Chip the Papillon. 50mm f/1.4 lens, f/4, 1/400, ISO 200.
1. Snap pets when they are sleepy and happy
Animals generally have somewhat predictable patterns of alertness and sleepiness. Like at 6am, they are usually wide awake. “Yap yap yap! Good Morning! I’m up, why aren’t you? ” Obviously, you don’t want to photograph a pet when they are rocketing around your living room or fast asleep. Try to find a time where they are fed, happy, and partially sleepy. That way they will be patient enough to sit and pose for you. Keep a few little treats in your pockets to keep that “happy-time” glimmer in their eyes or just to give you some extra snapping time.
2. Photograph pets at their eye level
Photos taken of animals from above are less personal and look very observational. If you want to show the personality of your fantastic pet, then you’ll have to shoot them at their eye-level. This often means crouching or lying down in some uncomfortable position in something wet, itchy, or hard, but it’s worth it. If you have smaller pets, you can prop them up on a pillow on a chair to make it a bit easier on your knees.
3. Find a simple, contrasting background
Use a simple background that contrasts with the colour of your pet’s fur, feathers, scales, tentacles (?) A grey cat against a grey wall will not stand out enough. Opt for a lighter colour to make your pet pop from the background.
4. Shoot in soft, even light
Indoors: Shoot in front of a big open window. Use a sheer curtain to diffuse the harsh light if it’s really sunny, or shoot a bit later in the day (about 1 hour before sunset). If you are getting a lot of shadow, use a bounce or a whiteboard to reflect light. Make sure you don’t blind your pet in the process. Meow!
Outdoors: Shoot in the shade or on a cloudy day. Make sure the light on your pet is consistent and not dappled. Harsh bits of sun mixed with shade never looks good and you can never really correct it in post. Avoid dappling! It can ruin the best of pictures.
5. Focus on the eyes
Whatever you do compositionally, make sure your focus on the eyes is tack sharp. It’s also nice if you can get the nose in focus as well. If you have sufficient light to increase your aperture, set it around f/5.6. If not, you can try using a tripod (depending on how patient your pet is), or try shooting your pet in profile.
If you have any other tips or tricks for photographing pets or any photos you’d like to share add them to the comments.