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Photographing Pets and People


Article © 2005-09 by Jenna Caplette, with tips from the staff of F-11 Photographic Supplies


Wherever you travel, especially if you’re on the road to attend an event like a wedding, you’ll want to bring home some great photographs to commemorate your adventures. Some of those pictures will be of the people and pets you spent time with. Try these simple steps to produce truly memorable images.


Always have your camera handy, with film loaded and fresh batteries in it as well as in your flash. This may seem obvious but it’s easy to get rushed and forget. While loading film, or changing batteries, you may watch a great photo opportunity evaporate.


It’s tempting to take posed photos – to ask someone to hold still and smile while you fiddle with getting everything just right. Their smile disappears just as you snap the shutter. Getting a pet to hold still for your set up is even less likely. The truth is, spontaneity makes great photos. Watch for the right moment, and the next right moment. Experiment with camera angles and perspectives – take a shot from above, or one on your belly shooting up. Practice and play. Get close to the subject, fill the frame, and then back up. All the while, your central focus needs to be the subject’s eyes.


Ease that self-conscious freeze for your subject by taking a shot of them interacting with a group of other people. Put kids on the spot by making them stand still for you, struggling to hold a smile, and they may grow up hating to have their picture taken (take it from me – fifty years plus and I still hate having mine taken).


Indoors, to avoid red-eye (or white-eye with pets), take your shot from an angle so that the light from your flash doesn’t directly reflect in your subject’s eyes. If you have an off-camera flash you can tilt it so that the light shoots upward, then bounces off the ceiling, before highlighting your subject. If, despite your best efforts, you end up with a red-eye shot, there are photo-processing and digital-intervention techniques (or touch up pens) that can “fix” that problem.


Outdoors, shoot during “the golden hours.” The two hours after sunrise. The two hours before sunset. Photos taken when the midday sun glares will seem hard, or harsh, with not much texture or interest, because the light comes from directly overhead. Don’t avoid overcast days, or days of snow or rain and wind. Look at adverse weather conditions as opportunities to take unusual photographs – leaves swirl at your subject’s feet, their clothes billow out, snow frosts their eyelashes. These details don’t detract from your photo – they enhance it.


To separate your subject from the background of your image, get close to the subject or bring your subject close to you with a telephoto lens. This will blur the background, leaving no question as to what the image is about. Always watch for distractions in your background. The classic is the lovely shot of a child with a tree sticking out the top of their head. Memorable, but probably not in the way you hoped. Bright lights in the background, particularly when your subject is standing in subdued light or shade, can also be distracting. Take a couple of seconds to check your background and make sure it will not detract from your subject.


With pets, get shots of them when they are in movement. This means, again, being prepared, being patient, and learning to anticipate the moment you want to capture. In all of these situations, the core essential trick to taking great pictures is to take lots of them. Click away. Mathematically, you’re bound to get a good shot. This tidbit applies to anyone with a camera. It’s what professionals do. The rest of us see the photographs that worked well, not all the ones that didn’t.


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