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Wed Dec 18, 2013, 10:47 AM

Pet portraits

Last edited Wed Dec 18, 2013, 06:00 PM - Edit history (1)

Here's a few tips regarding pet portraits.

1) Get down at the level of the pet. If the pet is laying on the floor, you may have to lay on the floor as well.
2) Focus on the eyes. If you are using a manual focus camera, or your autofocus camera has a feature that allows you to focus on a particular spot (most do), then try to focus on the eyes.
3) Use exposure compensation or bracket when photographing a dark or light pet. Your camera's meter tries to turn everything to a neutral tone. This works great for people, but not so great for light or dark pets. Experience will teach you how much exposure compensation you need for your pet or you can look at the histogram and chimp for the biggest hump to be in the middle or left for a dark pet or right side of the scale for a white pet while adjusting the exposure compensation. A white dog may take a setting of +2EV and a black dog may need -2EV which is counterintuitive.
4) Unlike a person, your pet doesn't know how to pose for a photograph so pet portraiture is kinda like nature photography in that you simply have to wait for the right moment and hope you capture it. My dogs have always been border collies and they never stay still unless they are sleeping. It takes a lot of patience with them and you just have to accept that you may not get the shot you want when you want it. Persistence pays off.
5) Turn the flash off. Flash photography often freaks pets out which means one shot is all you get and your pet may learn to be afraid of the camera. Turn off autofocus assist lights also, and it's even possible that your pet can see infrared autofocus assist lights that you can't. I generally use manual focus, but this takes a bit of skill to do with pets which may be moving. Using a narrow aperture setting (bigger number) increases depth of field. If you do use autofocus, you'll need more light than you think for the autofocus to work with the assist lights off. Go outside or work in a well lit room.
6) The focal length of the lens translates to how much working distance you have between the camera and the pet. Some pets aren't camera shy and this isn't an issue, but most pets will become more natural when you back off a bit. I generally stay in the 105-135mm focal length range which with my AP-C format camera gives me about 8' or so of working distance. However, two of these shots were taken with a macro lens (it won't be hard to figure out which ones).








This is my all time favorite pet portrait, although it's not the best from a technical standpoint. My first border collie was slowly dying from kidney failure and this is one of the last pictures I took of her. She lived to the ripe old age of 17 and both of my kids had grown up with her. I used my trusty old Nikon 105/2.5 manual focus lens for this shot. I wish I still had that lens and the dog, but sadly both are now gone.






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Reply Pet portraits (Original post)
Major Nikon Dec 2013 OP
dixiegrrrrl Dec 2013 #1
Major Nikon Dec 2013 #2
Curmudgeoness Dec 2013 #3
Major Nikon Dec 2013 #4
Curmudgeoness Dec 2013 #5
Major Nikon Dec 2013 #6
Curmudgeoness Dec 2013 #7
Post removed Sep 2019 #8

Response to Major Nikon (Original post)

Wed Dec 18, 2013, 05:26 PM

1. Oh man, the last one

Those eyes tell so much.

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Response to dixiegrrrrl (Reply #1)

Wed Dec 18, 2013, 05:38 PM

2. She had a good run

We got her from the SPCA who had rescued her from a kill shelter. When we first got her she was about a year old and had a lot of behavioral problems. In a way she was probably too smart for her own good. She could scale a 6' privacy fence. But she was also highly trainable and it just took a bit of time to work her bad habits out.

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Response to Major Nikon (Original post)

Wed Dec 18, 2013, 08:30 PM

3. Beautiful shots. And I completely understand

why that last one is you favorite. It isn't always about great composition or technique.

I have only had one really good portrait of any of my cats, and I was lucky to catch a moment when he was not paying any attention to me. I have tried to do better, by getting the full head in a shot, but he rarely ignores me when I get down on the ground. I believe this one was possible because a bird was nearby.

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/curmudgeoness/7133871483/|" width="640" height="481" alt="Sammy's closeup"></a>

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Response to Curmudgeoness (Reply #3)

Wed Dec 18, 2013, 08:35 PM

4. I can imagine that some cats are definitely going to be challenging

But it sounds like you have the right idea. Find out what distracts them and hope you can catch the right moment. You can see the focus falling off before and after the eye, so it looks like you nailed it.

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Response to Major Nikon (Reply #4)

Wed Dec 18, 2013, 08:41 PM

5. A once in a lifetime chance, I suspect.

I do not come close to the knowledge and ability of people here in Photo Group, but I am trying to learn from suggestions here. (I also do not have the cameras and lenses that people here have, and probably never will.)

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Response to Curmudgeoness (Reply #5)

Wed Dec 18, 2013, 08:53 PM

6. The equipment comes secondary to the photographer

The best thing you can do is learn the equipment that you have and figure out how to get the most out of it. Knowledge is far more powerful than expensive camera equipment. These days even low cost point and shoot cameras have far more capability than most people will ever use.

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Response to Major Nikon (Reply #6)

Wed Dec 18, 2013, 09:21 PM

7. Thanks. I will be less intimidated by the people here

who are so talented.

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