S.O.F.A. member France Bauduin shares her tips on photographing pets.
In my previous article, I explained how you could create original compositions from your own photos. Here, I would like to give you a few tips to help you take great action shots of your pet.
1) Choose the right camera
Mine is small and light, making it possible to take pictures with a single hand. When shooting pets, it is always useful to have a free hand so you can capture their attention by snapping your fingers or shake a noisy toy to make them look at you.
I also have a Live View Finder I can pivot upward, so I can take pictures of my subject at eye level (between 15 and 30cm for a cat) without having to lie flat on my belly. It allows me to move and follow my subject (up to a point) and gives me more opportunities to take good pictures.
My camera also has a Sport option that allows me to take many pictures per second in good light conditions (without flash) and generates more possibilities to capture a good action shot.
Sequence of 3 photos taken inside one second with Sport option on a bright hazy day (best conditions for black and white cats)
2) Choose the right light
Natural daylight is usually best when photographing pets.
Avoid harsh sunlight around midday, especially with white pets. You will achieve better results taking your photos around mid-morning or mid-afternoon.
Bright hazy/cloudy days work well when you plan to replace the background with other photos, as you do not need to match shadows. They are the best conditions for black and white animals.
In some occasions, flash photography may give good results with black subjects but natural sunlight is usually better to show their coat’s highlights.
Portrait of Milo (a commission) from a photograph taken in the sun
3) Choose the right spot
Instead of chasing your animal, sometimes it is better to position yourself in a good spot (with the sun at your back) and wait for them to come play in front of you, shaking a twig or throwing a ball to entice them in your direction. (Ask help from the owner if it is for a commission)
Having a solid object (bush, fence, wall) behind your subject increases your chances that the automatic focus will be on the animal and not something far behind them.
4) Choose the right time
Know your subject and anticipate the most likely periods for good action shots. With kittens, it is usually after they wake up from a long nap, a period that can last a good half an hour before they run out of steam again.
My best advice is to always have your camera ready and close by.
“Timmy in trouble” The lucky shot that inspired this earlier drawing.
As a rule, I always recharge the battery of my camera after downloading any photo shoot of 100 or more pictures.
5) Shoot, shoot, shoot
Practice makes perfect. Well, perhaps not but the more you take pictures, the more likely you are to get a great shot (even if it is just by luck).
It takes indeed many trials and errors to get the timing right. With my camera, half-pressing the button actions the automatic focus. The trick is to keep it half-pressed until I see a good opportunity and then depress it completely. This shortens the delay and thus heightens my chance to get what I want.
Gold & Silver playing with a red ribbon in natural daylight. Perfect pose.
More importantly, make sure to download and look at your photos the same day so you can see (and remember) what worked and what didn’t so you can improve your technique.
Next time you’ll be able to:
- Eliminate those shots when you are too close/too far away or when the light is too poor/too bright.
- Reduce fish eye effects (distortions) by centring your subject and using the zoom option to the maximum
- Identify surroundings/circumstances generating more likelihood of good shots
- Identify the best time/light to take pictures according to the season (and weather)
Again, if you are going to spend dozens of hours on a particular drawing, it is worth spending a few hours getting a good photograph of your subject, remembering that the composition can still be improved afterwards with tools like Photoshop or simply using a different background from another photo.
Earlier attempt at changing the background from a photograph with another.
Like you, I am no expert photographer and for or every hundred of pictures I take:
- One third go straight to the bin (off focus, too dark, white washed, incomplete etc…)
- About half are clear enough but too ordinary to draw
- 10 to 15 may show good action shots but with little flaws
- Only 1 to 3 of them may be what I consider very good photos worth drawing (with or without improvements)
But with digital, who cares? I only print the photograph I will draw and keep the rest classified for future references. And once in a while, oh perhaps one photo out of a thousand or so, I get lucky and take that “great” shot where everything works.
A great shot of Gold and Silver playing together with a pheasant feather.
Best of luck to all and remember: Keep clicking!
By France Bauduin S.O.F.A.
France Bauduin’s web site.
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