Like clockwork now, every May I have a standing week long appointment with Tutus on Broadway dance studio in Oviedo when I get to spend the entire week photographing the most gorgeous girls in the most beautiful dance costumes you could ever imagine. I have been doing this same shoot since 2007. Except for a location change last year, there have not been any changes to the routine shoot, but this year there was a big change! Morgan Cate, Tutus Owner brought in her dog, “Jazz,” an adorable black-haired havanese for me to photograph in the studio.
I must admit, other than photographing my own dogs and an occasional hamster or hedgehog, I had not had another canine client. It forced me to get creative and try some new techniques. Some things worked and some did not.
To prevent you from making the same mistakes, I’ve come up with an easy checklist to use the next time you want to take pictures of your pet.
Treats and Toys – First things first, you’ll want to be equipped and armed with their favorite treats and toys to entice them to hang in there with you. If you can, have a second person help keep their attention and hold up a treat or toy above your head as you take the pictures. If toys are not available, check your smartphone apps for squeak sounds and other pet friendly noises.
Location – Deciding where to have your photo session with your pet really depends on the personality of your pet. If they are prone to getting distracted when they are outside, then it would be best to choose a room they’re used to in your house. Maybe on your bed by a window or on the floor by a sliding glass door. Whichever location you choose, the goal here is to get their complete attention.
Lighting – Natural light is always best because straight on flash can scare them and create a red eye effect. However, make sure their eyes and face are lit very well with natural light coming in from a window or if shooting outdoors, using the sun to highlight their face. This is especially important for pets with darker coats. Flash may be used if your are able to aim it away from their eyes. In Jazz’s case, I had two lights aimed at reflecting umbrellas to diffuse the lighting. He was still startled every time the strobes went off, causing his ears to turn up, but I was able to anticipate that to get a cute expression.
Eyes – The best lighting and location will mean nothing if your pictures are not in focus. Set your focal point on their eyes, not their nose which is usually closest to your camera. Also if shooting a close-up portrait, place the closest eye in the upper or lower quadrant of the frame to achieve a better composition.
Angle – It is important to get at their level so you can engage them as you take your pictures. Once you have fired off several shots at eye level, experiment and move around them, as much as they will allow, to get some different angles. It is extremely helpful if they can obey your command to “stay.” Shoot high as they look up to you or shoot from an angle lower than they are. You might be surprised to find that your favorites will be the ones not shot at eye level. Don’t be afraid to get in close too.
Action – Don’t feel stuck in shooting just pictures of your pet sitting of lying down, but try getting some action shots as well. To freeze any movement, you’ll want to make sure you are shooting at a fast shutter speed. On your phone, turn off the Auto ISO setting and use an ISO of 400 and that way, your camera will be forced to use a faster shutter speed so the action will not be blurry.
Expression – Once you have all of your technical issues worked out, it’s time to have some fun and capture the expressions that you love from your pet. Talk to them and ask them questions that you usually get a response from. Just a hint on this, saying “Squirrel” to a dog is not a good idea when you want them to stay in place. I think all dog owners would agree with me on this one.
The main thing is to remember is to make it an enjoyable time for you and your pet. Some pets are bigger hams than others, just like people, but even the most camera shy ones can come through for you, just like Jazz.