Feature Image by: Love Pets

Pet Photography Tips with Jenn Cooper

Canon Collective Ambassador Jenn Cooper is as passionate about photographing the wildlife of Ethiopia as she is about shooting her furry family members. Here she explains how you can shoot studio-style portraits of your pets at home, with tips on everything from recommended camera gear and settings to lighting, posing and framing techniques.

“For many of us, our pets are regarded as treasured members of the family, so it makes total sense that we want to take professional-looking photos of them.”

 Jenn Cooper

We love our ‘fur babies’ in the same way as we love our children—throwing them birthday parties, spoiling them with gifts and showering them with more than their fair share of affection. Whether you share your home with cats, dogs, snakes or parrots, it’s time to grab your camera and use these creative pet photography tips to capture their unique personalities.

Brown Labrador close up
Canon EOS 1D X Mark II, EF 24-70mm ii Lens, 1/200 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400, Photograph by Love Pets

Illuminate Your Shadow – Pet Photography Lighting Tips

One of the main differences between our every day happy snaps and professional-looking images is the quality of the lighting. Regardless of what camera you use, understanding good lighting is the key to transforming your photography and will really make your pet shine. The trick is to avoid direct sunlight when working with natural light. It tends to cast strong shadows and high contrast on your subject, which is not desirable for shooting either human or pet portraits. Instead, try to move your pet out of harsh light and photograph them in soft window light if shooting indoors, or in the shade when photographing outdoors. The best time to shoot outdoors is in the “golden hours” of early morning and late afternoon when the light is diffused and low to the horizon.

To take your lighting to the next level, consider investing in a reflector for your pet portraits. They’re marvelous tools and essentially allow you to reflect light back onto your subject to fill in any shadows, for a more balanced look. Combine your light reflector with a pair of Canon 600EX II Speedlights and you’ll have a very powerful lighting solution.

Chihuahua playing with tennis ball
Canon EOS 1D X Mark II, EF 24-70mm ii Lens, 1/200 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400, Photograph by Love Pets

Set the Scene – Studio-Style Backgrounds

For a pro-studio-look, whether shooting indoors or out, make yourself a plain background using black or white paper to photograph your pets against. Be sure to place your subject a couple of metres in front of the paper to avoid shadows. The same goes for photographing against a plain wall: by moving your pet away from the background you will add a sense of depth to your images and eliminate shadows.

Labrador shaking hands with Jenn Cooper
Canon EOS 1D X Mark II, EF 24-70mm ii Lens, 1/200 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400, Photograph by Love Pets

Prepare to Pounce – Pet Photography Camera Settings


Aperture

For a picture-perfect portrait of your pet, I recommend using a wide aperture to achieve a shallow depth of field. For example, my EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens has a maximum aperture of f/1.4, which is perfect for capturing sharp detail in the eyes while also getting that creamy, soft blurred background. Whichever lens you use, select the lowest F-stop number that it will allow to achieve this sort of look. Make sure single point focus is enabled on your camera and use this point to focus on the eye closest to the camera.

Shutter Speed

If you want to photograph an action shot of your pet then your camera setup will need to be slightly different to what you would use when shooting a posed subject. When capturing your pets on the move, select a fast shutter speed to freeze the action. For example, 1/1000th of a second should stop them in their tracks, whether they’re running, jumping or flying. You may also need to use a telephoto lens to get close-ups of moving subjects, so consider changing your lens to change your perspective. I like using the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 USM Lens for my action shots.

ISO

In general, you’ll want to use a low ISO of around 100 to 400 to avoid introducing noise into your images. You may have to increase your ISO when shooting in shadows or at faster shutter speeds, however. Just be sure to review your shots and always aim to keep it as low as possible.

Auto Focus

With most Canon cameras you can change the auto focusing system from One Shot to AI Servo to assist with tracking moving subjects. With AI Servo selected, simply hold down the focusing button while you follow the subject through the lens to get nice sharp action shots—especially when they’re moving quickly towards your camera. You might also find using the high-speed drive mode is beneficial as it will allow you to capture ‘bursts’ of images from which you can choose your favourite. One Shot will typically be the best focusing system for pet portraits when your subject isn’t moving, so this is normally a good place to start.

Brown pug looking up
Canon EOS 1D X Mark II, EF 24-70mm ii Lens, 1/200 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400, Photograph by Love Pets

Who’s a Good Boy? – Pet Photography Posing and Composition Tips

Keeping your pockets full of pet’s favorite treats and toys will help you hold their attention while you capture their natural expressions. Be ready to take your shots quickly as there are no second chances in pet photography. Much like children, our furry friends don’t stay still for long, so it’s important to prepare yourself and your camera before calling for their attention.

Note that although I use chew toys and lots of balls while trying to get certain poses from the animals I am photographing, I generally try not to include them in the frame. Slobber-covered toys are great for getting their undivided attention, but they don’t look so good in photos. Be mindful of your composition and what you choose to include in your frame. By avoiding distractions in the frame wherever possible, we can ensure the focus is on our pet and also save a lot of time in post-production.

Brown chihuahua catching balls
Canon EOS 1D X Mark II, EF 24-70mm ii Lens, 1/200 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400, Photograph by Love Pets

Roll Over – Pet Portrait Perspectives

Try to photograph your pets at their eye-level to capture the world they live in from their unique perspective. Getting down low can give a more interesting feel to your images, although much can also be said for shooting from a high angle too. My approach is to photograph from a range of different perspectives, including a worm’s-eye view and a bird’s-eye view. Also, don’t forget to capture the little details with a series of close-up shots.

If your Canon camera has Wi-Fi then also be sure to download the Camera Connect App. This will allow you to get in the photos with your pet and trigger your camera’s shutter using your phone.

Sleepy dog yawning big
Canon EOS 1D X Mark II, EF 24-70mm ii Lens, 1/200 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400, Photograph by Love Pets

Migration Time – Editing and Printing Your Pet Portraits

Once you and your pet have enjoyed a fun photo session, you’re ready to process the files and prepare them for printing and sharing. I edit my photos with a simple routine: I cull the photos that don’t have 100% sharpness in the eyes, as well as poorly composed shots, or shots where I’ve simply missed the moment. Once I’ve identified the best group of images, I then get started with my edits.

Whether you prefer to use Canon’s free Digital Photo Professional Software, Lightroom or Photoshop, the way you edit and style your photos will depend entirely on your personal tastes, as well as the stories you want to tell with each image.

The first thing I always do is crop my images. This is your opportunity to remove any distractions around the edge of the frame and also straighten the photo if needed. Next, I move onto a basic edit of shadows, highlights, contrast, vibrance and clarity. I normally finish with a sharpening mask and apply noise reduction, before exporting my files as large jpegs ready to share and/or print.

Hopefully, this article has inspired you to get out there and capture professional-looking portraits of your beloved pets.

Learn more about Jenn Cooper and consider joining a Canon Collective workshop to hone your pet photography skills.

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