Capturing the holiday fun in photographs adds to the enjoyment for many of us. But getting good photos of your pets can be frustrating. I may spot Toby, my tabby cat, doing something irresistibly cute, but by the time I get there with the camera it’s all over, or worse still, the image comes out dark or fuzzy.
Clay Myers is a professional photographer for Best Friends Animal Society. He has photographed literally thousands of animals, from wildlife to virtually every kind of pet. Last month alone, he photographed a puppy mill rescue in Colorado, dog rescue transport in Missouri, and feral cats in Portland. I asked Myers to share his top tips with us to improve our holiday pet photos.
“The single most important element in photography is light. When possible, shoot outdoors on an overcast day, in the shade, or indoors by a window. The golden light of sunrise and sunset adds a lot of drama to photos,” explains Myers. “Avoid photographing your pets in harsh, high-noon lighting. This is especially true with black and white pets.”
“Look for good light in your pet’s eyes. Avoid taking photos when your pet’s pupils are large, like when they are in a dark corner of the room, as this will almost always lead to red or green eyes.” Myers knows that pets have a way of doing something adorable or amusing in less than optimal light conditions so that’s when you capture the shot with your flash.
Background and Composition
Myers suggests that you choose backgrounds that are in contrast to the color of your pet. Don’t photograph your black pet against a dark background. Myers mentioned that grass is a great background for dark pets, either green in summer or light brown in winter..
Thinking about how to frame your photo can make it a lot more interesting. “Try to avoid placing every subject in the middle of the frame,” said Myers. “For example, if you’re taking photos of a dog running consider capturing the dog running into the frame, or if a person and a pet looking are to the left, position them to the right of the frame.”
When photographing people and pets, like in a family shot, get everyone in position first and then bring in the pets.
One of the most challenging things when photographing dogs is getting them to look at the camera. “Try having someone stand directly behind you so they can help get the dog to look at the camera,” advises Myers. “Have an assistant try to get the dog’s attention with a squeaky toy, tossing a ball in the air, making high pitched squeals, or panting like a dog. I call this my Pant and Shoot Technique.”
Shy dogs may become uncomfortable when they are the center of attention for a photo. Myer’s recommends something to put them at ease: “With shy dogs, I find taking photos while they are being walked or petted makes a huge difference.”
“The main photographic feature of cats is their beautiful eyes so be sure to look for good light in their eyes,” said Myers. “Try to capture your cat’s personality whether it’s being lazy, silly, serious, or playing. I like taking close up shots of cats being petted, capturing the pure ecstasy they show.”
Myers said that having an assistant behind you employing his Pant and Shoot Technique works surprisingly well with cats, too.
One of the frustrating aspects of photographing pets with most digital cameras is the delay. Those few seconds are plenty of time for the pet to look away.
Myers explains, “Using a digital SLR (single lens reflex) camera will significantly boost your chances of getting good photos of your pets. Being able to click off several frames will probably lead to more keeper photos. You can purchase a good digital SLR with a lens for around $700- $1,000.”
Improving Your Skills
Myers recommends that taking a photography course or joining a camera club are great ways to expand your skills. “Study the work of other photographers, too. Look at their lighting, composition, and backgrounds. Attention to detail will make you a better photographer,” adds Myers. (You can study some great pet images on Clay Myer’s website, http://www.claymyersphotography.com.)
“Photography helps me see nature, and everything else for that matter, in a new more profound way,” explained Myers. Capturing your pet’s unique personality and the special moments you share can do that same thing for you.