Pet photography is probably what I do most. When you have a cute pup, it’s hard not to point your lens at your canine companion.
We all love sharing pictures of our furry friends, but there are a few things you can do to make sure you get the best snaps of their wet little noses.
Get on their level.
The occasional pic of them looking up at you is fine…
But if all of your pictures are of your pet staring up at you, they are going to get old fast and probably annoy your Facebook pals.
If you can get down on their level, your images will have much more emotional impact. It feels less like you are some god looking down on them. So lay on the ground and try to capture them from a lower perspective.
Wide angle is okay.
While humans can sometimes look like alien beings when shot with a wide angle lens, pets usually don’t mind if you make their noses look a bit long.
Using a wide angle for candid shots will help you keep a close working distance. Animals will be very interested in what you are doing with a big black box on your face and will come check you out. If you have a zoomy lens, you’ll most likely just get a giant blurry picture of an ear. Using a wide angle zoom really helps me ensure that I get Otis in frame. I have sort of designated my 18-35mm as the “puppy lens.”
Even with a wide angle lens, sometimes animals still get too close.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had Otis’s noise juice on my lens from him trying to sniff it. Having a pocket full of disposable lens cleaning wipes can be a life saver.
Getting a pose.
It is possible to get posed pictures of your animals. But it is an exercise in patience. A lot of patience.
You will need a helper. They will be in charge of giving your pet treats and keeping them in the spot you have chosen. You can also use treats to control which way your pet looks. They will follow the treat in your hand with intense concentration. Don’t go too long without rewarding them with a treat. Take a few shots and then give a treat.
Take lots of pictures and take them quickly. Since they will not “freeze” a good pose like a human model would, you just have to take tons of pictures and hope you get lucky. You may even try enabling your camera’s burst feature. There is no film to waste. Memory is cheap. Take tons of pictures and feel free to delete the wonky ones.
Or keep them. Up to you.
They call him “The Blur.”
Getting candid shots of pets means you have to adapt to their need to move around a lot. Which means you might need faster shutter speeds. If you are outside on a sunny day, this isn’t a huge problem. But low light situations can be very tricky.
Your best defense against a wiggly animal is a fast lens. Something that has a wide aperture. I recommend f/2.8 or even wider. My Sigma 18-35mm goes to f/1.8 and that has been a huge help.
Shutter Speed Recommendations
For a pet laying down and being absolutely still, (depending on the lens) I have found 1/60th or faster works just fine.
For a pet just walking around, 1/250th is a good speed to shoot for.
For a pet that is playing and jumping around. 1/500th is usually enough.
For a pet running at speed, you will need to shoot for 1/1000th. This usually can only be done during a sunny day.
If you are using a flash, remember that it can help you freeze action. It gives you an effective shutter speed of anywhere between 1/200th and 1/20000th of a second—even if your camera’s actual shutter speed says differently.
The big problem is when you are indoors at night. There is just no way to reach those kinds of shutter speeds, even at high ISOs. This is where you would use a flash. The best solution is to get a flash with a swivel head, point it at the ceiling and bounce the light off. You are essentially making the ceiling a giant light source.
This creates even soft lighting on your pet. PLUS, since flash duration is so short, it will freeze the action of your animal. Your shutter speed barely matters. It will only determine how much ambient light will be in your picture, meaning the flash will light your pet, and your shutter speed will determine how bright or dark other lights in the room appear.
One thing you do need to find out is your camera’s flash sync speed. It should be in your manual. Usually it is 1/200 or 1/250. Just make sure you do not pick faster shutter speeds than that and you will be fine.
DO NOT use high speed flash sync. It isn’t necessary to freeze the action and it will drain your flash batteries much more quickly. High speed flash sync is only for when you want to remove all ambient light from a photo. It does not help you freeze action any better.
- Stick your flash on.
- Point it at the ceiling.
- Put your camera in “shutter priority” or “manual”
- Lock in a shutter speed you like between 1/60 and 1/250
- If in manual mode, set the aperture to the lowest f-stop number.
- Lock your ISO to something nice and low. Between 100-400. (This will keep the pics noise free.)
- Set your flash to its TTL mode.
(if you have a manual flash you will have to use trial and error to find the correct power setting.)
Then just shoot your pictures.
You should be able to get some nice indoor action shots that look like this.
- Add emotional impact to your pet photos by getting on their level
- Don’t be afraid of a wide angle lens to help you keep a close working distance
- Lens wipes are your friend
- Enlist the help of a friend and some treats, and take many photos when trying to capture your pet in a specific pose
- For outdoor ‘action’ shots, a speedy lens is key
- For indoor ‘action’ shots, use your flash and aim it at the ceiling to make it a giant light source
Photos by Froggie
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