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Photography Question 
Sharon King
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/2/2005

Pet Photography Tips and Tricks

I was asked to do a pet photo shoot, which will be held at a Senior Living residence. I am planning on taking two lights with umbrellas. We will have two scenes for them to choose from - photos with Santa and a winter scene. They are expecting approximatly 50 animals, but really have no way of knowing exactly how many will show up. I can use ANY suggestions you can give... on posing, keeping the animals attention, camera settings etc. etc. Beside covering my expences, most of the proceeds will be donated to Animal Friends of Western Pa. I am hoping this will be good exposure for me. I am getting nervous! Thanks, Sharon

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9/28/2006 10:28:05 AM

Sharon  Day
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/27/2004
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  Sounds like a fun project! I've only practiced on my own dog. She sits/stays and will not move until I give the command which makes it easier to set her up in a pose, but she gets bored. My dog understands what certain words means so I can always make her look alert by saying something she likes to hear, like "treat" or "duke" or "walk." Try asking the pet owner what kinds of words the pet responds to. I don't shoot in a studio setting so I'm afraid I can't help you there. Good luck!

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9/28/2006 10:42:37 AM

Jenni Bidner
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/13/2006
That sounds like a very exciting shoot! I’m one of the BetterPhoto Instructors - teaching Photographing Your Dog with Any Camera and Photographing Your Dog with an SLR Camera. I have a few hints that might help with the dogs:
  • First and most important, try and recruit an animal-loving friend to assist you as an “animal wrangler”. They’ll probably have fun, because they get to play with pets all day. This person will hover just out of the active picture area, and can help keep the animals from bolting. If an assistant is impossible, have the owner do this job.
  • Whenever possible, include the owner in the shot. The dog will be more comfortable. And you can usually work out a “hugging” picture that actually controls the dog or other animal.
  • Don’t rush the dogs. Have the owner let the dog smell the whole set first. It takes about 30 seconds, and you’ll probably get a better result.
  • Bring a LOT of dog treats. The wrangler can stand next to the dog and feed them for sitting, then step back the instant you shot. Even the youngest dog will stay for treats. Use non-crunchy, single-gulp treats, like soft commercial treats, Bil-Jac liver bits, cheese sticks (break them into 40 pieces), or tiny cut-up pieces of hotdogs. And by small, I mean 1/4 the size of a dime or about 80 pieces out of a hotdog! ALWAYS ask the owner if the dog can have them, because many have allergies or health problems. If not, try a tennis ball or toy.
  • Let the leash dangle loosely to the ground and have the wrangler step on it. If you can borrow a 15-foot lead, even better! Only take off the leash if you are in a contained room with no other dogs around.
  • Find the highest-pitched squeaker toy you can at a dog store. ToyShoppe has some under $3 that are much louder than most. Small ones are great because you can hold them behind your camera, and squeak it by squishing it with your thumb into the camera body. That way it seems to the dog that the noise is coming from the camera itself, and they’ll look straight at the lens. Use it judiciously. They’ll soon tire of it, or be overstimulated by it.
  • While you’re there, pick up a Kong (looks like a small black or red toy) and put biscuits or a smear of peanut butter (or both) in it. The dog may lie down and become obsessed with it. Great! Then get his attention with the squeaker, his name, or your best “meow” and he’ll look up from it. You can donate the toys to the Animal Friends organization afterwards!
As for poses, the most important thing is to get down to the animal’s eye level. If it is a person with their pet, either have them get low with the animal or raise the animal up - this will avoid too gappy a composition. You may want to bring a picturesque chair (or borrow one from the Senior Center Lobby). That way, the owner can sit with a smaller pet in their lap - an especially good plan for senior clients.
Other suggestions:
  • If you raise the animal, make sure they are safe. Puppies and older dogs should never jump off anything taller than their shoulder.
  • Check your monitor often. Do some tests with the lighting, and then set the exposure in Manual Mode (assuming you keep the same lighting and you are practiced at using Manual Mode). This will prevent your in-camera meter from getting fooled by all-white or all-black animals. Even so, you may have to under or overexpose on certain animals.
  • If you can bring or borrow a laptop, it might be a good idea to check the shots for critical focus and depth of field throughout the day.
Most of all, have fun!
Good luck ... and please post a few of the shots afterwards!
Jenni Bidner

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9/28/2006 3:41:44 PM

Sharon King
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/2/2005
  Thank you both for your suggestions! I really appreciate it. Jenni, WOW, some great tips! If this all goes well, and I am asked to do a lot more pet photos, I will have to sign up for some of your pet portrait classes.

I have been looking at a lot of pet portraits. I think the most elegant ones are on very simple backgrounds, just a few little props like Christmas balls, a santa hat or a few wrapped gifts surrounding the animal. I would like to get some tight crops too, so your eye just sees the animal. I love the idea of the Kong. That may settle the animal down and relax them and force them to lay down. I am hoping to have a room I can shut the door, so the animal can be unleashed and not distracted by other animals waiting to be photographed.

The shoot is scheduled for October 28th. I am getting excited. Thanks for all the tips. I will share some photos with you when it's over!

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9/29/2006 4:49:57 AM

Danielle E. Rutter
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/4/2006

I don't have any advice that Jenni didn't already give but I just wanted to say thanks! I love Animal Friends. I've gotten two cats from them and I think they're an excellent organization. People like you keep them running! I hope it gets you the exposure you want. :)

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10/3/2006 3:13:32 PM

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