If you can’t get a person to sit infront of your camera for you and you want to practice portraits – you can do worse than use your own pets.
I’m sure over the years we’ve all taken great snapshots of our dogs, cats, rabbits, gerbils, lizards etc, but how often have you looked at your pet and decided to use it to practice some portraiture work. i.e. treat it like you would if you were photographing a person.
Our poor animals have been subjected to full on studio lighting and casual outdoor portraiture work – all in the name of practice as well as to have somenice pics of them.
It’s got to be said, when it’s something that moves alot it’s a bit more difficult than a person. Plus you can tell someone exactly where to look and hold their head, you cannot do this with a cat or a dog. They do not take this kind of instruction particularly well – so be happy if you can just get them to sit for more than two minutes.
The only trick I have up my sleeve for dogs is to hold my hand up where I want to them look and say “biscuit” – this gives me a couple of seconds before they leap up to investigate, but it does get them looking in the right place.
For cats there is no trick other than patience. I tend to wait for him to settle down and get comfy for a nap and then annoy him. He’ll usually stick around for me to get a few decent shots before he turns his back and goes to sleep properly. Occasionally I’ve been lucky and he’s just sat in the right place at the right time.
So, think about this – how would you photograph them if they were a person? How would you light them, what kind of portrait are you taking? How can you capture their character. Every pet has a character – whether it’s reptile, mammal or fish, or bird, or anything else I might have missed. Arachnid? Insect?
Now obviously, not every portrait has to take place in a studio with full on lights, natural light or a simple fill light can bring out the best too. Even when I photograph people I like to use natural light as much as possible too.
If I’ve learnt anything over the years when taking photos of animals, it’s patience. Never assume it’ll be a quick photo and you’re done.
I’ll follow them around, roll on the floor with them, play with them and generally annoy them. Then, after about 15 minutes I’ll start taking photos. Be prepared though, I have also learnt that as soon as you get down to their level, some dogs like to come in close. Really close. I’ve had many smeared lenses. There is no such thing as a fail-safe, one glove fits all, plan when photographing pets.
I find that my success rate with pets is slightly less then it is when photographing people – this is down to the inability of an animal to understand “hold it there”. But to be honest, that’s half the fun. Some of my favourite pics have happened as the animal has moved. A little bit of blur can be a good thing. It can be frustrating as you wait for a certain behaviour and look and then they shake and ruin the whole photo.
Every time you pick up the camera you learn something new, every time you put someone different infront of it you learn something new. The key is to have fun and learn. Technique will continue to improve and that success rate will get better. Just bear in mind the old adage of children and animals. Only do work with them, it’s fun.
Oh, and if the owner is happy for you to do it – have a pocketful of treats ready – these really help!