The background is in place, the camera has a fresh battery and newly formatted memory card, and the flash is in place. You have taken some test shots using a stand-in and are now ready for your pet to get their portrait taken. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Clean up your pet. A quick brush to get the coat looking good and a face wipe to get rid of any unwanted eye crusties or drool will save a reshoot later. Make sure the collar is on or off, depending on what you want, before bringing the pet over to the makeshift studio.
- Get down. You need to get down to your pet’s level to shoot the portrait head on. So many photos are ruined because the photographer looked down at the pet rather than at the pet. It makes a big difference.
- Focus on the eyes. The pet’s eyes need to be in focus for the shot to be a keeper. Now, a lot of dogs’ faces are long. This means that to get the eyes and the tip of the nose all in focus, you need to be farther back and use an aperture that gives you a relatively deep depth of field. An aperture of f/8.0 or f/11 works well.
- Pick your focus point. Be sure your camera is set to manual—not any of the auto modes—so you can control which of the focus points the camera is using. When the camera picks the focus point, it uses the closest thing to the camera, which will be the pet’s nose, not the eye. Make sure you have picked the single focus point and it’s on the eye.
- Shoot as much as possible. As long as your pet is sitting in the right spot, keep shooting. Avoid the temptation to shoot as quickly as possible. If you do this, you will soon find that the flash is not firing. Pause between each shot to let the flash recycle. It helps to start with freshly charged batteries in the flash as they recycle quicker.
- Be patient. OK, despite all your careful setup and planning, things might not work the first (or second) time. It’s important to be patient and not get frustrated or upset. Your pet will pick up on your mood and it will show in the images. If things seem to be getting tense, stop, walk away for a while, and come back at a later time. You might just need to wait a few minutes or the shoot might need to wait for a new day.
An assistant used a favorite treat to keep Gigi’s attention for a photo shoot in her family’s living room. The whole shoot lasted less than a minute, and I was only able to shoot six frames before she decided to wander off.