by Andrew Darlow
all photos © Andrew Darlow
So often, we see photographs of pets from an adult’s perspective, and they can be charming and beautiful, but at the same time, a bit predictable (dare I say, even a bit boring). In this article, I suggest some ways to explore camera placement options so that you can make your photos look like you’ve been floating around a movie set with a million dollar camera rig.
Lower your Perspective; Make your Subject a Hero
To create what is known as a “hero shot” (so named because it often makes the subject look more “heroic”), all you need to do is lower your perspective so that you are a bit lower than the pet’s eye level (how low will depend on the pet, and experimentation is key).
In this photo of a Weimaraner, photographed in a park on a partly cloudy day at about 1:00 p.m. in late December, his owner was right next to him when I took the shot. I cropped it to a square because I liked that look much more in this case. That’s a bonus tip: use cropping to your advantage and try a few different cropping options in-camera, and while editing your photos on the computer.
Go for the Overhead View
By photographing your pet from a slightly more overhead angle than normal (or directly overhead), you can create some very dramatic looks. Experiment with a wide-angle view from a few feet away, and for fun, take some up-close shots with a wide-angle lens to make your pet’s facial features look “larger than life!”
I photographed this Boston Terrier named Cupid for a magazine’s February issue (you can probably guess which holiday it was for). The rose petals and soft material (it’s a tablecloth) complemented Cupid and her big brown eyes perfectly. I took about 50 exposures to get just the right pose and background.
Photograph your Pet from the Back
Many of my favorite photos are those captured from behind the subject. This perspective often gives a cinematic look that shows the viewer what the subject is seeing. You can work with this approach at many levels, from super wide to a macro view.
I captured this image of a cat and a few birds at a client’s home on a sunny February afternoon. My goal was to have the viewer think about what the cat was thinking at the time. These types of photos can often tell a story, and they can be completely random or set up like in a movie. I used an f/2.8 aperture, which helped to keep the focus on the main characters in the image.
Think Like a Snail
By getting low on the ground (think snail!) and shooting up toward your subjects, you can create some really dramatic imagery. If you are outside, it’s a good idea to bring along some plastic bags to kneel or lie on while taking these types of pictures (one-gallon resealable bags work well). Another option is to use a product I helped develop called GalleryPouch™ bubble bags which are made from laminated bubble material. They provide a waterproof, cushioned surface and they can be rolled up and packed away for when you need them. You can also find foam kneepads at most home improvement stores (look in the carpet or painting section); they are good if you will be standing, then kneeling, because they usually attach via a re-closeable fastener. For real die-hards, heavy- duty skateboard kneepads are another option.
If you plan to do a lot of this type of photography, consider buying a camera with an articulating LCD display (similar to the flip-out screens commonly found on camcorders).
I took this photo of a friend’s bulldog at a park from a very low viewpoint just after noon in the fall. I like how the foreground becomes an important part of the overall picture. It’s a good idea to experiment by including different amounts of foreground in your photos when shooting close to ground level.
As you can see, composition and camera placement both play an important role in just about any photograph, but especially when photographing pets. Above all else, have fun, and the photos will follow!
About the Author
Andrew Darlow is an author, photographer and consultant based in New Jersey, USA. He has lectured and conducted seminars and workshops around the world, and his editorial and fine-art work have been featured in numerous magazines, including Photo District News, Popular Photography, Professional Photographer and Rangefinder magazine. Darlow is editor of The Imaging Buffet www.imagingbuffet.com, an online resource with news, reviews, and interviews covering photo-related topics. His book, “301 Inkjet Tips and Techniques: An Essential Printing Resource for Photographers” (Course Technology, PTR) was chosen as the winner in the “Photography: Instructional/How-To” category of The National Best Books 2008 Awards, sponsored by USA Book News. His newest book is “Pet Photography 101: Tips for Taking Better Photos of Your Dog or Cat” (Focal Press). For more information and tips, visit the book’s companion site at www.PhotoPetTips.com.