There’s a saying that you should never work with animals and children. But if you stick with that rule, you will be missing out on a lot of beautiful and candid shots.
Pet photography is a lot of fun (kids are too, but that’s another article) and presents many exciting challenges that will build your skill and help you become a better photographer overall.
The nature of pet photography means that photographers will need to remain mobile and be able to adjust their shooting strategy to take advantage of the moment.
Check out the following tips on how to capture fantastic images of pets.
Equipment to Get Started in Pet Photography
A well-trained dog may sit still for a treat, but it will only last a moment. And, anyway, images of dogs at rest aren’t the best use of your photography skills.
You will capture the most captivating photos while the pets are doing what comes naturally to them.
Your subjects will definitely not be staying still, so you will need a kit that can be easily adapted at a moment’s notice.
Micro four-thirds cameras are now an excellent option for photographing pets in a wide range of conditions.
You could go DSLR, but you may not want to be carrying around a heavy pack while running around with fast-moving pets.
There is a wide range of lenses available for micro four thirds, so a plethora of choices will be available when it comes to getting the right lens to suit your style of photography.
Pet Photography Using a Telephoto Lens
Telephoto lenses are excellent for getting great shots of dogs outdoors as they run and play.
If you are photographing other people’s dogs, they will not be accustomed to your presence and may not cooperate. The noise of your camera may also disturb the animal.
If dogs are shy or refuse to settle down, the telephoto lens allows you to keep some distance, so you no longer provide a distraction.
In these sessions, you can keep your distance from the animal while it gets accustomed to your presence. A neat trick to get the animal to look your way for a candid shot is to use a squeaky toy.
Zoom in on the animal, make a noise to get its attention, and when they look your way, you can get your shot in.
Telephoto lenses are also an excellent strategy to get images of owners and dogs interacting.
Some of the most amazing shots you will ever capture of a dog are when it is running directly at you. Lay down flat on the ground and get the owner to call the dog.
As the dog runs directly towards you, try to keep the focus on its eyes as you do a few burst shots. And don’t forget to brace for impact, it’s all part of the fun.
You are capturing fast action, so expect most of the images to be out of focus. That said, the real fun comes when you find those hidden gems after the shoot.
Using a telephoto lens opens a ton of versatility in your shooting options. You can get some great close-ups, but you will also appreciate the ability to capture action shots and get some diversity in your session.
Recommended Telephoto Lens for M43 Pet Photography
The Olympus M. Zuiko Digital 12-200mm f/3.5-6.3 may be the perfect all-rounder for pet photographers.
Weighing in at 455 grams, and 99.7mm in length at the 12mm position, this lens is very portable, even when attached to the camera.
The close focusing capabilities of the M. Zuiko aren’t too shabby either with a focal length of 10 cm at the 12mm focal length (one-tenth life-size magnification).
A 200mm lens on an M43 gives it a 16.6x zoom range (equivalent to 24-400mm in 35mm format).
The narrower field of view when shooting at longer distances may prove an advantage when shooting at the local park.
You can get a tighter focus on the subject while preventing the surrounding populace and other distractions from getting into the shot.
Weather sealing, while not as heavy-duty as some other lenses, means that this lens can handle light showers or the occasional tangle with a park sprinkler.
For those genuinely amazing shots in pet photography, you can can’t go past an ultrawide lens.
If you are photographing other people’s pets, you will need to be at a stage where the animal is comfortable with you and the camera, because you will be getting up real close.
Use toys and treats and talk calmly to the pet to get its attention.
Depending on your lens, the pet will be very distorted in the image, so these types of shots are great for capturing the emotion of the animal.
If you’re outside, you will also be able to get some fascinating contrast from the landscape behind the pet.
Take Advantage of the Back-Button Focus
Many photographers don’t trust the back button focus method, but that’s because they haven’t given themselves enough time to get used to it.
With pets, you often don’t have time to wait for your camera to refocus. If you pre-focus the shot and use the camera’s back button focus, you will score more of those hard to get images.
Get Down to The Pet’s Level
Many people will shoot from standing height when photographing pets, but the more interesting compositions will come from when you shoot from their perspective.
For a cat lounging on a warm windowsill, you may only have to crouch just a little, but for a kitten or a chihuahua, you are going to have to get all the way down to ground level.
Pet photography is going to put you in some awkward positions; if you’re planning on making it a regular thing you may have to work at being more flexible and stretchier.
Animals can get flighty when you are continually moving position, so practice using your camera at arm’s length (another great reason to have a light and compact M43 setup)
If you wanted to branch out and expand your photography skill sets, then pet photography opens a whole new world of fun, engaging, and creative photography opportunities.
If you are photographing professionally, you will also be able to tap into yet another market that you otherwise would not have access to.
As always, experimentation will yield the greatest rewards.
Before you start a pet photo business, practice your skills by donating time at rescues and shelters, and help those pets get adopted! They always need high-quality photography to help their animals find forever homes. Here’s another great resource on pet photography.