How to Take Better Pet Photographs

December 17, 2014

By Langley Cornwell

Yes, I’m one of those people who take a zillion pictures of their pet. Fortunately, my mobile phone is usually in close proximity so when one of the dogs or the cat strikes a particularly precious pose, I grab and snap. Yet with all my grabbing and snapping, I only manage to get a frame-worthy photograph every once in a while. And that’s pure luck.

Because I wanted to increase my odds, I spent some time researching and practicing new pet photo techniques. This article is primarily for the amateur photographer. There’s nothing I’m going to say here that will make you the next Annie Leibovitz or Ansel Adams of pet photography, but these tips are good for animal lovers who want to capture the occasional cherished moment with their favorite four-legged friend.

Catch the Animal’s Attention

This is an obvious point, but one worth mentioning. Some of the sweetest animal photographs I’ve ever seen are when a cat or a dog is staring soulfully into the camera lens. I’m a complete sucker for pictures like that. One way to capture your pet’s attention is to have a handful of CANIDAE treats with you and reward him when he does what you’re asking him to.

There are also a few smart phone apps that can help you get your pet to look at you. One app, by Electric French Fries, is called the Human-to-Cat Translator. This free app is available on Android and iOS devices and features 8 different sounds that will capture your cat’s attention:  angry cat sounds, mouse sounds, bird sounds, purring, and a variety of meowing sounds.

As a fun aside, the Human-to-Cat Translator app also features more than 180 samples from over 25 cats. The software apparently conducts an audio analysis on your voice and translates what you say into meows that your cat can understand.

There are other smart phone apps that make squeaky dog toy sounds and other noises that will attract your pet’s attention. For those who are not interested in downloading apps, just try to make strange noises to get your pet to look your way. I can make this strange clicking sound that always gets a response. Don’t be shy, start sounding off! Just be ready to start snapping when your pet gives you that “what in the world are you doing” look.

Mind Your Perspective

Even if it requires rolling around on the floor (hey, we’re going for gold here, right?), take photos of your pet from his perspective. When you lower yourself to eye level with your pet, you get a unique perspective and capture details you would normally miss. Furthermore, it lends an intimate feeling to the photograph and seems to immortalize the warmth shared between the subject and the photographer.

Equally important is your distance from the animal. Get in close and try to frame the image with the rule of thirds in mind; so that when you crop the photograph you can get the pet’s closest eyeball in the upper or lower quadrant of the frame. It’s also important that the animal’s eyeballs are in focus. This gives the final photograph a pleasing composition.

Pay Attention to the Background

When your pet is looking into the camera and you are at his eye level and up close, the photo is almost guaranteed to be a good one. The only thing that can detract is if there is something distracting and unappealing in the background. The point is, pay attention to the entire visual field. Remember that whatever is in the background will be part of your final photograph (unless you are a whiz at some photo-editing software).

If you have your pet in good focus, you are on his level and the background is interesting – or at least clutter free – chances are good that you’ll get a great image. I also recommend snapping more than one shot at a time, especially now that we have the luxury of cropping and deleting.

With the right amount of practice, timing and luck, you’ll be taking beautiful photographs of your best friend in no time. Happy snapping!

Photos by Langley Cornwell

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell

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