or squeak of a toy from across the yard can steal a dog’s attention just long enough for you to get the zoomed in shot you couldn’t have gotten otherwise.
About the Guest Writer: Brittney Williford
I own Whisker Snaps Photo in Memphis, Tenn. In addition to pets, I shoot kids, families, weddings and concerts. I am also a contributing photographer for The Commercial Appeal. Please take a second to check out my website and blog.