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Written by Disha Ramanan
Self-isolation due to COVID-19 has given us all the opportunity to spend even more time with our dogs and cats than usual. We're getting to witness more of those oh-so-adorable moments with our pets, be it that adorable cock of the head or that mischievous doggie wink. And if you’re anything like us, staying at home the last few weeks has probably rendered your phone gallery full of shots of your fur babies! We thought this would be the perfect time to discuss some basic tips to get beautiful, clear photographs of your pets indoors. (And if we’ve missed any technique you use, don’t forget to leave a comment here or on our social media telling us all about it!)
Dogs are nothing short of emotional sponges. They mirror how you feel! So it's important to relax and be calm, as opposed to feeling nervous, anxious or excited. This is more so when you’re planning to take pictures of your dog. In fact, some pets even feel nervous just seeing a camera being whipped out, so a better bet might be using your phone and make the pet get used to having a phone in front of them. Start slow and be steady!
Being at home all the time has also given us the opportunity to observe our pets' unique moments and behaviours throughout the day. It could just be a subtle look here or a simple gesture there, but they could translate exceptionally well into a photo. How about that innocent, inquisitive look when your dog hears the doorbell in the middle of her nap? Or a cock of the ear when the phone rings?
It's not uncommon for a pet to be startled when you approach suddenly or excitably. Yes, your puppy or kitten is definitely the most adorable thing in the world, but to capture those precious moments, practice moving quietly and naturally, and definitely in a non-threatening way. Additionally, don't be hesitant to get on the ground with them, at their level. Photos come out best when the camera is at their eye level. The picture feels like a natural, real glimpse into their world. Also, don't feel squeamish about twisting, turning and getting into funny poses while capturing some impromptu moments - it'll be worth it, we promise!
Yeah, just remember nobody works for free! If you've set aside time to capture planned portraits of your dog, make sure you have something to catch their attention. Most dogs don't particularly like sitting pretty, doing nothing but waiting for you and giving you the perfect look for your photo! So to get their attention to the lens of the camera, you're going to want to make it worth their while. Don't hesitate to use a treat or favourite toy, or even an object of interest like a small bell, as close to the lens as possible (being careful not to obstruct the view of course!). The result? Great looking pictures with your dog looking right at you.
When you're shooting a photo of your pet, the best bet would be to get as much light into the shot as possible. This will prevent a lot of issues with indoor photographs - for example, the photo looking "noisy" or "grainy" and the animal looking blurred. If you're planning on making your dog sit for a planned portrait shot, the ideal scenario would be to have a plain backdrop along with light coming in through a window or a door from the side (as opposed to light from the back or directly from the front). Also as we’re in the middle of harsh, sunny days, diffusing the light from a door or window is even better - think sheer curtain or a screen, if possible.
Figure out your smartphone or camera's burst settings ahead of time. This hack is a great trick to getting at least one GREAT shot from a set. As animals move (and move quickly!) shooting on burst often captures that one perfect still frame amongst other shots that may have blurry elements. Another great side benefit? You can put the burst shots together to make adorable gifs of your pet too!
If you’re using a camera, the Continuous Focus setting needs to be on so that your pet will be in focus in every frame, irrespective of whether she’s still or moving.
The best way to shoot moving animals is with the shutter speed as high as possible! You can get crystal clear shots of animals, even when they're moving super-fast when you have the shutter speed turned up. Now, the flip side of this is when the shutter snaps fast (we're talking a fraction of a second), it is not going to be able to capture a lot of light - so along with a high shutter speed, you're going to want to allow maximum aperture (this means a lower "f-stop", which is represented as f/3.5, f/8 etc) and if you don't have enough light in the room, you may have to jack up your ISO number too (however, an ISO that is too high will also lead to a more grainy picture so it's important to find a balance here). If all of these settings sound new, here is where experimenting and test shots are important. Make sure to try different settings on test shots. You can use a human family member and have them wave their arm while you photograph them to try out different combinations of settings.
If you already have that shot of your cat wistfully looking out of the window or your dog adorably cocking her head to the side, it's time to really get creative!
Think about composition - one of the best ways we've already discussed is to shoot from their eye level. Now think about other elements - what is the background like? Does it have clutter? If so, put away everything that isn't going to add interest to the shot. For example, having stuff strewn about will likely steal focus away from your subject, but not if the subject you have is a happy, panting dog and what's lying on the floor is a well-used tug toy!
Another great shot you can think about is having your dog's favourite friend over (and while we're all isolating, the favourite friend can be the favourite human family member too). You can get some cute, funny photos of your dog interacting with the human - your dog's going to have a blast and feel comfortable on camera too.
Another way to add interest to the photo is by adding some beautiful, comfy accessories! We strongly advise against costumes for pets that leave them stressed and uncomfortable - so how about some adorable dog bowties and customized dog bandanas? For example, you can't go wrong with this tuxedo dog bandana!
When photographing a dog, try using food-based motivation such as small treats or noise-based motivation such as a squeaky toy to get their attention. While when you are photographing a cat, along with food-based motivation, you can also try movement-based motivation (string-toys, small playing balls, laser light toys) to click the most adorable pictures of your furbaby!
A final point to remember is that pets don't enjoy flash, as it hurts their eyes (if you have an external flash, you can have it rigged to the side with a diffuser covering it, to add light to your shot - but nothing head on please!).
A final final point to remember that is certain to help you become the best pet photographer - PATIENCE! You can never force an animal to behave or look a certain way because you need them to! Get down to their level, make them comfortable around your camera (phone or digital/DSLR) and most importantly, be patient.
We hope these tips help you in clicking the BEST photographs of your dogs and cats. If you have interesting photos you've clicked of your pet, we would love to see them! Just tag us on Instagram or Facebook!
P.S. Use these skills and participate in our Mother's Day special #dogmom photo contest on Instagram to win Lana Paws Summer Dog Mat & Dog Mom Coffee Mug!! See contest entry details here.
I found your article exceptionally persuasive, as you have explained everything in detail. I think you’re a professional photographer before a dog lover because the technical things that you have discussed here are so evident. I have started a new pet blog (pet.nootankumar.com) and need to take some photos of my boys; then, I found this article which helped me a lot. I am going to work on every step that you discussed in this post.
Thank you very much!