The other day my pet photographing skills were put to the test again. I wanted the dog to pose in a specific way for a portrait painting I was planning. Since I don’t do this on a regular basis (many clients have ready photos for me to paint from) I tend to forget how important it is that the animal is relaxed. This usually doesn’t just happen, even if you take the photos in the dogs own environment. Dogs have a very keen sense on what’s going on around them. They behave different in the presence of a stranger (with me being the stranger) and are highly tuned into the inner workings of their owner in this situation. Of course most owners will be a little tense themselves, maybe feeling put on the spot trying to get their dog to perform to the expectations of the photographer.
Have the camera ready should some photo ops come up but plan on some time to get acquainted with the dog before you shoot. It is equally important to get the owner relaxed and not frustrated if the dog does not act like the perfect photo model.
Playtime off leash and on leash, trying different strategies to get to your desired pose off camera can be helpful. Once the dog feels the owner relax, he will soon relax himself and be more cooperative.
If you want to get more than just good snap shots or desire detailed close ups of an animal I recommend using a digital SLR (single lens reflex) camera. These cameras are improving rapidly, and even lower end digital SLR’s are a huge step up from a point and shoot, providing similar ease of use and are starting to be more affordable. One of the biggest advantage is that one can exchange lenses.
I use a Nikon D 40 with a 18 to 55mm and a 55 to 200 mm zoom lens (dreaming of a 300mm zoom) with a 2 GB memory card. There are several other brands out there that have similar good reviews, one being the Cannon Rebel. I usually have the setting on continuous shoot to capture a moving dog. Unless you are a professional with experience in photographing animals be prepared to shoot a lot. I like to take at least 200 photos knowing that usually one third will be too blurry to use. Another third are commonly just bad poses with the rest being usable. Within that last group I’m lucky to have a dozen or so come out exceptional.
Although it may sound like a lot of work, the whole experience is immensely gratifying and fun, giving me the opportunity not only to get the perfect photo for my painting, but to steel some quality time with the most remarkable creatures up front and close.