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Pet-ography: Taking Adorable Photos of Pets and Owners

2021-11-18

 EF24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM II, f/2.8, ISO 160, 1/1250s, 70mm 

If you love pets and you love photography, there’s a way to put these two passions together: pet photography!  

While a shoot with adorable pets running around definitely sounds like a good day, it can also be a unique challenge for professional photographers. SNAPSHOT discusses these obstacles with Matt Aslan, whose work captures that special bond between pets and humans, along with perfect photographic moments. 

Learn how to plan, prepare, and carry out shooting adorable pet portraits. 

 

Before the Shoot 

EF35mm f/1.4L IS USM, f/1.6, ISO 125, 1/320s, 35mm 

For Matt, a form filled out by the pet owners sets the tone for the entire project: 

“Before starting the photoshoot, I have the client fill out a written form to get to know the client and the furry child in detail. I plan the shooting concept preparation according to this form I get. For example, via this form, I learn the health and age of our fur child, its attitude towards strangers and other pets, or whether it wanders with or without a leash.” 

Knowing more about the subject allows you to explore which concepts will work best and will be comfortable for the pet. It’s very important to get to know the subject even before shoot day. 

 

Outdoors versus Indoors 

EF70-200mm f/2.8 IS USM III, f/2.8, ISO 250, 1/800s, 200mm 

Looking at Matt’s photos, there is an obvious preference for outdoor shoots. 

“Observing pets in the studio, I noticed many of them are anxious and scared of entering a new environment. This was when I started shooting in parks, their favourite place. It’s also where I encounter their most active and natural moments.” 

However, it’s not always a walk in the park when shooting outdoors. “You need to master all the features of your camera and lens, and it takes a lot of skill to capture pets running around in a large open area. Outdoor shooting can be so much more difficult than shooting in a studio where there is controlled light and more limited space.” 

 

To get started, here are some Do’s and Don’ts for photographing pets: 

Do’s 

EF35mm f/1.4L IS USM, f/1.6, ISO 200, 1/800s, 35mm 

Relax because pets can sense tension – it will be hard for a cat, dog, or other pet to be at ease around a tense or anxious photographer. Pets are very empathetic beings. 

Stretch before the shoot – you might need to bend, kneel, and roll when shooting active pets, so some stretching can help you avoid potential injury before the shoot. 

Play with the pets first – spend a couple of minutes bonding with the pet before taking out your camera. It establishes rapport which helps the pet feel at ease.   

Feed the pet 1-2 hours before the shoot – a hungry pet might not be too enthusiastic about a shoot. Just like people, posing requires energy and a well-fed pet is often calmer. 

EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM III, f/2.8, ISO 800, 1/1000s, 200mm 

Use -1 exposure – when shooting in a bright park, underexposure allows more room when post-processing the photos

Shoot in the shade under the harsh sun – for a softer, more diffused light and greater comfort for your subject (especially at noontime), avoid shooting under direct sunlight. 

Give frequent breaks for rest and water – always include this in your schedule as pets need their rest. 

Grab attention with a short and loud voice cue – a short burst will capture the pet’s attention. 

Always be friendly to the pets – after all, photographing a friend is so much more rewarding than a pet who’d rather be left alone. 

Focus on the eyes – just like in human portraits, keep the eyes sharp in your photos. Canon's Animal Detection AF feature can help make this a breeze. Coupled with good bokeh, it can create beautiful portraits, like this one:   

EF35mm f/1.4L IS USM, f/1.4, ISO 50, 1/8000s, 35mm 

Use fast shutter speeds – pets can be little balls of energy and fast shutter speeds (minimum of 1/800 for Matt) guarantee sharp photos. This should be easy to achieve under generous sunlight. 

Gear up and be flexible – Matt’s main shooters are a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and a Canon EOS R6. He also uses a variety of lenses for his photos like the EF24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM II, EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM III, EF85mm f/1.4L IS USM and an EF35mm f/1.4L IS USM. 

 

Don’ts 

Clutter your set with toys – while this might sound fun, too many toys can be distracting for the pet. It can also affect the way you compose your final image

Come to the shoot unprepared – always walk in with a concept, so you can leave with images you wanted. 

Stay standing – get down to the height of the pets to create even more engaging photos. 

Use too many treats to grab attention – treats are meant to be given sparingly, so don’t abuse it! 

Neglect pet comfort – pets photograph really well when they are comfortable, so do ensure their safety and security while shooting. 

 

EF24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM II, f/4, ISO 500, 1/200s, 24mm 

There you have it, a generous amount of sound advice for pet photography. If you’re ready to take the plunge, keep these pointers in your back pocket before you head out for a shoot. 

 

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