Your pet may be cute, charming or elegant, but capturing these qualities on film isn’t always easy. Pets seldom pose for the camera, and some even take it as a signal to cease whatever adorable behavior you were hoping to photograph. Columbus-based photographer Tyler Heichel offers these tips to help capture your pet’s photogenic side.
Put your pet at ease. Heichel advises introducing pets to the camera slowly. Begin by showing them the camera, and taking a few pictures without pointing the camera at them. When you start snapping pictures of your pets, be calm and encouraging. “Many animals are confused when you stick a big box in front of your face but still ask you to pay attention to them,” Heichel says. “To get them used to it, it doesn’t hurt to peek out from behind it frequently to reassure them.” He also cautions that some pets find the flash of a camera to be disorienting or upsetting, and so you should avoid using this feature if possible.
Enlist your pet’s cooperation. Heichel finds that treats and toys are a perfectly good way to get your pet to pay attention, or focus his or her gaze in the direction you want. Posing with a favored human companion might help some pets relax. And for active pets, Heichel recommends a good exercise session prior to a photo shoot. “That way, you’re more likely to get a calm picture.”
Get a feel for how your pet moves—and how your camera works. Since most pets don’t pose for the camera, this step is important in capturing them at just the right moment. When taking action photos, Heichel advises, “Watch and wait for a while—you’re probably not going to get the shot you want on the first try.” He also recommends paying attention to how quickly your camera shoots a picture, as some cameras have a moment’s pause in between when you push the button and the photo is snapped.
Get down to their level. “If you’re photographing from above,” Heichel explains, “you don’t have an interesting background—it’s just the floor.” He added that photos taken at your pet’s eye level helps the viewer identify with them, while allowing their personality to shine through.
Fill the frame. “The pet should fill most of the picture,” Heichel says, as this makes the pet the focal point of the composition. An exception is if you would like to include a particular background, such as a dramatic landscape. In that case, make sure the shot includes the entire pet.
Pay attention to lighting. For indoor pictures, posing your pet by a window is ideal. “It’s directional light that will give definition to your subject,” Heichel says. For outdoor snapshots, photos taken in direct sunlight can wash out colors and details. Cloudy days are best, but on sunny days you can pose your pet in the shade. Just make sure there’s enough light for your camera to work.
Avoid the dreaded “eye glow.” Cats and dogs have a layer of cells behind their retinas called the tapetum lucidum, which reflect light out of the eyes and improve night vision. These cells also reflect the light from a camera flash as an eerie green or yellow glow. Because flash can also cause pets to look washed out when their photo is taken at close range, Heichel advises to simply avoid using it whenever possible.
Above all, have fun! “All photography rules are made to be broken, once you learn them,” Heichel says. Don’t be afraid to try photographing your pet in a variety of settings and activities. Pique your pet’s interest during and after photo shoots with favorite treats, toys and words of praise. As your pet learns that a photo shoot means lots of fun and attention, he or she is more likely to cooperate with relaxed and playful behavior for you to capture on film. — Meredith Southard
An animal lover since she could shriek the word “doggie,” Meredith Southard has written for national and statewide publications on topics such as wildlife rehabilitation and rescue, conservation dogs, and the animals of Ohio’s wetlands. On warm spring nights she can be found traipsing around vernal pools with a flashlight, looking for salamanders and frogs.