Using Photography to Sell Pets (…or how to make your monkey look like a million bucks!) If you’ve ever tried to get a photo of a litter of kittens to advertise on your website, you truly know what it’s like to herd cats! Photography is the single biggest tool you have to promote your animals, so it is wise to learn the best techniques to make your photo sessions a success.
Has this happened to you? Your kennel’s new litter is absolutely the most amazing set of pups you’ve ever produced. Yet since you posted the photos on your site, there hasn’t been even a single phone call. The likely culprit is that your photographs just don’t show how special these dogs are. Sure, photography isn’t your strong suit, but with practice, your photos can do justice to the animals you breed.
Plan for perfection
Timing, as they say, is everything, and that is particularly true of photographing pets. Animals are least active when they are sleepy, or right after they have awakened. Don’t expect a puppy full of energy to sit still while you shoot a portrait. It’s not going to happen, and you’ll only get annoyed. Instead, get all your equipment set up at the animals' level and leave it there until morning. Either creep in and awaken the litter for quick photos, or wait until they are ready to doze after breakfast to shoot your pictures.
Even when the weather doesn’t encourage shooting pictures outdoors, natural lighting is still the best. If you can’t go outside, do your best: bare every window, angle every blind, open every shutter and fill the room you are going to shoot in with as much natural light as possible. If you’ve got one, use a handheld flash so you can bounce light away from the animal – direct flashes only scare them, and once frightened, your subject will not stay for the rest of the pictures. In fact, it may never come near a camera again.
The eyes have it
Of course, every part of your pet is perfect – but it’s the eyes that grab potential buyers, and delight the pet owner. Most pet photography fails to excite because it doesn’t get close enough to really show the eyes of the animal. Concentrate your focus on the eyes and the picture will instantly improve. Fill the screen with their gaze and the picture will sell the animal.
Level the playing field
The best photographs are those where the subject’s gaze is level with the camera. This means you’ll need to get down to the turtle’s level or use a ladder to get up to the horse’s level. Either way, you want the lens looking straight into their eyes (see above). Otherwise, the viewer will never see the full face of the pet. Do not make the mistake of shooting the family dog from across the room, standing at your normal height – the purpose of this photo is to show the dog, not your living room, not the kitchen window. The dog ought to be the biggest thing in the picture.
Just because you’re ready to take pictures doesn’t mean your animal feels the same. You won’t get the photo you desire if you pull the cat away from the scratching post. Best for you to go to the animal and catch it candidly.
Sure, you want to show the whole kitten, but the way to instantly intrigue the potential buyer is to shoot different aspects of the animal with a close up or macro lens. Instead of the entire animal, snap the shutter focusing on just one factor – the curve of the jaw, the delight of the smile. You’ll have to put several different partial photos up to show the whole animal, but you’ll create much more interest by doing so.
Forget the ‘hold still’ portrait and instead, look at each member of the litter and aim for a personality shot. If your equipment is set up and already down at the animals' level, when that alpha pup starts strutting his stuff, you’ll be ready to capture it. When the shy one hides behind the box and peers out at the others, you’ll be ready. The pictures you take that truly illustrate the nature of the beast are the ones that capture buyers. It’s the pictures that show the nature of the animals we love that we place on the mantel.
Get a helper or two when you’re ready to take your photographs. Position one near the animals and one further away. When you lose the gaze of the animal, have a helper clap hands or yell to startle the litter and get them all to look up. Jumping, stomping, whistling – your aides can do all sorts of noisy things to distract and redirect the gaze and attention of the creatures you’re photographing.
We’re used to budgeting our day and assigning reasonable amounts of time to complete the tasks we have before us. Animal photography doesn’t subscribe to that technique. Decide on how much time you think this project will take – then triple it. Patience is the key with animals, and the only way you’ll get the perfect shot is to spend the time necessary for every pet to be at ease and oblivious to the camera and you.
More and more Ever see a professional photographer at work? If you have, you’ll remember they shoot constantly. Of course, they have a motor-driven camera, but you can and should take the same approach. Most of us amateurs shoot a picture and then step back and wait for the next opportunity. Instead, just keep shooting. Don’t even attempt to frame each shot, or to ensure you’ve got every kitten looking your way. Just click and click and click some more. When they’ve all fallen asleep, head to your computer, look at all the shots, and delete the bad ones. The ones you have left will be terrific!
How to Photograph Pets by Darren Rowse, Digital Photography School.com
How to Take Creative Pet Photos by Erin Neumeyer, eHow.com
Pet Photography Tips by Sarah Theophilus, petsinpastel.com
How to Take Pictures of Pets, Unattributed, Photography.com