Thursday, August 11, 2011

Pet Photos 101: Angles, focus, personality...

This should wrap up the photo advice section of the blog. Now you should have lighting issues under your belt, as well as an animal who’s not trying to run to the broom closet every time you pull out the camera. So here are a few more suggestions for taking photos of your pet.

Angle of portrait:

I like to take photos of animals on their own level. Sometimes shots of animals looking up at you are WONDERFUL -- my most recent portrait of Gracie the Weimeraner is done from an up-angle. You can see it at But, unless you WANT the portrait of your animal to be looking up at you, don’t take a photo of them from that angle. Full body portraits, in particular, tend to be more effective when shot at ground level.

So get ready to sit on the grass or lie on the ground. I love this photo I took of one of the MaxFund Shelter cats. And I was lying on the floor (thankfully, it was clean) at the time! So prepare to look foolish! (It helps that I am toddling off into crone-hood and have long since abandoned any pretense of caring what anybody thinks about me. So if you are relatively young and status-conscious, please try to dump that, at least temporarily, and roll around on the ground a little bit!)

Sometimes I put small pets up on fences or shelves—so I can get a low-angle shot. If you know any Chihuahuas, for instance, you KNOW that probably the most personality-appropriate angle you can get of your Chihuahua is by shooting UP at his chin as if you are some character actor in a 50’s film and he’s the 50-Foot Woman getting ready to stomp on you. Because Chihuahuas are absolutely the BIGGEST dogs I know, personality-wise. They have NO idea that their bodies are relatively tiny. And I like the camera angle to SHOW that attitude sometimes!

Also, if your pet absolutely will NOT hold still, you can have someone hold him (if he is small enough for that). It’s easy for me to crop out hands and arms and edit out other restraints, as long as his body’s not in an extremely odd position and as long as his important markings or contours are not hidden.

Focus on the face:

It’s all about capturing the animal’s soul in paint, for me, and that’s best expressed in his or her face—especially his eyes. So take plenty of photographs that are zoomed in on your pet’s face. Make sure they’re also in sharp focus. These don’t have to be right from the front—you can also take some three-quarter angle views from the front (which is also slightly to one side or the other).

Capturing personality:

Some of this is in the face and the expression, but a lot here depends on keeping your pet as comfortable as possible. As mentioned a few days ago, some animals are incredibly camera-shy and a few days of Snausage treats and flash-free photos are not enough to change that!

So…it’s good to have a helper. Someone with treats or toys who will hold them up and distract your pet from the camera.

Again, be ready to be silly. It’s helpful to know how to make as MANY WEIRD noises as humanly possible (clicks, wolf-whistles, kissy sounds, etc.) to get your pet to attend to you and perk his ears up.

Try to capture the most characteristic expression and pose of your pet. That’s what I want you to have in your portrait. So if your pet is generally happy, try to catch him doing his version of a smile. You might have to trick him into playing with a toy or chasing a ball to get that kind of expression. So do that!

The photograph is absolutely key to getting that expression translated into a painted portrait. We can talk about your pet’s personality a lot, but without seeing it, I will have a REALLY hard time painting it!

Happy picture-taking!

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