Photographing Your Pets

Halfway through reading Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner's fascinating book Freakonomics, I've started looking for patterns everywhere. So last weekend, I started dividing Hot Pic of the Week photo submissions into categories. The most common subject? Pets.

Honestly, that didn't surprise me. I've seen your cats and dogs in all sorts of adorable poses. So this week, I thought I'd weigh in on how I thought you could make your pets even cuter--on film, at least.

Put Them at Ease

This might seem like common sense, but what I really mean is to photograph Fluffy in a way that makes her comfortable. If she's bouncy puppy, don't keep ordering her to sit while you frame the shot. Nope, take the camera outside and get some shots of her rolling around in the grass with the kids. If Fluffy is a cat, your best chance of getting a great photo is when she's napping in the bean bag--which means you have that opportunity about 18 hours each day.

Stoop to Their Level

Animals sit and stand much lower to the ground than we do, and a good general rule of photography is to shoot from the same perspective as your subject. To really get the essence of your pet's personality, you might want to lie down on the floor.

Of course, you can also get great results from unusual perspectives, too. For example, you could try getting directly overhead and pointing the camera straight down.

Watch Your Shutter Speed

Animals tend to change their mind without much warning and dart around a lot. To be ready for that you'll want to shoot at the fastest shutter speed possible. I recommend setting your camera to Shutter Priority and dialing in the highest speed your camera can muster, or, if your camera doesn't have a shutter priority control, try its Sport or Action setting.

Don't Be a Pet Paparazzi

When it comes to photographing pets, remember that the camera flash is not your friend. Turn off the flash and use natural light whenever possible, even if it means increasing the camera's ISO setting, which controls its sensitivity to light.

Why? Two reasons, really. First, bright flashes of light tend to scare animals, and the last thing you want to do is freak out Fluffy. Second, camera flash tends to cause the red-eye effect in animals, just as it does with humans. The red-eye reduction feature built into cameras is designed for people and isn't as effective on dogs and cats. If you really do need to use a flash, consider using a snap-on diffuser or a bounce card (available at any photo shop) to reduce the light's impact.

Share the Cute

When you're done taking pictures of your favorite pet, share your joy with the world. Sure, you can submit your favorite photo to the Hot Pic of the Week contest, but there are some great photo-sharing sites on the Web.

Cat lovers can try sending their pics to Kittenwar. And, not surprisingly, dog lovers have their own arena for figuring out who has the most adorable critter: Puppywar.

Hot Pic of the Week

Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique. Every month, the best of the weekly winners gets a prize valued at between $15 and $50.

Here's how to enter: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 640 by 480 pixels. Entries at higher resolutions will be immediately disqualified. If necessary, use an image editing program to reduce the file size of your image before e-mailing it to us. Include the title of your photo along with a short description and how you photographed it. Don't forget to send your name, e-mail address, and postal address. Before entering, please read the full description of the contest rules and regulations.

This Week's Hot Pic: "The Sky is Falling," by Kathy Brandt, Lake Villa, Illinois

Kathy writes: "I took this photo of my Pembroke Welsh Corgis. The poor thing underneath is Tobi, the 5-month-old daughter of the goofball on top, Rhys. I shot this with a Nikon D200, a Tamron 28-105mm lens, and some Alien Bees strobes in my little home-made studio."

See all the Hot Pic of the Week photos online.

Have a digital photo question? Send me your comments, questions, and suggestions about the newsletter itself. And be sure to sign up to have the Digital Focus Newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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