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How to take great portraits of your pets

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 observational. If you want to show the personality of your fantastic pet, then you’ll have to shoot them at their eye-level like this shot of +Leo Laporte's smiling papillon, Ozzie. Shooting from below 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 or 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 if your pet is dark and vice versa, 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 on your pet, 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 (shaded spots or patches from above objects like leaves or tree branches). Harsh bits of sun mixed with shade never looks good and you can never really correct it in post. Avoid dappling and move your pet into better light! 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.

6. Try some action shots

Take your canine friends to a field or beach and play fetch. As your dog is returning fetch, crouch down and snap shots of him/her approaching. You can get some lovely shots of your dog in motion. If you have someone else to help throw, then you can try different angles. Use an aperture of about f/5.6 to get your pet in focus and the background slightly blurry. You'll need a fairly high shutter speed to freeze motion (about 1/1000). You can set your camera to Tv mode and test out different shutter speeds, and see what works best.

Cats don't really do fetch, so you'll have to get crafty if you want kitty motion shots. ;)

If you have any other tips or tricks for photographing pets or any photos you’d like to share add them to the comments.

Good luck and remember to fill your pockets with tasty treats for your pet model!
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85 comments
 
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I'm an a fan of photography, but I am a software developer, even I can understand these helpful tips =)
 
Thanks for the tips. I've been debating whether to post a favorite photo of one of my cats here on G+. A cat photo could cause my stream to implode. :)
 
Great tips +Lisa Bettany , thanks for sharing!
Regarding action shots for cats: Throwing out a few bits of catnip works wonders :)
 
+Lisa Bettany Do you mind if I repost this on my friend's Facebook page (she's not on Google+)? I'll link back to the post. She would love this information right now with her new business!
 
Great pic and good advice.
 
Thanks for sharing your advice!
 
I just took pictures of my cat Salsa. If you lay on the ground and make weird noise you get their attention. Picture on my stream about two days ago +Lisa Bettany. Excellent tips BTW.
 
thanks for the advices



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Well, my cat plays fetch - Savannah cats do ;-).
Uyi I
 
I love your how-to's. Please keep it up.
 
Excellent tips! A few things there that I hadn't considered, Thank You :+)
 
Thanks for sharing! I have rabbits and I find it very hard to get great snapshots of them. I will try putting your advice to use and hopefully get some fantastic shots of my little ones.
 
If you want kitty motion shots grab a laser pointer... i have 3 cats and they will chase that thing like there is no tomorrow it also makes some cool photos if you can get them jumping in the air trying to get the light
 
Good! I haven't thought about trying to shoot them when they're somewhat sleepy, but will have to remember that. (should be able to use my duct tape for other, more important things now...)
 
Good timing - I just upped an album I shot of some foster/rescue dogs. I took some photos of them to help improve the chance of them finding a home.
 
Thanks for sharing! I need all the help i can get.
 
#1 is a great tip! I had never thought of that. Thanks for sharing!
 
It sounds silly, but I've had the best luck taking pictures of my/others' pets by treating it almost as if I were on a photo safari... Readying my camera from afar, quietly & patiently moving in, waiting for them to relax around my presence, and wait for a great shot to appear. I find that keeping the camera held low until you need to use it helps keep them relaxed around it.
https://plus.google.com/photos/111969564856274190714/albums/5639813476993933297/5640196167529575618 <-- Not exactly a fierce predator of the savanna, but probably one of my favorite shots to date. :)
 
Great post, I have lots of other peoples pets I can use those tips on 
 
There's some great advice in there. Its tempting me to put up my own pet photos.
 
Nice tips, for my cats once they have a run around the garden like you say they are more up for photographing. Check out my profile and you will see photos of my cats Aleksander and Orlov.
 
Great tips +Lisa Bettany. I like using direct bright sunlight, especially for dark fur (we have a black cat and my sister has a black puppy). The direct light gives the black fur some definition (and something for the camera to focus on). Also I've found getting reflectors/diffusers out only disturbs the sleepy pet ...maybe thats because our dogs are badly trained! haha
 
This would be a excellent opportunity to volunteer your photography skills at an animal shelter, saving dogs on death row. 
 
+Timothy Pham I just put a link to this post on my Facebook wall. Public posts in Google+ are readable by anyone, and that includes people who are not signed up to Google+.
 
I think the biggest challenge I run into when I take photographs at the shelter is that everyone is trying to pose the animals. Natural unposed shots are often the best... They let the essence and personality of the animal shine though! They are worth the little extra patience as well.
 
Thanks for the tips, Lisa. Now I have a whole bunch more experimenting to do! I'm going to catch that little poodle of mine yet.
 
My dogs are scaredy cats they are afraid when I point the camera at them 
 
+Steve Poole Some dogs do get scared when the camera goes in front of your face. Keep the camera out more. Play games with them by giving them treats when you put the camera in front of your face. When you see them relax and enjoy the game, try taking pics of them again.
 
I like to "hold" my dog's favorite treat in my mouth to get him to look at the camera enthusiastically. Although, he's so photogenic that it's hard for him to not look good. Incidentally the best shots come from impromptu ones, with a Blackberry =/
 
Too lazy to read all the other comments, so here's my tip if you want kitteh motion: laser pointer - kitteh cannot resist and you can pretty much steer your cat right in front of you lens.
 
Seem to happen to be in front of
 
Oh my! I'm not sure if you can keep up with all of these comments, but wanted to let you know that some of these tips apply to toddlers too!! One of these days +Lisa Bettany I hope to get together and give you the challenge of photographing my busy little dudes! The littlest one is such a firecracker. I'm on a mission to try and update photos for the family but he's so hard to catch at times!! (sometimes I even cheat and show him some Baby Einstein just to try and capture his stunning blue eyes!) Squirrels got nothin on toddlers! ;)
 
Great post Lisa ! This will be useful as I'd like to take on jobs doing pet portraits . Also as a tip , i would recommend that you have to be very confident and calm with dogs . if they see you're nervous or too agitated, they become agitated also. They have to know you're in control of the situation . I would also suggest to get to know the animal first . It will make it much easier if it likes you ! I have not met a dog that doesn't come to me after 5 minutes even when the owner tells me his dog doesn't like strangers .
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Mar Cel
 
AMAZING! I'm going to try this with my papillion! Mine is red and white... we want to get an oreo sooooon! Great tips!
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