Between spending more time at home and less time with loved ones, we may be closer to our pets than ever before. As we enter the holiday season, here are some ways to help include and capture festive memories with our furriest friends.
For many animals, especially younger pets or those who you may have recently adopted into your family, a camera and the sound of a clicking shutter is a new experience – and may be a little scary. Just think of a child getting their first photo taken with Santa at the mall! If you can, let them see or smell your camera before taking photos for the first time. Even if you’re taking casual photos of your family, and not specifically dedicating time to capturing memories of your pet, it will make “camera time” a more positive experience.
If you’re photographing a dog, they're likely to move around – a lot! Be cognizant of your shutter speed. A higher shutter speed will produce less motion blur, but a lower shutter speed will capture movement – like a quickly moving tail.
Focus is very important when photographing dogs and cats. Their facial structures are different than a person's, so it is likely that their eyes and nose are not always going to be in focus at the same time. When selecting your focus point, always use your pet's eyes. This is especially important when using a prime lens and shooting wide open, either at F1.8 or F1.2. Capturing the clarity of their eyes will create a portrait you can connect to, while focusing in on something like their nose, or even paws, will create a more artistic effect.
As with any portrait, prime lenses are a great option for keeping the focus on your subject. I find 25mm or 45mm to be an ideal focal length for photographing pets, either using the F1.8 or F1.2 PRO versions of these focal lengths. Depending on the size of your shooting space, a longer, fixed focal length may not allow you to get the type of shot you are looking for.
If you’re hesitant about getting the settings just right for a fidgety subject, or are having someone else in your family take the photo of you and your pet, you can set your camera to iAuto. If you’re more comfortable, try shooting in Aperture Priority or Manual to have more control over your shot. If you're using the OI.Share app to capture photos of you and your pet together, you can play around with the settings until you find what works for you.
We know that the eyes are the focus points for a pet portrait – but another element that will bring your furry subjects to life in your photos is to ensure that you capture good catch lights in their eyes. A catch light is the reflection of a light source. When shooting indoors, this can be from an open window, indoor lighting, or a flash.
When shooting outside, catch lights usually come from the sky. Direct sunlight can sometimes cause eyes to be totally in shadow, so try to find filtered light. This can be shooting in a shadow – but my favorite option is to shoot where tree branches will help filter direct light and create shadows, while still letting light in.
If you are using a flash indoors – like the FL-900R or even the FL-LM3 included with select PEN and OM-D cameras – try bouncing it on the wall behind you. This will help the light from being too harsh.
If you’re looking for more detail and pronounced catch lights, you can also find inexpensive studio lighting to help – even when you already have natural light. I tend to shoot indoors with my LED portrait lights and softboxes.
SIT. STAY. GOOD BOY!
There are distinct ways to think about photographing your pet.
- Candid: You're not posing them, and showing them naturally interacting with their environment – playing with a toy, snuggling up on the couch, or happily taking a treat from a family member.
- Posed: Some pets are happy to look into the camera and give you a "smile," giving your photos an almost posed effect.
My dog is happy to look up at the camera whenever we say his name, but capturing "posed" shots can be more challenging with pets who have not mastered how to “sit” or “stay,” who are very active, or who struggle with confidence. One way to overcome this is to try holding a treat or squeaky toy in one hand, or have a helper do this over your shoulder. Much of the time, they’ll look right at the incentive and you’ll get the shot!
Use your articulating LCD screen. This will let you get at different angles physically, but still be able to see if you're getting the shot you want. And by using your LCD to pick a focus point and take your photo, your face won't be disappearing behind the camera and breaking the connection you're building with your subject.
Some other ideas:
- If your pet loves attention, use it! Eyes are the window to the soul, and it’s beautiful when they make direct eye contact with the camera.
- Shooting with another human family member is a great way to get your pet at ease. It’s always a cute shot to show them sitting on a lap, or next to a person on a couch or the floor.
- Try to get down on their level for some of your photos. This will give you more freedom in terms of what angles you can capture, and often makes the pets feel more at ease.
Burst shooting will also be your best friend!
With OM-D or PEN cameras, you’ll be able to shoot in bursts of at least 8 frames per second. By utilizing burst shooting, you’ll maximize your chance of catching the moment you want. If you have the E-M1 Mark III, you can shoots in bursts of 60 frames per second, or 30 frames per second with an E-M5 Mark III.
You can also utilize Pro Capture Mode, to ensure that you catch the exact frame you want – with up to 35 frames preceding it.
PROPS AND COSTUMES
An “ugly sweater,” knit cap, or even a fun holiday themed costume – your pet will either love or hate these fun photo additions. If you have a pet that’s into props – like my dog is – have fun with it! Let them be in the Ugly Sweater photo – they’re part of the family!
But if your pets don’t gravitate to them naturally, don’t force it. You’ll be able to tell that your pet is uncomfortable, and that’s not the kind of holiday memory you’ll want to keep. Focus on other ways to bring the holidays into your photos. Think about the backdrop instead! There are many non-obtrusive ways to get some themed elements into your shot without alarming the subject. A beautifully decorated tree, roaring fireplace, festive blanket, holiday themed toy or snowy yard will give you the theme you want without making photography a negative experience for your furry friend.
A great photo can be hindered by busy elements, like leashes. You should always have your dog on a leash when shooting outdoors – and in many states it is illegal not to – but there is an easy way to remove dog leashes in Photoshop. If you select sections of the leash with the Lasso Tool, and then hit “Delete,” it will take elements from around the leash and blend the selected area with them. Be sure you’ve selected “Content-Aware” in the Fill > Contents window.
If you’re not comfortable with programs like Olympus Workspace, Photoshop, or Lightroom, there are many apps you can use on your phone. I recommend FaceTune and Snapseed – or even the editing functionality in social apps like Instagram. You can easily sharpen your photos, change the highlight levels, and increase brightness.
Enjoy this one-on-one time and have fun with your furry friend!
Amanda is a professional animal rescue photographer, and has worked with many of shelters and rescues in Pennsylvania. She has been a Featured Photographer for Savage Universal and member of HeARTs Speak, a non-profit for rescue related artists. Amanda has spoken on behalf of Olympus about rescue photography at Imaging USA and has collaborated with many brands through Instagram with her beloved dog, Barclay.