Five Tips for Taking Photos of Animals

We're in the middle of a dry heat wave in Seattle, a city usually known for mild weather and lots of precipitation. My cats and dogs (all six of them) are responding by lying about lethargically, which is a great opportunity for me to catch some of my ordinarily bouncy critters on digital film. I last wrote about shooting animals several years ago, in "Photographing Your Pets." That advice still holds, but I thought this was a good time to take a fresh look at the art of pet photography, with five tips you can use to get sharper, cuter, more memorable pictures of the four-legged members of your family.

1. Photograph Them Doing What They Do Naturally

Sure, you can spend a lot of time staging the scene and coaxing your dog to sit just so... but I've found you'll get better photos with a fraction of the effort just by keeping your camera handy and waiting for your pet to express its unique personality. My dog, for example, loves to stand on top of her igloo dog house, sort of like a real-life Snoopy. Why stage something when I can just keep a camera near the window and snap something like this?

2. Make Them the Center of Attention

A moment like this one--in which a wolf cautiously sniffed my wife's face--is too precious to dilute with a lot of background noise. I maneuvered to a place where there was light falling on the wolf, but my wife was in shadow. I then locked the exposure by setting the camera's exposure system to spot meter and pointed the camera at the wolf. This had the effect of casting my wife in silhouette, so all eyes would be drawn to the wolf. Even so, I found that there was too much detail visible in my wife's face in the original photo, so I darkened her in Photoshop with some selective burning.

3. Avoid the Flash

It should be no surprise that your camera flash--especially used indoors or in low light--has the regrettable tendency to cause red eye in humans. In fact, I've told you in the past a number of strategies for eliminating red eye in your photos. You can easily get a similar effect with animals, of course, and it can look just as creepy. Corel's Paint Shop Pro remains the only program I've found that does a serviceable job of removing animal red eye. Even if you have Paint Shop Pro, though, I'd say that it's still easier to turn the flash off and avoid the evil eye to begin with.

4. Try for Unusual Perspectives

Don't always shoot your pets from normal human height. You can get great results by getting down on the floor, at their own level, but that often invites curiosity. If I lie on the floor, my cat or dog will invariably wander over to see me before I can take more than a couple of photos. Another option is to get up high and shoot straight down, like I did to capture this, my all-time favorite photo of my now passed-on Husky, Tumanna.

5. Use a Fast Shutter Speed

Finally, all the artistic tips in the world will only get you so far. You still need to remember to set your camera to a fast shutter speed, because animals operate on an internal clock we humans will never understand. They twitch, dart, snap their heads, and jump for unknowable reasons at the most unexpected moments. Be sure to set your camera to Shutter Priority and dial in the fastest speed available, or use your Sports or Action mode. Feel free to increase the ISO to net a better shutter speed, so you can get a sharp photo no matter what your pet is thinking.

Hot Pic of the Week

Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique.

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: "Emma's Piggies" by Karen Moran, Phoenix, Arizona

Karen says: "I took this photo of my best friend's daughter, since she is constantly telling me how much she loves her toes. I took this photo in natural sunlight, using a Canon 30D with a wide angle lens."

This week's runner-up: "Nearing Sunset" by Ann de Ruig, Tzaneen, South Africa

Ann says: "The sky was cloudy, but as the sun set, it lit up this small patch of bush in front of my house. I snapped it quickly with my Sanyo S870 before the light faded."

To see last month's winners, visit the July Hot Pics slide show. Visit the Hot Pics Flickr gallery to browse past winners.

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

Subscribe to the Digital Photo Newsletter

Comments