Jeff Wignall is a photographer and writer who has written more than 15 books about photography. He is a contributing editor with Pro Photo Daily and Motion Arts Pro Daily and a former “Camera” columnist for The New York Times. JeffWignall.com
What do you give the person who has everything? How about an adorable photo of his/her pet? Here’s how to take winning shots that make great gifts…
Use the camera you’re most comfortable with, even a cell-phone camera, because you’ll be able to concentrate on your subjects and not worry about learning camera settings. But a camera with a lens that has a large zoom range (12x or greater) will let you grab great shots from more positions, including from a distance. My favorite lens for photographing my two cats is a 70-300mm telephoto zoom because it lets me shoot close-ups from across the room. That said, the “stretched out” look created by a very wide-angle lens (equivalent to 24mm or wider on a traditional 35mm camera) is a fun way to exaggerate your kitty’s morning stretch or your pooch’s gaping yawn.
Use familiar places and routines. With dogs especially, the more familiar the locale, the less distracted they’ll be. If you’re going to shoot around the house, keep the camera with you rather than breaking the spell of quiet moments by getting up to find it.
Try playful action shots. If your pet is in a lively mood, bring out a favorite toy and try to capture action shots. Put your camera in the shutter-priority exposure mode (in this mode, the camera lets you set the shutter speed that you want and will automatically choose the corresponding aperture setting) and choose the highest shutter speed available for the existing light (1/250 second or faster is good) to freeze motion. For the best chance of grabbing a winning shot, use your camera’s “burst” mode for firing multiple shots in rapid succession.
For formal portraits, get their attention. For posed portraits, pets look best when they are engaged with you and have their eyes wide-open. Dogs respond well to a favorite squeaky toy and cats to a dangling string, and you can get them to look into the camera or over your shoulder by holding the object up where you want them to look. You may need an assistant to help with this. Pooch Selfie (PoochSelfie.com, $12.99) is a neat little accessory that lets you attach a squeaky tennis ball to your cell phone to get your dog’s attention—just squeak the ball and shoot.
Shoot at your pet’s eye level. For more natural poses, kneel or lay down and shoot at eye level or slightly up at your pet rather than aiming the camera down. You also can try placing your camera on a tripod (low down) and firing it with a remote shutter release (or have a helper press the shutter button) so that you can primp the pose and then lean out of the frame and shoot.