Top Tips for Photographing your Small Pet
Taking pictures of small pets can be difficult. You can’t tell them to pose, and just when you have the camera ready, they stop doing the cute thing they were doing a moment ago. Here are a few tips that may help capture those special moments and do our beautiful little babies justice. These are not tips for professional photographers; they were gathered to improve the every-day snapshots we all take. Our rabbit, Bunny, graciously agreed to model for us in exchange for extra treats. Of course, these tips work just as well whatever type of small animal you’re photographing – be it rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas or any other pet you have.
Whether it’s a pose or a candid moment, composition is key to a great picture. Portraits taken from above can be cute, but it’s worth considering getting down to your pet’s level as well. This might mean lying flat on your stomach, but I promise it’ll be worth it! Also, check the area for distracting objects. Sometimes the trashcan in the corner disappears simply by changing the angle of the shot, and in some cases moving toys out of the way can greatly improve the overall image. Generally it’s a good idea not to leave too much headroom. In fact, it’s recommended to position the eyes, which are generally the focal point of any image, around the invisible line about 1/3rd down from the top.
Unless you have something like this. Then the invisible line along bottom 1/3rd is the better choice.
It doesn’t matter what kind of camera you’re using for daily snapshots as long as there is enough light. After all, you are not trying to create the next billboard in town. Even the cheapest camera can give you decent results with the right lighting. Here are two pictures taken in the bright sun. One of them was taken with an iPad Mini, the other with a DSLR camera (Nikon D90). Can you tell which device took which picture?
If you’re indoors, turn on as many lights as you have available in that particular room. During the day, try having your pet face the window instead of away from it. At night the main source of light is a lamp, so have the pet face it if you can. You generally don’t want to have a light source behind your pet and shoot towards it – unless you’re a professional photographer with special equipment. For example, check out the two pictures below. They were taken with an iPad Mini at around 10pm, so there wasn’t any natural light around. They are both snapshots, but one is a little better than the other. In the first one, Bunny was facing away from the light and there are too many shadows to see his eyes. In the second picture, he had his face turned toward the lamp, which eliminates shadows and makes his eyes visible. I intentionally picked these low quality examples because I wanted to show the difference light can make, no matter what the medium is.
And here is another one. This time the light source was a window.
A good rule of thumb: Position yourself between the per and the light source without blocking it from illuminating the animal’s face for best results.
Outside, it’s best to find consistent shade when you take a picture. That way you avoid distracting shadows and squinty eyes.
Our pets are generally adorable without having to be coaxed to sit in front of a backdrop. Sometimes these moments may take you by surprise, but quite often you might be able to anticipate them. For example, I know that Bunny will hop on top of the laundry every time I fold it while sitting on the floor in the living room. And every evening while we watch TV, Bunny will join us and flop in the middle of the room. Whether it’s an expensive camera, a point and shoot, or some kind of mobile device, I always make sure I have a camera around for these candid moments I don’t want to miss. Because let’s face it: If I have to go get the camera and walk all the way back first, chances are the special moment is gone by the time I get back. The same goes for lighting and my own position. I can often anticipate where Bunny will sit, so I can make sure the area is lit and visible from where I am.
This picture, for example, is one of my favorites. Every time I open the fridge, Bunny hops over to the edge of the carpet and gives me his, “Please give me food, I am starving!” look. One day when I saw the light from the window illuminating his spot just right, I grabbed the camera and opened the fridge… and then this happened.
Maybe a holiday is coming up or maybe you just want to add a special portrait of your pet to the living room wall. Whatever the occasion, sometimes you might want your pet to pose in front of a backdrop with some props. I have tried this many times and ended up with a grumpy rabbit that looked uncomfortable at best in the few pictures I managed to take before he hopped away. And then I realized that forcing Bunny to sit where he doesn’t want to sit is never going to make for a good portrait. Instead, I now build my little scene in a room he regularly hops around in and in such a way that he can enter and exit the “set” at will. Luckily, most little pets are curious by nature and can easily be motivated with food. A few strategically placed treats, a bit of patience, and Bunny will hop right where I want him to. Then I can take my picture. And the best part is, he looks happy and comfortable.
This little trick works best when the pet is most active and hungry. For our Bunny, that’s the early morning or late afternoon/early evening. But it may be different for your pet. Also, you may have to add treats two or three times per session. Having another human there to place treats and tempt the pet is very helpful. This means you can focus on getting the pictures. Be prepared that for every 20 pictures you take, one might turn out well. So click away! And if your pet isn’t having it, try again some other time. After all, you don’t want to scare or stress them.
By the way, a little bit of fabric taped to the wall is a wonderful and affordable choice for a backdrop! And if you’d rather step it up a bit, Bubblegum Backdrops is an online company that offers all kinds of backdrops in sizes as small as 24×24”, which is perfect for small pet photography. Vinyl is slippery, though, so if your pet avoids hardwood, tile, and linoleum, better pick a rug instead of a floordrop.
These are just a few tips to improve the snapshots of our small pets. But then again, if you’re this cute, nothing else really matters.
Oh, and in case you were wondering: The left picture above (picture 3, of the grass) was taken with the iPad Mini, the right one with the DSLR…
Note: This article was written by Christina Chivers from bunnyapproved.com through our ‘Contributing Writer’ scheme. If you’re interested in becoming a Contributing Writer for Small Pet Select, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org