Expert Tips on Photographing Animals

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We’re all pet lovers at Paws PR—and we’re sure you are too—we asked our favorite photographer, Jason Putsché of Jason Putsché Photography, to give us a few tips on how to capture great photos of our furry friends. Whether you’re shooting adoption candidates for a rescue group or just taking photos of your own pooch or kitty at home, here are a couple techniques to try.

1. Be Patient. Whether you have a professional shoot or are just casually taking photos at home, there can be a lot of waiting for animals to get comfortable in front of the lens.Be calm and have a positive energy. Animals can read people—if you’re relaxed, they’ll be much more comfortable.

To be sure I don’t miss anything I spend most of the time watching the animal through the view finder. That way I’m prepared for the next cute thing my subject throws at me. If you aren’t ready it’s very hard to get your camera up and shooting before the ‘cuteness’ has ended.

2. Bribes and Buzzes. Few things make faster friends than a couple of treats. Introduce yourself with a few pets and a savory snack. Once an animal associates you with food they will give you all the attention you need (for the most part). I often have an assistant or the pet’s owner hold a treat or toy just above the camera lens when I’m trying to get a straight-on shot, with the subject looking directly at the camera.

Another reliable way to get animals’ attention is to make funny noises. Different animals react to different sounds—a meow, hiss, or “pssshh.” I change the octave or pitch a lot; it keeps the animals more interested. With dogs, you sometimes get the added benefit of a confused head tilt. With cats I also use my camera strap, by waving it around, or simply tapping on the lens hood.
3. Light. The optimal lighting situation is natural light. You can be outside, preferable out of the direct sun, in a shaded area—or a window can easily do the trick. (An adoptable cat standing on a window sill in a staple when I’m taking photos for a rescue group.)
If you need to use flash I recommend getting an external flash unit/dedicated flash vs. a built in flash (that is part of the camera). Then you are able to bounce the flash off a wall or something light colored that will reflect to create a more natural looking light. I always avoid direct flash—it’s very unflattering and can create eye-glow (white blown out eyes) similar to red-eye for people.

If you want to take things to the next level, I recommend getting a 50mm lens. Its wide aperture allows you to take photos in very low light without flash and they are relatively inexpensive at roughly $100.

4. Vary your perspective. Don’t be afraid to get down on the ground—get inventive with your angles. We’re used to seeing animals from above, because we are typically taller than household pets. Get on the same level of your subject for a more relatable photo. You can even try taking photos up at an animal from the ground.
You can also get creative with your lens. Zoom in tight, but keep your distance—or zoom out wide and get really close to the subject to create perspective distortion. This technique isn’t typically used with portraits of people because if can distort the face and make body parts look larger than they truly are. Cats and dogs are a little less self conscious.

5. Take A LOT of photos. With digital images, there is really no reason not to take a lot of shots. Set your camera to burst or continuous shooting mode. This is the best way to capture a tongue sticking out or subtle facial movement.

With most photography assignments, I take the batch of photos and edit out the ones I don’t want to keep. With animal photography it’s the other way around. I go through the photos and mark the ones I want to keep. This is primarily due to the volume and repetition in images due to the high rate of capture (i.e. 5 photos per second).

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