Pet and animal photography is a growing popular niche within the photography community and beyond. It now ranges from beautiful portraits from specialist photographers such as Alyssa Zalabai using professional equipment including Samyang prime lenses to capturing your very own furry friend on your phone to add to your own Instagram feed.
Knowing how to photograph your pawsome pal can help you get into practicing photography and generating a new hobby/profession. In this blog, we team up with Alyssa Zalabai a portrait photographer to get some tips and tricks of the trade.
Our animals are more than just pets, they are members of our family. The widespread adoration for animals and their rise in social media has led to a “boom” in people wanting professional portraits and photographs of their companions. Not only to share on social media but even on profiles dedicated to their pet entirely! Pet or animal photography is all about capturing their personality, the funny and sweet moments. It can require a sense of patience and numerous skills to master.
Alyssa is a professional portrait photographer based in Liverpool. Over the last 4 years, she has developed her own techniques to create unique stories through all aspects of her portrait photography!
The reason why I love to shoot portraits is I love to look at people’s/animals’ faces and the stories they tell, I especially enjoy the connection I have with my subject and hope the viewers see this through my photographs.
Lenses are what make your photograph what it is. A different focus comes from the aperture on your piece of glass. The wider the aperture, the less of the scene will be in focus. The background becomes increasingly blurry because of the shallow depth of field – this adds interest to your image and draws the viewers’ attention to the in-focus subject, cutting out distractions.
When shooting pets, you have to expect that they won’t stay still, not for very long at least, so fast lenses are essential. What I use the most is the Samyang AF 135mm f1.8, this lens is perfect in isolating my 4-legged models due to its amazing background separation, plus I can give a good space for them to run and play. I also use Samyang AF 85mm f1.4 and Samyang AF 50mm f1.4 MKII.
A pet photographer will have more in their bag than just a camera kit. They will need accessories like an off-camera flash and a camera cleaning kit. To get the attention of pets outdoors, toys and treats will make you more approachable and the animal more engaged, taking direction if they know they will get something out of it.
(Bag featured below is the Langly Alpha Globetrotter XC)
I find taking photos of pets to be the simplest one, but not the easiest so I don’t bring much with me apart from 2 different focal lengths, 135mm and 50mm. Since you can’t really talk to these furry fellas, I bring a squeaky toy with me just to grab their attention. I also have a lens accessory I put on my lens to have that extra bit of element I can use to make them look at the camera. I normally ask the owners to bring their own treats as their pets may have special diets. With all the physical gear, you need to have an open mind, lots of patience and a fun attitude.
Take some time to create a general guide for the photoshoot beforehand. Focus on the emotions you want to evoke rather than on specific compositions, this will allow you to think about the expressions and mood you need to recreate without getting frustrated about not getting the exact image you pictured beforehand. Remember that pet photography can be unpredictable, as your model might not feel like giving you the shot you are looking for. If that happens, allow yourself to move on, look for a different approach and go with the flow of the shoot.
Images shot from eye level are usually more attractive to viewers and also connote empathy. This is especially important when working with subjects that are much smaller than you, such as the ones you will be working with during pet photography sessions.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that every single one of your pet portraits should be taken from the same perspective. Simply keep your natural, standing viewpoint for a few, selected shots.
Animals rarely have any clue there is a camera in front of their face. Focusing too much on the photos and ignoring the furry friend may make them confused, frightened, and frustrated.
Make sure you spend enough time petting and playing with your subject to make them feel more at ease, even if that means you miss a few picture opportunities – this is imperative when photographing other owners’ animals to ensure you gain and maintain trust throughout the session.
It can be easy to ignore a background scene when you have a lovely, fuzzy companion looking adorable in front of your camera. However, the background will stand out once you are looking at a still image.
Before you start getting “snap happy” look out for elements you definitely want to keep away from your compositions. Examine your surroundings –rather than in a specific area as pets/animals will likely move around during the photo shoot, especially if you are outside.
The background is very important to any type of portrait, with pets, just make sure that you take photos of them with a less busy background, preferably where there is a bit of space to move around as they may not stay still for the camera. If that isn’t possible, I usually just fix my background in the post-process.
Animals are like emotional sponges and will pick up on if you are stressed and not having fun, if you are not having fun - they probably won’t either. Of course, this is easier said than done as pet photography requires much more patience and perseverance than most other types of photography. Whenever you feel like the shoot is getting too much it might be time to take a break…
Photoshoots can be exhausting for both the photographer and the model. This magnifies in pet photography. Because of this you should keep your sessions to no more than two hours and allow for breaks in between. That means complete breaks for both of you, where the camera is put away for a few minutes and you are just enjoying each other’s presence.
Some may even take time beforehand to get to know their subject if it is someone else’s animal so there is a connection, and the animal feels more at ease in the situation. You can then revisit playing and getting to know them more in breaks to build on that connection.
Happiness starts with a wet nose and ends with a tail!
If you have a pet or have ever interacted with a dog, cat, guinea pig, or ferret; the list goes on, you know just how true this saying is.
So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that pet photography is one of the fastest-growing genres, with thousands of dedicated photography websites created every year. We can’t deny that an animal’s inherent cuteness definitely plays a big role in the popularity of pet photography however, there is so much work behind each photo. We hope that this article has given you some helpful tips and advice on what to expect when working with furry friends in the photography industry and how Holdan’s portfolio of vendors can help.
You could also win your very own Samyang AF 85mm F1.4 FE II lens and a Langly Weekender Duffle Bag by heading over to our Facebook page and helping us reach 1,000 followers. For more information check out our Facebook Pinned Post: https://www.facebook.com/holdanlimited
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