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Holiday Pet Photography Tips

Words & photos by Olympus Gallery Guru & Rescue Photographer, Amanda Strozeski. (source: getolympus.com)
Click images in this post to enlarge.
 

During the holidays, people love to photograph all of the family and friends they hold dear. For many people, this includes their beloved pets. Taking pet photos can be a struggle – they can move around even more than children, but without the ability to understand when you say, “Just one picture – say cheese!” Here are some tips to make your pet photography easier:
 
STARTING OFF

For many animals, especially those who you may have recently brought into your family, a camera and the sound of a clicking shutter is a new experience – and may be a little scary. (Think of a child getting their first photo taken on Santa’s lap at the mall!) If you can, let them see or smell your camera before taking photos for the first time. Even if you’re taking casual photos at a family gathering, and not specifically dedicating time to capturing memories of your pet, it will make “camera time” a more positive experience.
 


EQUIPMENT

If you’re photographing a dog, they move around – a lot! Be cognizant of your shutter speed. A higher shutter speed will give you less motion blur, but a lower shutter speed will capture movement – like a quickly moving tail.

Focus is very important when photographing dogs and cats, because their eyes and nose are not always going to be in focus at the same time. You should make their eyes your focus point, especially when you are shooting with a prime lens. Capturing the clarity of their eyes will create a portrait you can connect to, while focusing in on their nose can create a more artistic effect.

As with any portrait, prime lenses are a great option for keeping the focus on your subject. I find 25mm to be an ideal focal length for photographing pets, since it allows you to shoot close to your subject. Depending on the size of your shooting space, a longer prime may not allow you to get the type of shot you are looking for.

If you’re hesitant about getting the settings just right for a fidgety subject, or are having someone else take the photo of you and your pet, you can set your camera to iAuto. If you’re more comfortable, try shooting in P or M to have more control over your shot.
 


CATCH LIGHTS

We already know to make sure to focus on their eyes – but another element that will bring pets to life in your photos is to make sure to get catch lights in their eyes. This means the reflection of a light source. When shooting indoors, this can be from an open window, indoor lighting, or a flash.

When shooting outside, catch lights usually come from the sky. Direct sunlight can sometimes cause eyes to be totally in shadow, so try to find filtered light. This can be shooting in a shadow – but my favorite option is to shoot where tree branches will help filter direct light and create shadows, while still letting light in.

If you are using a flash indoors – like the FL-900R or even the FL-LM3 included with select PEN and OM-D cameras – try bouncing it on the wall behind you. This will help the light from being too harsh.

If you’re looking for more detail and pronounced catch lights, you can also find inexpensive studio lighting to help – even when you already have natural light. I tend to shoot indoors with my LED portrait lights and soft boxes.
 


SIT. STAY. GOOD BOY!

There are a few distinct ways to think about photographing your pet. One style is to photograph them without pre-posing them. Show them naturally interacting with their environment – playing with a toy, snuggling up on the couch, or happily taking a treat from a family member.

Another style is a posed photo. Some pets look into the camera perfectly and give you a happy smile – while others aren’t the biggest camera fans. There are many poses to help you get the best shots no matter what kind of pet you have. Posed photos can be more challenging with animals who have not mastered the “sit” or “stay,” who are very active, or who struggle with confidence. One way to overcome this is to try holding a treat or squeaky toy in one hand, or have a helper do this over your shoulder. Much of the time, they’ll look right at the incentive and you’ll get the shot!
 
Some other ideas:

  • If your pet is a ham, use it! Eyes are the window to the soul, and it’s beautiful when they make direct eye contact with the camera.
  • Shooting with another human family member is a great way to get your pet at ease and stop them from wandering about. It’s always a good shot to show them sitting on a lap, or next to a person on a couch or the floor.
  • Try to get on their level for some of your photos. This will give you more freedom in terms of what angles you can capture, and often makes the pets feel more at ease.

Burst shooting will also be your best friend! With OM-D or PEN cameras, you’ll be able to shoot in bursts of at least 8 frames per second. By utilizing burst shooting, you’ll maximize your chance of catching the moment you want. If you have the E-M1 Mark II, you can shoots in bursts of 60 frames per second. You can also utilize its Pro Capture mode, to ensure that you catch the exact frame you want – with up to 14 frames preceding it.
 
PROPS AND COSTUMES

An “ugly sweater,” knit cap, or even a fun holiday themed costume – your pet will either love or hate these fun photo additions. If you do have a pet that’s into props – like my dog is – have fun with it! Let them be in the Ugly Sweater photo – they’re part of the family!

But if your pets don’t gravitate to them naturally, don’t force it. You’ll be able to tell that your pet is uncomfortable, and that’s not the kind of holiday memory you’ll want to keep. Focus on other ways to bring the holidays into your photos. Think about the backdrop instead! There are many non-obtrusive ways to get some themed elements into your shot without alarming the subject. A beautifully decorated tree, roaring fireplace, festive blanket, holiday themed toy or snowy yard will give you the theme you want without making photography a negative experience for your furry friend.
 


POST PRODUCTION

A great photo can be hindered by busy elements, like leashes. You should always have your dog on a leash when shooting outdoors – and in many states it is illegal not to – but there is an easy way to remove dog leashes in Photoshop. If you select sections of the leash with the Lasso Tool, and then hit “Delete,” it will take elements from around the leash and blend the selected area with them. Be sure you’ve selected “Content-Aware” in the Fill > Contents window. This is the default option in Photoshop CC.

If you’re not comfortable with programs like Photoshop or Lightroom, there are many apps you can use on your phone. I recommend FaceTune and Snapseed – or even the editing functionality in social apps like Instagram. You can easily sharpen your photos, change the highlight levels, and increase brightness.

Enjoy this one-on-one time and have fun with your furry friend!
 

MORE IDEAS FOR PET PHOTOS YOU CAN TAKE ANY TIME OF THE YEAR


 
ABOUT AMANDA STROZESKI

Amanda is a professional animal rescue photographer and a member of HeARTs Speak, a non-profit for rescue related artists. She moderates the Olympus User Photo Gallery. Amanda also runs the popular pet Instagram account @itsmisterbarclay.

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