The Secret to Great Pet Photography

By Ellen Bedrosian

With the polar vortex blanketing the region, a lot of us have been sticking to indoor photography. There are all kinds of possibilities for warm weather wussies — flowers, fruit and other still life subjects — but for those of us lucky enough to share our lives with some cuddly companions, pet photography offers a tremendous challenge to hone our photography skills.

The January 26, 2014 New York Times Magazine online features a video of Walter Chandoha, Lessons from a Master Cat Photographer, explaining how he captures such compelling images of cats and dogs.  Not surprisingly, his first piece of advice: Get eye level with the subject.

Hard day at the office-comp size

My kitten, Cheech, resting on my desk.

Time and time again, whether shooting animals or kids, that’s the primary critique judges give when commenting during competitions.

Patience is another must. All nature photographers know the importance of patience when shooting birds, fish and land animals. Sometimes one has to wait hours before the perfect shot presents itself. Capturing exceptional images of hyperactive kittens and puppies is no different. One great trick I learned from the Digital Photography School’s 9 Pet Photography Tips: the element of surprise. While the puppy or kitten is playing, get everything set up. Then, have someone call or whistle to get his attention, and you’ll have a few seconds to capture the alert pose, an expression that is so endearing.

In fact, the cutest pet images are the ones that have captured an expression that is very similar to the emotions humans feel.  In The New York Times piece, Walter Chandoha explains that his enduring images are the ones that evoke expressions of surprise, wisdom, suspicion, etc.

Make sure the eyes are in focus! Once again, probably the biggest pet peeve of judges is when the subject’s eyes aren’t sharp. Who wants to look through a blurry window to the soul?  Pet Photography Tips from Exposure Guide’s website offers some great tips for shooting sharp eyes while blurring the background.

Another tip-filled article on pet photography can be found on wikiHow’s site: How to Photograph Pets. There’s plenty of advice to keep you and your furry friends amused on single digit winter days.



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  1. Frank V. Ferrer

    Nice article. Pets are one of my favorite subjects, especially cats. I hope the polar vortex goes back where it came from.

  2. Kathy Duke

    Great article Ellen. Thanks for including all the links, they are really helpful. Now I have to try some of these ideas with my dog.

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