As an aspiring or established photographer, you can’t afford to ignore the lucrative market of pet photography. Owners spend approximately $26 billion annually on various products and services for their pets, and photography is a growing segment of that market.
Pet photography, however, presents some unique challenges. Technical challenges can include things like colors casts, which are unnatural hues reflected in the animal’s fur. The area under the chin is particularly susceptible to this, often appearing as a pink beard.
Other problems include blown highlights caused by pet color combinations that make determining the correct exposure difficult, depth of field problems caused by variations in facial shapes, and TTL blinks caused by light sensitive eyes and fast reflexes. There are also shutter speed issues to consider with fast moving subjects. Then, there are behavioural challenges—how to work with a subject that can’t understand what you’re saying.
Pet Photography Tips
Despite these problems, pet photography can make you a better photographer. So, what should you think about when photographing pets? Here are some of the best pet photography tips:
Create the right ambience
This involves more than a good location; it also involves good pet photography ideas. You want to create a concept. For example, your concept might be the connection between the owner and their best friend. To tell that story, you might take pictures of the two playing together in the yard or a shot of the owner with their arms around their pet. Telling a story will evoke a deeper emotional response from everyone who sees the picture.
After creating the concept, choose a location with the best light. Bright, diffused light creates more flattering pet portraits. Be conscious of the flooring and objects which could create color casts (i.e., pink beard), though if this cannot be avoided, good post-processing software can help.
Another tip is to get rid of clutter in the shooting location. You don’t want objects in the portrait that don’t speak to your concept.
Adjust your attitude
Since the pet doesn’t know you and you don’t want a negative reaction, you should move slowly, speak softly, and relax. Take your time and get to know your subject. Research demonstrates that animals are excellent at discerning human emotions via a variety of communicative cues. Therefore, you want to put your best face forward—literally. A relaxed photographer with positive facial expressions will get a better response than a stressed, angry one barking out orders (pun intended).
Meet them where they are and appreciate them
You want to get down—or up—to the level of the subject. That means crawling around on the floor or climbing up a tree, so stretch out first and practice taking photographs in various positions and on the fly since these subjects can move quickly. Meeting them on their level is also a great way to get them to play.
Another tip is to “pay” the pet with something that captures his/her interest. Using a special toy or a treat can help make the animal trust and like you.
Be prepared for technical difficulties
This includes things like adjusting the shutter speed for fast moving subjects, altering the exposure (usually underexposure is better) to avoid blown highlights, adjusting the aperture (wide for short snouts, stop down for longer faces), and turning off the TTL metering to avoid TTL blinks.
While photographing pets can be challenging, it is a growing market, and with a few good tips and tricks, you’ll find it will make you a more patient and better photographer. Creating the right ambience, moving slowly, gaining the pet’s trust, and adjusting for possible technical challenges can help you take that perfect pet portrait, one for which the owner will be forever grateful!
If you would like to learn from a professional photographer, here are some recommended courses: