Six tips for doing great pet photography
As a photographer, you might find yourself faced with doing a pet portrait or including a pet in a family portrait. Here's a fact for you. The U.S. and China have the highest numbers of dog and cat pet owners in the world.
Brazil leads the world in pet birds and the U.S. in pet fish. Even more relevant to you as a photographer? 27% of American pet owners admit to having had professional photographs taken of their pets.* If you haven't already photographed a pet, there's a strong chance you might be asked to at some point in your career! Here are a few useful tips to keep in mind when taking pet pictures.
Never become complacent, no matter how well you know the animal! Any animal can become unexpectedly aggressive, especially if they are in an unfamiliar environment.
Camera and lighting gear can intimidate or frighten an animal. Spend time getting to know the pet just as you would a client. Allow them to feel comfortable with you and sniff around the area. Avoid sudden movements, and never approach an animal if they show signs of stress.
2. Spend a few minutes
Just like you'd spend a few minutes getting to know your human clients, it's always a good idea to spend a few minutes with a non-human subject! Anything you can do so that the animal will feel more relaxed and more comfortable with you and your gear is advisable.
Let them wander about a bit if you're in the studio. Ask the client what treats you can offer their pet and have a few on hand or ask them to bring some. Ask if there's anything you need to know about interacting with their pet.
3. Be flexible
Photographing pets can be a bit like photographing infants and toddlers. Expect the unexpected! Be prepared for the worst, and hope for the best. If you're shooting a dog, remember that they can be the most cooperative (and often best trained) of all pets.
However, not every dog is well trained and will follow commands - especially from a stranger wielding a camera. Ask the client beforehand the age of the animal, whether they're trained, and how they respond to strangers.
4. Look for opportunities
Pictures of pets and their humans are some of the most endearing a family photographer can shoot. The interactions between pets and their owners can make for poignant photography. Try to anticipate some moments of connection between them, and be ready to take the shot.
5. Plan ahead
When you're incorporating children or pets, plan ahead as much as possible. Always have your equipment ready to go. Consider the lighting, especially if you're working outdoors with natural light.
Consider the background. Position your subjects, human and canine, according to the needs of the composition, lighting, venue, background, etc. Consider the settings you might need use. What composition do you want? What effects are you going for? Plan! Plan!
6. Posing a pet
Yes, you read that correctly. Imagine how you might want to pose the pet. Consider the type of pet and how they might look best on camera. If you decide to sit a dog outdoors, you might want to consider shooting from just above them at a slight angle.
Get their attention, wait for those cute ears to perk up, and then shoot. Cats can also make good subjects even if they don't want to take commands so easily! Summon up your patience and rely heavingly on toys to get their attention. Ask the owner to bring a toy. The goal is to get the cat's attention so you can snap the perfect (almost perfect?) shot.
Photographing pets can be as rewarding as family or children's portraits. Just like with any genre, practice makes perfect, and patience will make a significant difference.