Point & Shoot: Picturing Your Pet
Many of us have pets that share our home and are considered to be members of the family. If you enjoy photography, naturally you'll want to take pictures of your furry friends. Great-looking pet images can be achieved without having to invest in expensive photo gear. In fact, a lightweight point-and-shoot camera is a handy item to keep at your fingertips so you won't miss those spontaneous moments.
Animals are like children and can get bored quickly. For this reason, it's a good idea to work quickly and keep photo sessions brief. You can, however, try to make it more fun for your pet by incorporating favorite toys as props. You can usually get a dog to cock its head by making funny sounds or by using a squeak toy. Cats respond to feathers or balls of string. If you have a well-trained dog that will obey "sit" and "stay" commands, half the battle is conquered; it's much easier to get him/her to stay still for a photo. Cats, on the other hand, are very aloof. It's better to figure out a cat's habits and photograph it in a favorite spot.
Be prepared to shoot lots of film, or if you're using a digital camera, use a high-capacity memory card. Endearing moments occur fairly often, but they're fleeting. If your camera has a built-in zoom lens, using it at a focal length around 100mm will yield pleasing pet portraits. If a head-and-shoulders photo of your pet is what you're after, use your camera's portrait mode, just as you would with a person. This should give you a sharp picture of your subject with a pleasantly blurred background. Try to eliminate distractions from the background and fill the frame with your subject.
When you want to show a pet in its environment, step back and set your zoom lens on a wide-to-normal setting, anywhere from 28–50mm. As with children, you'll get best results by getting down and photographing your pet on its level (unless you purposely want to emphasize how small the animal is).
If you want to photograph a running horse or dog, you can depict action in a couple of different ways—either by using the sports/action setting on your point-and-shoot (which will utilize a faster shutter speed to freeze the action), or by "panning" along with your subject using a slow shutter speed (which will emphasize motion).
To do panning, stand with your legs slightly apart and swivel from the waist, turning your body and pressing the shutter button while tracking the moving animal through the viewfinder. If you're successful, your subject will be rendered mostly sharp, while the background is blurred. Panning works best with subjects that are moving across your field of view (it doesn't work as well with those coming directly toward you). This technique requires a lot of practice to get a few great shots, so don't get discouraged!
To freeze action, it's best to use fast film in the ISO 400–1600 range. When panning, set your camera on its landscape mode to give you a slower shutter speed, and use ISO 100 film.
Be careful when using your camera's built-in flash, as pets are often rendered with eerie neon blue or green eyes (like our red-eye). Often, it's better to wait until they move into an area where there's good illumination and photograph them in natural-light conditions. Open shade is flattering for pet portraits, just as it is for humans.
If you have pets, take lots of pictures of them. Shoot portraits in addition to images that reveal their behavior. Don't forget to shoot some pictures that reflect the pet's relationship with various members of your family—these photos will bring back fond memories in years to come.