Pets are part of the family — and adorable, photogenic ones to boot. But it can be tricky to take photos of those furry family members, so we asked professional photographer Mary McGurn of McGurn Media to share a few of her tips for getting good shots of your pet. She would know — she’s the volunteer photographer and videographer for the Berkshire Humane Society, a no-kill shelter in Berkshire County, Massachusetts (you can read more about them here). Take a look at one of her pet adoption videos to see her pet photography, and then read on to find out how to you can best photograph your own pet’s portrait.
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- Don’t move too much or make too much noise. Unless you want your pet to look up or in a specific direction, it’s best to minimize distractions — which means keeping movements slow and not making too much noise. Dogs may charge the camera, and cats might run away.
- Know what story you want to tell. Even though she doesn’t know the shelter animals, Mary said, “When I photograph and film, I have an outline of a story in mind.” You can change the story, but it’s helpful to have your setting and props planned out in advance.
- If possible, work with a partner. Mary shared, “Since I photograph shelter dogs, I’m faced with no owner control or fully known animal behaviors. To help me, I always photograph with one of the shelter staff armed with treats.” Even with the friendliest animals, it can be helpful to have a second person engaging your pet so you can take photos.
- Focus on your pet’s personality. When Mary photographs shelter dogs, she takes time to observe their behaviors — “the dog’s response to any commands, its walk, its stance, its play behavior, its interaction (snuggling, kissing, response to touch in general) with a human and its ability to be quietly at rest.” But for pet owners it’s a little easier. Since you already know your pet’s personality, think about what they love — whether that’s sleeping, eating, or playing, or focus on a quirk or characteristic that makes them special. That way you’ll capture a moment that represents what your pet is really like.
- Get down to your pet’s level. Another tip Mary shared was to always shoot at eye level. It gives your photos the feeling of a portrait rather than a simple snapshot, and helps you better capture the personality and expression of your pet.
- Shoot for the eyes. While you’re down at eye level, Mary also suggests getting snaps where your pet’s eyes are on the camera. Even after she’s done photographing shelter animals, she edits her photos with eyes in mind. “I mostly crop tight on the face, subtly enhance the eyes and use a hint of a vignette to keep focus where I want it most — on the eyes.” It creates a connection that makes for a better portrait.
- Take a lot of photos. Part of taking a successful pet portrait is persistence. Mary told us, “I take at least 200 photos of my subject (and film countless short 10- to 30-second videos) so I can find the expressions or actions that will tease the viewer’s heart; that will possibly open the door to the animal’s adoption.” It also helps to get creative, moving around your pet to find interesting shots.
- Have treats ready for dogs. To keep your pooch focused on her photoshoot, have a handful of treats ready to reward her for performing. Just make sure to be ready if your pup gets too excited and charges the camera.
- Hurry up and wait for cats. Though she Mary told us that she does coax cats to play with toys, that strategy works best with kittens. “With a cat as a subject, I tend to sit, wait and follow their lead,” since too much motion can scare kitties away. Once a cat feels comfortable, you can catch it in action, even if that action is just lounging adorably.
Have you caught your dogs or cats being cute and cuddly? We’d love to see them! Share your pet videos in the comments below, or reach out on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram by using the hashtag #MyAnimoto.