Hey all! Andrew from Wilkinson Cameras. If there’s one thing that’s keeping a lot of people going during this pandemic, it’s their pets.
Whether it’s a dog, cat, bird or anything in between (no judgment to pet rock owners either), they all have one thing in common: they make excellent portrait subjects!The pro pet photographers among us like Elke Vogelsang (@wieselblitz) make this unpredictable and fast moving art look very easy.
Without further ado, let’s get into it!
1. Patience is key
First and foremost, unless you are shooting our previously mentioned pet rock, patience is going to be absolutely key for everything we do with pet photography.
When photographing your own pet, unless they’re incredibly well trained and will sit and look directly into your lens on command, it will pay to just sit there and wait. Maybe wait some more. And play!
Don’t try and force any situations, let them come naturally. This also ties in to relaxing. If you’re becoming frustrated trying to capture that perfect moment, your subject will most definitely start reflecting that as well! Introduce the camera as part of your usual array of toys and treats, it’ll become a much less foreign object and something the subject can be more natural around.
2. Get down (and dirty!)
Shooting from the level of the pet is crucial. Or shooting from unusual angles??
Portrait 101 is focus on the eyes, and this is also true for pet portraits! Of course, there are a few exceptions to the rule, getting down to your subject’s eye level creates a much, much more personal pet portrait. It brings out your pet’s personality, and highlights a more intimate perspective from their point of view. (Who wouldn’t want to be a dog, right?)
To ensure you’re making the eyes pop, think about what gear you’re shooting on. If you’re using one of our supported Sony cameras, check out our video on animal eye af which makes this job a lot easier!
One trick that Elke uses, is squeakers and toys. You can download a pet squeak soundboard onto your smartphone, and capture the moment as you press it. If you’ve ever seen any of her work, you’ll notice some of the incredible expressions that she captures, and this is one of those little handy tricks!
If your camera doesn’t have animal eye af, use single point AF and move the focal point over your pets eyes!
3. Camera settings
Aperture, shutter speed and ISO serve a very specific function during a pet photoshoot! If you’re used to shooting in auto and you’re not overly familiar with your camera settings, this will be especially useful.
For static pet shots, where you’ve got them to sit, stand, stay then it’s a little more straightforward.
A great place to start if you’re new to customising your settings is Aperture Priority, or AV. This will give you a lot more control when it comes to the depth of field of your shot, especially while shutter speed isn’t necessarily as crucial .
If on the other hand you’re shooting some action shots, maybe you’re playing fetch with your dog, switch your camera over to shutter priority mode, or TV in order to ensure you freeze the action perfectly.
If you’re experienced in sports photography, you’ll be at home here, otherwise, the minimum I would shoot a pet at is 1/250, light allowing of course, but ideally you want to be shooting even faster than that.
Make sure your camera is on continuous shooting, or if you’re shooting on something like an Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark iii, using procapture here is an absolute life saver. More about this over here, presented by me!
Contrary to what I said earlier about focus, sometimes, it’s not as easy as plopping a focal point down.
If you’re shooting some fast moving action, continuous or tracking AF should be used here to avoid any soft images.
4. Candid vs Posed
Candid pictures are all about capturing your pet’s natural behavior and personality, where as posed is all about the beauty of the shot (and subject!)
When shooting candid portrait, it’s all about knowing your subject and what they like to do.
If you know that when you take your dog to the river/pond that they’re prone to diving straight in, be ready! A good telephoto lens equipped with some kind of OIS or IBIS is golden for this situation.
On the other hand, if you have a rather lazy cat who is prone to sleeping, everywhere, then setting up a miniature hide near some natural light is ideal. Consider using a reflector to help boost the light inside your home as well. Something like a Lastolite Sunlite reflector is ideal. Not too big though, you don’t want them thinking there’s an alien invasion.
With candid images, it’s all about being prepared, making sure that your camera is ready to go at a moments notice, charged, setting prepared, ideally with a good strap or sling attached to it. We have a range of great straps here. I personally use the Peak Design Clutch Hand Strap as I’m known for flinging my camera about.
5. Limber up
This isn’t so much of a photography tip, as it is a lockdown lifestyle tip.
While we’re in lockdown, it’s easy to not workout or even just exercise like you normally would, cycling or walking to work.
If you’ve ever watch an animal or child photographer working, you’ll notice a lot of bending, twisting and turning (that is definitely not ideal on my knees). This is usually achieved from stretching before hand.
As we said earlier, eye level is important, and unless you don’t mind lying face down in the dirt, a little flexibility can go a long way.
Try some yoga during your working from home lunch breaks, or even just some body weight workouts!
CreativeLive has a dedicated yoga for photographers class here, Yoga for Photographers by Vanessa Joy
A little trick that can be used is a blanket or towel that you don’t mind getting a bit muddy on the bottom.
This can also double up as a great way to dry anything you’ve let your dog play with, or keep your gear clean!
Let us know if this helped you, we love being tagged in your best pet photos on our Instagram and Twitter.
As always, the Wilki Team is still available online and on the phone if you need any product information or advice (01772 252 188)
Stay safe and have fun,