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Better Photos of your Pet: Tips from Nina Parker

by Nina Parker, Professional Pet Photographer based in Atlanta, Georgia 

There’s a saying about photography: “The best camera for the shot is the one you have with you.” You may own a classic 35mm, an edgy mirrorless camera, or a tricked out point-and-shoot model, but where is it? If the answer is in a drawer somewhere, then it can’t be producing great pictures. For many people, the camera they have with them nearly all the time is…a smart phone.  The abilities of the mobile devices we have access to in 2018 have come a LONG way from even the best offerings a few years ago.

However a tool, even an amazing tool, is still just a tool. It’s the mind, hand and eye of the person holding that tool that has the power to take a shot that’s immediately deleted or one that will be cherished, perhaps forever.

Each genre of photography has its own unique qualities, but pet photography certainly has some singular challenges. The most common subject of this type of photography is, of course, a pet. A pet is not a trained show or working dog, which means personality, temperament and obedience run the gamut. Have you every wondered why people love to photograph sunsets? They‘re lovely, of course, but they also don’t shed, bark, hide from the camera, pull away, demand treats or move suddenly when you’ve set up the perfect shot! So what’s a doting pet owner to do? Is it possible to capture great images of your pet on any camera, including a smart phone? Yes, of course!

Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your efforts:

1. Get Closer

What’s wrong with this photo?  Well, there’s a table and chairs featuring prominently in the shot, food and dishes on the table, plus some shrubs and part of a building.  The dog is lost in the composition.  And of course the picture-taker is reflected in the glass door, creating another distracting element.

2. Avoid the Clutter

Become aware of what is in the background of your photos and around the subject. Ideally, you want the image to be about the dog, not all the stuff around them. Try to keep the head in a ‘clean’ spot without lines (buildings, horizons, objects) intersecting. Most of the time it’s a simple adjustment of moving slightly to create a more pleasing look. For example, here are two shots of my neighbor’s dog. In the first, the electrical box is prominent in the background. Once I shifted slightly the metal box was out of frame and now all you see is Tucker!

3. Go Lower

Most portraits are taken at eye level. Unless your dog can be ridden with a saddle that’s probably below eye level for you. The simplest solution is getting down on the dog’s level. That also tends to make a dog more comfortable, as you aren’t towering over them. Here’s another example, of my neighbor’s new puppy Sophie. In the first shot I was standing and looking down at her. In the second shot I took a knee so that I was on her level.

4. Watch the Light

Mother Nature knew what she was doing: natural light can be the most flattering light there is for portraits. When taking pictures outdoors, look for shade or an overhang like a porch or open garage door. Indoors, try to get close to a window, maybe even with a sheer curtain to soften the sunlight. Also try to make sure some light is getting into the eyes of your pet. Backlight, where the source is behind them, tends to make the face and eyes shadowed and dark. Here are two shots of Tucker standing in the exact same location. On the left he’s facing into the walkway of the building. On the right he’s just inside the walkway under the edge of the roof so the light is falling toward him.

I hope these tips are helpful! Don’t be afraid to practice and take lots of photos to get that perfect portrait. Of course, I also encourage you to schedule a professional photo session with your pet, not only so you will have quality, heirloom photos of them but also so you can be photographed together and capture your special bond! 

About the Author:

I’m Nina – animal lover, doting aunt to three cool nephews, coffee drinker, Crossfitter, and glass half-full person. I’m an Atlanta based photographer who loves photographing dogs. Of course, I photograph people too. When it comes to people I specialize in Headshots and Beauty Portraits, and have been known to combine glamour with pets and photograph dogs in tutus and flower crowns). But you don’t have to put a tutu on your dog if you don’t want to! My main goal is to capture their personality and create photographic art you will treasure for years to come. Unfortunately, our furry friends have shorter life spans than we do, so their journey often ends sooner than we expect.  Over the years I’ve heard from so many people that they ‘meant to’ have pictures made but never got around to it, so there are no portraits of a beloved pet. Pets give us so much unconditional love and are essential members of the family.  For that reason, I believe they deserve to be photographed beautifully and artistically.  Whether your taste runs to studio style lighting, arty black and white processing, or reportage style outdoors, we can tailor a shoot to suit you and your dog and create photographic art for your life.

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