The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 01/06/08
Now that you've finally figured out how to use that digital camera, it's time to move on to another challenge — taking photos of the family pet.
They tend to resist posing, they hate flashes, and they don't care whether you get a good shot. But that doesn't mean you should quit trying.
So to help out, we talked to two pet photographers, Atlanta's Jeannie Bartow Hartman and nationally known New York-based photographer Jim Dratfield, who is working on his 10th pet photography book. They've offered a number of tips on how to get a good photo of your pets.
Their ideas should get you snapping away. You'll end up with some great memories, and maybe even a prize to boot.
• Have someone else dangle a toy or treat just above the lens to get the pet's attention. It will look like the pet is looking directly into the camera.
• Get pets off the ground. Put them in an interesting chair, or on something like a table or window sill. That way, it will take them a few seconds longer to decide to jump down and run away, which can give you a chance at a shot.
• Use props. Dratfield has used ceramic pigs, furniture, urns, statues and even a giant topiary of a giraffe. Look for something interesting in your home that your pet can sit on or next to.
• Work where the animal is comfortable. Don't take him to a strange park for the shoot. Work at home, or outside where they know the area.
• Most pets hate flashes, so instead try to use natural light. But too much sun causes harsh shadows and squinting. Overcast days can work well. Or work in a shaded, but still well-lit area. Inside, work in sun rooms, near large windows and in well-lit rooms. Or move lights to where the pet has landed.
• Try a few shots in black and white. It has a great mystique to it, and is often more forgiving than color.
• If you want to tire out a high-energy dog for the shoot, do it early, then give him enough time to recover. Otherwise, all your shots will be of a dog with his tongue hanging out.
• For cats, unless you know they can be trusted, work in an enclosed room, so they can't run too far. Pick a place with a lot of light so you can shoot wherever kitty lands.
• Most dogs have something that will make them focus. Find it. A toy, a word ("walk" "treat"), a noise. But be ready to shoot as soon as you say it. After you've used it a few times, they'll catch on and stop responding.
• If all else fails, have someone the cat likes sit on a couch. Drape a large piece of paisley or some other pretty fabric over them, then put kitty on their lap. With any luck, he'll curl up for a happy snuggle. Now shoot close and you'll never know there was a living backdrop. This also works well with small dogs.
• If the animal hates cameras, get two other people to come in and pretend to shoot them too. Eventually, he'll have to turn in your direction and you can get a shot.
• If people are in the picture, have them wear a color that contrasts with your animal's fur. A black dog leaning against someone in black pants will just disappear.
• Want a cute expression? Make a strange noise. Many dogs will tilt their heads and cats will often appear inquisitive.
• Try shots at different levels. Get on the floor with them, stand on a chair or ladder and shoot down.
• Do close-ups. Don't stand too far away. Get detail. When shooting people with animals, try to keep their faces close.
• Take a lot of pictures. It's much easier now with digital cameras. A few are bound to turn out.
• Be patient. Expect pets to move, run away, refuse to look at you. If you yell or get tense, so will they. Make it fun, relaxed, and you'll get the best shots.