For animal lovers, pet portrait photography is a natural area to explore and have fun with. Animals can be fun to work with, and each one has its own personality. The pros can make it look so easy sometimes, however, anyone who has ever tried their hand at pet photography knows that working with pets like a cat or a dog can be very unpredictable. It takes finesse and skill to capture the perfect shot of a pet that has its own mind. Whether your subject has a wagging tail and puppy-dog eyes, fluffy fur, and a charming attitude, scales, or feathers every creature has an individual character that can be fun to capture.
On the surface, pet photography is simply just portraits of animals. Much more than that, though, there is an art to mastering the skills needed to take quality animal photos. To the surprise of many photographers, there is a large demand for this type of family photography. Often people want their pets included in their family portrait sessions. Other times they will be looking for stand-alone pet photography. To be a successful pet photographer, you will need to hone your skills for this very specific kind of photography.
In many ways, capturing pet images is similar to taking portraits of small children. Like working with kids, it is unpredictable, you can't communicate with your subject, and you can't really expect them to understand that should stay still and hold the pose or look into the camera. Let's take a look at how professionals photograph pets.
The gear that is appropriate for pet photography is an odd mix of equipment that would be appropriate for portraiture and sports photography. Of course, you will want your portraiture gear because you are taking portraits. But, why would you need sports equipment? You will want a camera body that will work quickly and is capable of a sports or fast burst mode so that the camera can capture a selection of images. Your animal subjects will move quickly and unpredictably.
Professionals who are taking pet photos know that you need to be able to get the approximate setup you like, and then promptly take as many photos as you can. Older camera bodies might not be able to handle this kind of rapid-fire shooting. A newer camera like the Sony A7 III might be a better option for this kind of photography as it is capable of shooting multiple frames back to back. This kind of camera can produce photos with fast and accurate autofocusing.
Some photoshoots with pets might take place outside while the animal is playing. Professionals will utilize a continuous drive autofocus lock to help keep the focus accurate. some camera bodies are much better at this than others. You will also want to pair the camera body with portraiture lenses capable of various f-stops to capture the unique body angles and shapes of the animal's body.
While some of the most popular pets are dogs and cats, not everyone has a four-legged furry pet. You might be asked to photograph all kinds of pets from goldfish and hampsters to lizards, snakes, or rabbits. Professional pet photographers are prepared to encounter various types of animals. In the case of some of these non-traditional pets, it might mean that you need to resort to food or treats to get the animal out and moving to capture some action shots.
In the case of a geiko or bearded dragon, they might respond to a healthy snack like dubia roaches. Luring them out with one of these insect treats might allow you to get some better shots. Of course, you would want to check with the owner before feeding the animal something, but they would probably be more than happy to help facilitate better shots.
Maybe more appealing to you than a lizard or snake, cats and dogs might be what you will photograph more often. This is really when you will want to focus on the sports style shooting method as you chase the pet around the house or yard. What professional pet photographers focus on when shooting these pets is the eyes. Since pets can't really smile or express other sentiments, the eyes are the most expressive part of an animal’s face.
Creating really engaging portraits of animals will require you to focus on the eyes and facial expressions. A well-timed puppy whine from you or the squeak of a toy can help reel in the focus of a puppy or curious dog. Getting their attention will have them staring straight at the camera faster.
Professional pet photography can offer several challenges, but it can also be one of the most creative and interesting photoshoots that you'll work on. Professionals have many tricks for capturing pets such as getting on their level and shooting pictures where they live. The most important trick, however, is to have fun! Most pets have interesting personalities and quirks that will offer some hurdles and a whole lot of fun.