Photography Week: Intro & Basics

After a year and a half of messing around with my Canon EOS 40D camera, I can finally say I am in full blown I-love-you-and-can’t-live-without-you mode with photography.  I find myself not only working every day to improve my own photos, but also studying every aspect of photos I see in my every day life, from advertisements to the portfolios of professional photographers, and noting what I like or dislike about them.

I am still amateur, and most of the time I feel like I’m the most amateur of all the amateurs, but the truth is that I’ve learned a TON over the last year about how to work your camera and capture a good photograph.  This week on the blog will be dedicated to photography. I will cover many aspects of photographing animals, starting with the basics to post-processing and end results.

I would never have gotten anywhere without starting with the basics when photographing my foster dogs.  I think it was Love & a Six-Foot Leash that first turned me on to some of the best petography tips I’ve learned, and they’ve stuck with me ever since.  It doesn’t matter what camera you use at this point – a point & shoot or a DSLR – these tips are mostly about controlling aspects besides your camera.

My top tips for photographing pets are as follows (and a lot of them you’ve probably heard before, like on Kate with a Camera, whose awesome blog is much more photography-based than mine):

1. Turn your flash OFF!  Everyone’s gotten a picture of their pups (or cat or bunny) looking like a demon with bright, reflective eyes. Not only does the flash screw with the light in an animal’s eyes, it often reflects off their fur and, in my opinion, creates an unnatural shiny look.  To make sure your photos still turn out well without a flash, move either outdoors or into a spot in your home by a window with lots of natural light.

With a flash: Zee’s fur is shiny and if she looked at the camera she’d have reflective eyes.


Without a flash: Zee is much more natural looking, and you can see more of the soft details or her eyes and fur.


2. Use lots of treats! Or squeaky toys, or tennis balls – whatever your dog will fixate on while you quickly capture the shot. In general, I put the treat in front of their nose with my left hand so they know I have it and then bring it up directly above the lens so that they are looking right at the camera.  The bait has to be pretty high value so that it keeps their attention long enough for you to get a few good photos.  This is how we catch those dreamy “I could stare into your eyes forever” pictures – you know, the ones that really draw adopters in ;-).

In addition to treats, I often use very high-pitched, odd noises to get the animal’s attention. You look like an absolute lunatic screeching and squealing at your subject, but it really gets good results. In the same vein, I try to avoid using their name – I’ve heard and noticed that they’re more inclined to ignore their name quicker than a noise they’re not used to hearing.


3. Be aware of your background – and try to make it as distraction free as possible.  Sometimes you don’t have control over your background, but if you do, see if you can take photos somewhere with a solid backdrop (which is tough to do) or at least a clean and clutter free location.  If I’m outside I really like to shoot against the green grass or even fallen leaves because it makes most dogs pop out of the photo. If I’m inside, I try to avoid areas of my house that are very messy. The shot below of Baxter is cute, but I find the background very distracting. The one following it of Sinclair is an example of how you can use a natural backdrop for your photos.

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Sinclair is still waiting for his forever home! See how perfect of a dog he is in my posts about when he stayed with my family for a few days.

While those three tips are simple, they can make all the difference!  Tomorrow I’ll discuss some advanced adjustments for a DSLR camera.  Many people shoot in auto because they don’t understand manual options, but once you learn about how the settings work and how they can improve your photos, you won’t ever want to go back to automatic!