By Kim Levin
One of the questions I am asked most often is, “How do you take such animated portraits of dogs and cats?” I have always felt strongly that being a good photographer comes from instinct and experience. I don’t believe that you can teach someone to “have a good eye.” However, you can learn techniques that are helpful in taking good portraits of your pets, and you don’t even need a professional camera. Here are tips to help you take great photos. Remember, practice makes perfect.
1. Develop a rapport with your pet. Before taking any photographs, spend some quality time with your pet so he will relax and pay attention to you. Talk to him and let him know that you love him. This creates a more comfortable atmosphere.
2. Use natural lighting. Dogs and cats move around a lot, so it helps to be able to move around with them. I like to photograph pets in their environment, where they feel most at home and comfortable. Using natural lighting is ideal because flashes and big lights can sometimes scare pets, and they don’t stay in one place too long.
3. Photograph them outdoors. Photographing outside is ideal because it gives room for dogs, in particular, to be playful and happy. Shooting outdoors also eliminates the need for extensive lighting. This way, you can move with dogs or cats to where they decide to take you. This allows for more personality-driven photographs. Use the background of the outdoors to your advantage.
4. Use a wide-angle lens. Create perspective by experimenting with lenses that make the pet look a little different than he would in a traditional photograph..
5. Get down on the same level. The key to taking great portraits and showing the pet’s unique personality is to act like an animal. Roll around or lay down on the floor so that you are eye-level with your dog or cat. This unique positioning shows you the world from the pet’s perspective.
6. Learn how to shoot them indoors. If I photograph indoors, specifically indoor cats, I like to use 400-speed film in front of an open window so that the natural light is coming through. If I have to set up lighting, I will do so in one of the pet’s most comfortable spots in the house.
7. Use food and treats. Treats, treats, treats! Dogs and cats love them. Bits of food help pets stay in one place so you can take several shots at a time. Call her name to get her attention away from the treat or take the photo while she is waiting for her treat.
8. Use a shrill noise. My best shots come when I use a high-pitched shrill sound. Some dogs tilt their head to these sounds. This may not work for all dogs. Cats tend to react when you use a word or sound that gets their attention. Using a harmonica is one of my personal favorites. It functions the same as a shrill sound, but sometimes with an even bigger effect.
9. Take as many shots as possible. It usually takes many tries to get a really great image, so be prepared to have a good memory card in digital camera or plenty of extra film on hand.
10. Always have the camera around. Some of my best pet portraits have been spontaneous. Timing is everything. You can’t force your pet to make your favorite expression on cue, so keep the camera out and ready. When your pet smiles or rolls around on the ground in a funny manner, pull out the camera and begin photographing.
Kim Levin is a photographer who specializes in pet portraiture. Her company, Bark & Smile Pet Portraits, combines her passion for photography and her love of animals. Levin has published 10 books, including Why We Love Dogs, Why We Love Cats, Growing Up, and Cattitude. Her books have sold a quarter million copies and have been published in six languages.