5 Steps for your Pet Photography at home
Kids and pets are one of the most challenging subjects for any photographer and a source of frustration for the average owner of a low-end, point-and-shoot camera. Yes the hard truth is: you want to take a few good shots at your furry friends? You better have a good camera: pet photography is not for anyone!
Why should we consider pet photography at all? Well, if you are the owner of a cat or a dog you know that the bond between you and your companion is something special, well worth being celebrated. A picture, the right one, will be with you and will bring back to your memory the joy and dept of that bond. Forever.
If you are not a pet owner, but rather a photographer yourself, well you will be amazed by the market opportunity that pet photography offers: sessions of 1 or 2 hours are priced around 300-500$ and this doesn’t include the final deliverables (i.e. the album or framed pictures or….whatever the professional has to offer) which are purchased separately.
If you want to invest a few grands and have you and your pets captured by a professional photographer, the market has a lot to offer.
But if you are an amateur who feels that, yes, now it’s time to have Bobby and Kitty’s high quality pictures: these below are my suggestions for successful pet photography sessions.
1. Plan the session
I like to have a mix of portrait, close-ups and candid shots. Close-ups and portraits should be taken while the ‘models’ are resting. Better if in the proximity of a window for natural light effect. Candid shots work great outside, in the middle of the action and I prefer to either use a zoom or a long lens.
For each type of shot it’s better to know in advance which lens to use to avoid having a 200mm while in close range action and a wide angle while your pet is resting and you’d want a nice portrait.
Part of the plan will include treats and toys to make the session more natural and fun for all.
Before even starting the pet photography session, try and understand what you want to do with your photos: leave them on the PC (too bad!), print, frame and hang the best ones in your home, print a photobook etc… Setting upfront the final use and your expectations will help you organizing the session, how many hours, how many pictures and the type of shoots you will take.
Summarizing, your plan shall include: location, shooting type (portrait, candid, action etc…), camera+lens type, other accessories required and also a description of the final type of pictures that you want to have before declaring the session over.
With this methodical approach alone, you already have 50% chance of success.
2. Gear, gear and more gear
Camera: let’s be straight forward: get a DSLR, a mirrorless or a last generation phone (terrible to say, but yes: you can do some decent stuff with your mobile, providing it’s a quality one). In any case, the shutter must NOT have any sort of delay and when you press the button the shutter curtain must be released. Period. Pet photography is already challenging by itself to have crappy gear induce lag-times.
Lens: Choose a zoom (24-105 or similar) for maximum flexibility, a prime or a couple of primes will give you top quality and consistency. I like to use primes: a 50, 85 and a 100 macro to take all the shots. A wide angle can give you that extra touch and spice up the photo-book. In any case a fast lens allows dreamy bokeh and wonderful effects: a must if you share my same tastes!
Flash: who said pet photography doesn’t allow for one-light portraits? Be aware, though: you must be skilled to nail the perfect picture and NEVER point the flash straight in the eye of your 4-legged friend. Shooting pet portraits in a studio environment is a semi-pro task: using a flash outdoor as a filling light can be done rather easily by anyone. Again, just make sure not to scare off your furry models.
3. Do like Marines Do
Improvise adapt and overcome: you won’t be able to direct the model this time, so you’d better be prepared to improvise and take advantage of the playground, weather, light sources and so on. Also plan to include shots of the location: they can help to better contextualize and create a more immersive and evocative portfolio of pictures.
4. Set up for success
Set-up the camera for burst shooting: during running and jumping or while sleeping and yawning you want to have the widest choice of shots, in case the first is not the perfect one, the second or third might be.
Priorities: during your pet photography session, carefully choose your aperture if you want a portrait or switch to shutter speed mode when in action mode. If playing outside in good light conditions you can stick to an aperture mode and be sure that you’ll not have problems (i.e. slow shutter speed and blurred photo). But if you shoot during the late after noon and not enough light: be careful and find the best ISO-aperture combination to get the effect you really want.
Personally I like to shoot in aperture mode and set f/5.6 for action and f/2.0 or below for portraits. Using a full-frame allows to pump the ISO above 1200 with no issues (and this is true also if you use a Fuji X series such as the XT-1, XT-10, XT-2, XT-20 etc…).
5. Learn the rules then break them
The rules apply to pet photography with no exception: composition, use of color, black/white, focus on the eyes and so on. Every technique is useful as long as it is a mean to convey your message. If the rule is ‘the subject must be in focus’ this might apply to 90% of your shots: a blurred image, however, will better convey the idea of action or intimacy when you and your pet are playing. This is just an example and you can reach the effect you want either during the photo session or later on in post-pro.
Vary your angle: shoot from ground level, then from above or below. Eye-level pictures work well, just like in normal portrait photography, but a full session with the same angle can be boring. Shooting from an high angle will highlight certain aspects of your pets such as their fragility and the bound between you and them that is worth remembering. Also this is the usual way you look to each other during normal interactions.
Now its time to give these hints a try: practice makes perfect and let me know how it goes!