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Before I get into the details of my pet photography tips, I want to make it clear that I am not a professional. I’ve loved photography and it’s been a hobby of mine since I was in middle school! I’ve learned a lot through the years and I want to pass my knowledge along to others.
This round of pet photography tips also applies to those that have a DSLR (interchangeable lens camera). I currently have an older Nikon D3200 with an 18-55mm kit lens. It’s my go-to over my iPhone 11 Pro. That being said, you don’t need a professional to take great photos!
Get to Know Your Camera
If you’re new to photography, you’ll want to get to know your camera. READ THE MANUAL. I literally just read my manual the other day and learned something new about using the viewfinder!
The more you learn about your camera, the more comfortable you will be changing settings and using manual mode. I find myself changing settings frequently when I photograph my pets, so it’s super helpful to know exactly what buttons to press.
Adjust Your Shutter Speed
When I started photographing my dogs more, I struggled with blurry and over-exposed pictures. That’s why our next pet photography tip is to adjust your shutter speed! Your shutter speed is measured in seconds or fractions of seconds. The longer (bigger number) your shutter speed, the more light enters the lens. Alternatively, a shorter (smaller number) speed won’t let as much light through.
I shoot with a shutter speed anywhere from 1/200s to 1/1250s. Between my shaky hands and my pets moving about, I need a fast shutter speed. This also causes my photos to be extremely dark before editing. I definitely change my shutter speed the most between all other settings.
Change Your Focal Length (Zoom)
If you have a prime lens, you can skip this tip! If you have a zoom lens, try changing your focal length! You can change the entire perspective of an image by changing the focal length. A lower focal length (ex. 18mm) will give you wider angle photos. Conversely, a high focal length (ex. 55mm) will give you a closer image to what our eyes see. You can have an even higher focal length, like 300mm for more zoomed in photos, but I haven’t used these types of lenses yet.
I’m constantly changing my focal length when I take photos of my pets. When I want to show Jack chasing a frisbee, I usually use an 18mm focal length. When I want to take a beautiful portrait, I usually use a focal length between 35-55mm. Your focal length is one of the easiest settings to change if you have a zoom lens. Change it up and discover what focal length you like in different environments!
Keep ISO Settings Low
Our next pet photography tip is to keep ISO settings low. Your ISO setting is how sensitive your camera’s sensor is to light entering the lens. A low ISO means it’s less sensitive. Conversely, a high ISO means the sensor is more sensitive.
When your shooting, it may be tempting to crank up your ISO settings to make your photos brighter. Don’t! A lower ISO will give you less grain in your pet photos. I tend to shoot under-exposed images because they’re easier to correct than over-exposed. You don’t want your images to be too dark, but try taking them darker than you’re used to. You’ll be surprised how much you can brighten images.
Sometimes it’s not possible to use a super low ISO setting. That’s fine! I always start at ISO 100 and move my way up as necessary.
Play With Your Aperture (F Stop)
Changing your aperture can change the entire dynamic of your photo. Your aperture is how far your lens opens. If you have a high aperture, like f/1.8, your lens will be more open. If your aperture is low, like f/16, your lens won’t be as open. Aperture directly controls how much light can pass through your lens at a given moment.
Aperture also controls the depth of field for your image. A high aperture means a low depth of field, which means you’ll have more background blur, or bokeh. A low aperture will give you a high depth of field and less bokeh.
Changing your aperture can create stunning portraits for your pets or give you amazing scenic shots! If you’re not comfortable changing a lot of settings on your camera, definitely focus on changing your aperture. I think it’s one of the most important aspects of creating stunning photos.
I tend to shoot all my photographs at home with a high aperture of f/3.5 (max for my current lens). I adore bokeh and I try to maximize it as much as possible. If you were going out on a hike with your dog, a low aperture of f/16 might me better! Just play around with it and see what you like the best!
Try Manual Focus
Try out manual focus if you’ve never used it! I avoided using manual focus for the longest time, but I’ve been really getting into it recently! I like using manual focus when photographing my smaller pets (reptiles and fish). Sometimes auto focus will focus on background items or won’t focus at all with smaller animals.
You can totally use manual focus on any subject though! If I’m only shooting one type of dog photo, I’ll usually try getting it with manual focus first. For example, when I take action shots, I try to use manual focus. In the photo below, I used a tripod and threw a ball to Jack in the same spot over and over again. I knew where he was going to stand and jump, so it was easy to use manual focus.
Shoot in RAW Format
Our next pet photography tip is to shoot in RAW format! I’m not an expert in photography, but the way I understand RAW is that it’s a format that doesn’t over compress or process photos. What does this mean for you? It means that you won’t lose details in your photos! Editing is also much easier with RAW format photos, in my opinion.
I tend to photograph my dogs when they’re moving, so I usually have a very fast shutter speed. Faster shutter results in less light, meaning a darker photo. RAW images give you the ability to extremely lighten up your photos without them becoming too grainy or distorted.
Practice Sit and Stay Commands
Although this last pet photography tip won’t apply to all animals, it’s essential for the dog owners out there!
For the ultimate dog model, you should try practicing your sit and stay commands! Getting your dog to hold a pose will give you so much flexibility in your photos. From model bandanas to the perfect sunset photo, sit and stay commands will be your best friend.
Truthfully, I need to work on this aspect. Jack gets so excited when we go out for photos that it’s been hard for me to get a good pose with him. Odin is a bit easier, but as a Great Pyrenees, he doesn’t like to listen.
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