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June 28, 2018

Pet Photography Tips and Tricks

If you've ever tried to photograph pets in a portrait session, you understand they can be a little difficult to control. We took the topic of pet photography to theLoop to get some tips to get you started, and this is what we found:

  • Wear comfortable clothes, and get down on the ground at pet level. Avoid photos of the top of dog heads. Patrick Grannan
  • For dogs, it's all about their comfort. They love to perform and interact with their owners. Watch and wait, and you will see certain behaviors and expressions. They are easy enough to capture when they happen, if you can predict the moment. Eugene Lugo
  • Don't even think about doing pets if you don’t love animals - they will feed off your discomfort, and the distrust will be evident in your images. You need to connect. Eugene Lugo
  • The main thing when working with pets is patience! No matter how well behaved, they don't understand photography. By staying with it and working with the pet, you'll always come out with some great images. However, their attention spans are only but so long! Keith Ibsen
  • Cats are all about comfort - but the older ones are wary, quite self-aware, and are more difficult because the body language is far more subtle. Regardless, if you watch and wait, you'll see what you're looking for. Kittens are easier in some respects, but you need to be fast on your feet! Eugene Lugo
  • Don't let the owner become frustrated or anxious; the animal will know. Also, photograph the dogs with their people. A lot of dog photographers don't do that, and it is missed revenue. Margaret Bryant, M.Photog.Cr., CPP
  • Limit the number of people you have trying to get the pet to perk up and pay attention... the fewer distractions, the more apt the cat or dog will key on you and the camera. Let cats sniff you first. You don't want the "airplane ears" look of distrust. Frederick Dunn

It's always good to know that even with the best intentions, sometimes things go awry. Here are two great stories from Margaret and Frederick on interesting pet photo sessions!

"I was having a devil of a time getting a dog to look at me. He wasn't scared, just not interested. Noises didn't get him interested, and all of my other tricks didn't work either. However, the dog was crazy about a laser pointer. But a dog chasing a laser pointer is looking at the ground not at me. So I put on a hat and put a piece of 8.5x11 cardstock standing up in the brim, kind of like the badge on the front of a fireman's helmet.  I had my animal assistant get the dog's attention with the laser pointer and slowly move the red dot from the floor up to the white cardstock above my face. The dog's eyes followed the red dot. It got the dog to look at me and I got the shot. Necessity really is the mother of invention!" Margaret Bryant

"Many years ago, I was asked to photograph a Paso Fino Grand National champion, circa 1988. I had an auto film advance on my camera. The stallion was groomed to the hilt, and we were shooting in a corral surrounded by six-foot-high wooden fencing. I was asked by the owner, Mr. Diaz, if I were at all afraid of horses. I assured him I was not. All of the handlers gathered on the fence while I went out and stood in the middle of the corral with my camera ready. They long-reigned "Bueno" to the entry and took off the tack so he could run and show off. We were in the golden hour, so the sunlight would rake across this incredible horse. Bueno ran past me at a trot, and I snapped away. At the far end, he turned and showed the whites of his eyes while he sniffed and did a snort. 

The Paso Fino breed has a long, wild looking mane and equally dramatic long tail. This all added to the drama of his turns. Then, he dead-on charged me. I mean, hammering the dirt, pounding, digging, angry, all-in charge. I stood perfectly still and continued to shoot, he cut out at the last moment, kicking dirt up, again, adding drama to my photos. This charging occurred three more times and they finally let him out. The grooms all looked at me as if I had a death wish. "Fred, no one gets in the corral with Bueno like that. No one, ever!" It was interesting that they hadn't explained that to me first. Mr. Diaz was very pleased with the results and also commissioned an oil painting for his trophy room. That's my pet story." Frederick Dunn

Have any great pet photography tips or stories? Share them on theLoop! Remember, theLoop is PPA's safe and secure online community where members can discuss various photography topics! Not a member of PPA yet? Join today!