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Tips for Photographing Pets

Shooting pets can be one of the most rewarding types of photography one can do, but it’s not as simple as it may seem. Just try getting a kitten or frisky young puppy to hold still long enough to focus and get a shot, and you’ll immediately know what I’m talking about; they move – and very quickly!

One way to solve this problem is to restrict the areas into which your subject can bolt. Some ways I’ve accomplished this task are to place kittens in baskets and puppies in buckets, nestled into wingback chairs, placed on picnic tables, or even on stumps tall enough to make them think before leaping.

Kitties are just as difficult to corral and wrangle; but they too can be confined to a specific area, giving you enough time to photograph them before they have a chance to remove themselves from their portrait sittings.

Personally, I love the fence concept because your kitty is free to move about, back and forth, but always at the same distance from the camera, give or take a few inches.

Peeking from tall boots or even sitting on top of their dog houses might also work.

Getting help from the pet owner, or even a friend if it’s your own animal, is a must for shooting animals. Not only will it make the shoot go easier, it will be a lot of fun. Your assistant will probably be the most important part of your shoot, besides your pet subject.

The assistant will gather up the loose little ones and return them to the set or area where you’re shooting. The assistant will be there to hold a reflector, which may be either your main light if the sun is at the back of the animal, or the source of a catch-light in their eyes. (A catch-light is the bright specular highlight in the eye that gives it it’s “twinkle.” It adds a lot of life to a photo and is a good thing to try and have.) Remember to focus on the eye nearest the camera. It’s difficult to do close-ups that aren’t looking squarely and directly at the face, in which both eyes are in focus. When presented that choice, just remember to focus on the eye nearest you.

Your assistant can also distract your pet with either a toy (squeaky ones work great with dogs, but can scare cats away) or small treats. The best treats are ones that can be gobbled and not chewed. Rewards are quick, and you waste no time waiting for them to finish. This kind of assistance should also allow for some more or less candid photography, as your pet is now paying attention to the food and/or toy provider and not worrying about you and the camera.

This assistant might also carefully hold your pet, hiding their hands in ways that enable you to shoot a portrait with an uncomplicated or uncluttered background and no obvious fingers.

© Frank Siteman

Other tips for shooting your pets might be to include other members of your family. The interactions can be fun and provide some idea of scale.

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