If you’re anything like me, your house is filled with pictures of your furry family members. But I know firsthand that capturing great images of our pets can be difficult, and I have to admit that the majority of my shots are blurry or otherwise unusable.
I thought it would be fun to get some pointers from a pro, so I reached out to our good friend Ali Peterson at Skyy Blue Photography to get some tips that will help even us amateur photographers capture frame-worthy shots of our pets.
Ali says that photography, like other art forms, is subjective, but in her mind there are five elements required for a good image: composition, lighting, focus, story/message and color. Here are Ali’s expert tips in her own words:
I often shoot at the pet’s level to ensure they’re not looking up in every photograph. Being on their level makes them more comfortable and willing to engage with you, too. Shoot from the ground, the sky, from behind or through the trees and bushes. Not only will you end up with a wider variety of shots, it makes for shooting that’s way more fun, too.
Use objects that are a part of the scene, such as plants, windows or furniture, to frame your pet and add interest. You also want to pay attention to your background and be aware of people walking by and any other objects that don’t add to the image.
I prefer to shoot outdoors with available light. Here are some examples of ways I use light:
Open shade: Open shade means there’s nothing above you (meaning, you can see the sky if you look up but you’re still in the shade). When you want an evenly lit subject without any harsh shadows, open shade is where it’s at.
Direct sun: I tend to stay out of the direct sun whenever possible because of the harsh shadows it produces. Not to mention, it often makes for a squinty-eyed subject.
Dappled: With this type of light, the sun is transformed by peering through bushes, trees and objects, creating interesting patterns of light.
Overcast/cloudy: Overcast skies act like a giant diffuser, creating a soft, flattering light that’s great for portraits. The bad news is that there’s no blue sky. So, if you’re looking to have sky in the image, overcast grey isn’t a very pleasing color.
Backlight: Using the sun as a backlight adds a lovely glow to your subject.
Window: Placing your pet by a window (whether the window is in the image or not) can produce very nice light for portraiture.
Let’s say you want to compose a portrait. Depending on the light, you’ll want to set your aperture somewhere between F3.2 and 5.6. This will keep your entire subject in focus, with the background blurred. A shorter focal length, like 16m-35m, will produce a slightly blurred background, while a longer focal length, such as 70m-200m, will blur the background much more. To keep nearly everything in focus, including the background, simply use a smaller focal length or higher f-stop. A 16m-35m lens at F16+ will keep at least most of that beauty in focus.
For action shots, you’ll want to shoot at the fastest shutter speed possible to decrease the amount of light let in, so you’ll typically need to open up your aperture pretty wide. It’s also nearly impossible to focus manually when shooting action, so be sure to set your AF (auto focus) point where you want and try to have the subject remain on that point as they move.
With pet portraiture, it’s all about telling the pet’s story, so try for shots that illustrate the bond they have with you, what they like doing, where they enjoy going or what their favorite toy/treat is. The other major factor is emotion, so aim to get shots of your pet smiling, acting silly or serious and even sleeping.
The easiest way to compliment your subject is to first notice what colors are visible on them. With cats, the eyes are usually the most colorful feature. Most cats have a neutral color body hair with bright yellow, green or blue eyes. So, to really make them pop, choose a background that’s either the same color, or the complimentary color on the color wheel.