Whether you want a stunning picture of your elegant hound for the wall, to spam social media with your gorgeous pug or are in need of a detailed reference photograph for an art project – you want the best possible image of your pet and all your have is a smartphone.
Any professional photographer will tell you the key elements of photograph are good light, focus and composition. Of course a swanky DSLR with a super-speedy lens (and a few years photography experience) will almost guarantee your beautiful portrait, but actually a smartphone and a few basic ideas can propel you a long way in the right direction.
1) Enough Light
Your camera’s lens reproduces a likeness of the subject by recording the light reflected from it. However good your camera, it can only do this if it picks up enough light. A smartphone will make every attempt to capture an image, so when set to the default “AUTO” setting it will adjust ISO and aperture speed to compensate for low light levels. This is why pictures taken at dusk (for instance) would be grainy and have very low levels of clarity. So it follows that a brighter aspect will allow for a much sharper image.
I prefer to photograph in natural light – close to a window or outdoors on a bright overcast day. A good amount of reflected light will not only feed more information to your lens but allows the lens to work quicker and in the case of animals this can be critical!
Many pets will be far happier outdoors anyway and this will help with creating an environment your in which your pet feels at ease and often in their element.
Given the right lighting conditions there is no need to ever take an out-of-focus picture. Smartphones allow you to select the exact spot to focus the image – which in most cases should be the eye. You can experiment with focussing on different spots. The example below focusses on the nose. It draws attention away from the eye and distances us from the animal. When capturing a portrait this is rarely a favourable look.
3) Avoid Blur
In terms of clarity this is similar to the above. However, it may not be as easy to address. Your pet is lively and doesn’t like to pose for the camera. You could go through any number of ways to tempt them to stay still – plenty of hints can be found here on RedBarn Inc but if all else fails how about just having someone hold the pet on a close rein and you can get in and take a cropped portrait eliminating all exterior clutter – and people.
The ultimate way to avoid movement is to snap your pet while they’re sleeping. This often catches them at their cutest and can make a really quirky portrait. See this article from Digital Photography Review for some great examples.
A busy background can be very distracting – and if your house is anything like mine this is difficult to avoid! Another good reason to take your pet outdoors. Even if you can’t find a suitable vista to place your animal, you can always stand above him/her and make a background out of the ground.
5) Make it Natural
A posed photograph is hard to get, even with the best trained animal, but in general a natural candid portrait is going to show your pet’s character and additionally gives the photographer more freedom.
Give yourself, and your pet, plenty of time to relax. Follow him round with the camera and expect to take lots of really awful pictures – that’s the great thing about digital photography – you can delete the failures and all it cost was your time. Eventually you’re patience will pay off.
6) Plan Ahead
It’s all very well dragging your pet outside when the light is right and he’s in a good mood – but if you have to dash off on the school run in 15 minutes then you’re not relaxed and you will both soon feel the stress. If you think of this as a professional photo-shoot then you may consider that your time is valuable, you will possibly (probably!) do a better job without the kids in tow and that you may even have a better chance at success if you draw up a plan. Give yourself lots of opportunities to try different shots, give yourself breaks and then when you do eventually check through your many attempts you may find some nice surprises.