By Peggy Scott | SDUN Columnist
‘Twas the month before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring—except the one you’re trying to take a picture of for your holiday cards. Nothing spreads the holly jolly spirit of the holiday season like a cute greeting with a pet’s likeness. Getting that perfect photo of your non-human companions can be, well, like herding cats. (No offense, feline fans. Everyone knows that a cat’s “You want me to do what?” attitude is part of their charm.)
With a few tricks of the photography trade under your belt, however, you’ve got a better shot at getting that shot. David Veit, whose Mission Hills-based photography business, David Veit Photography, focuses on environmental dog photography. He noted that preparation makes perfect.
“Set up your shot beforehand. Get the camera settings set ahead of the sitting,” Veit explained. “And if there are going to be people in the photo, get them settled first.” He also recommends letting the pet—dog or cat—sniff the camera beforehand. “Present the camera so the animal becomes desensitized to something new.”
Veit is also a big believer in pre-session playtime.
“They’re more likely to sit still if they’ve had some exercise.”
Veit said that the best pet photos are those that really allow the viewer to connect with the subject.
“Get the pet to look at the camera. There are a few good options for getting their attention: food and funny noises,” Veit said. “I carry a treat. Sometimes I’ll set a treat on top of the camera, or wave a favorite toy. I even have a squeaky toy newspaper I slap on my leg to make a weird sound they can’t help but look at. You’ll have their full attention.”
Melanie Snowhite, a photographer in Julian who specializes in equine and canine photography, has found that creating a connection between subject and viewer can be a matter of perspective.
“Take your camera and get down on the same level as your pet,” Snowhite explained. “That eye-to-eye (connection) is very effective.”
Snowhite said that when it comes to the perfect recipe for getting a pet’s attention, there most certainly can be too many cooks in the kitchen.
“Put one person in charge of the camera, and one person in charge of capturing the pet’s attention. Otherwise it’s too distracting and overwhelming,”
Snowhite said, adding that she has her own repertoire of pet-enticing sounds.
“My iPod is loaded with animal sounds,” she said. “You’ve got one or two curious, intent looks from a pet when it hears a strange sound, after that, they’ve figured it out and lose interest. And the time you’ll have that attention is short. If a dog starts panting or tucks his ears back, he’s stressed and you’ve lost him,” Snowhite said, adding that a formal “portrait” isn’t necessarily the way to capture your pet’s personality.
She explained that sometimes the best photos come from un-posed, or ‘in the moment’ shots.
Veit advised that should a pet owner want to use some of holiday accessories for their companion’s photo shoot he or she should make sure it’s a pet-friendly version.
“Props can be cute,” Veit acknowledged. “But if you use antlers, use size-appropriate ones. And even for bigger dogs, use the ones made for dogs. They’re built to be more comfortable on a dog’s head and to stand upright.”
Veit added that even simple items you already have can add a little yuletide flavor to a photo.
“Wrap pretty fabric around a pet’s collar, or even your own red scarf can add a seasonal splash,” he said.
Both Veit and Snowhite agreed that your chances of a getting a good picture are better if you use what nature has to offer.
“Natural outdoor light is best,” Snowhite said, although she admits photographing cats is usually easier in an indoor setting. “And the sports mode (setting) gives you a faster shutter speed. I use 1/500th of a second for (photographing) horses or dogs moving around.”
Veit advised budding shutterbugs that must stay indoors to pick the brightest room in the house with natural light. “If you can go outside, that’s good,” he said. “But pick a secluded spot where your pet won’t be too distracted. And keep the leash on if you have to—arrange it behind the pet, out of the shot, or Photoshop it out later.”
Technologically speaking, cameras are making it easier for even the most inexperienced photographer to succeed. Veit suggested taking a gander at the manual for a quick refresher, and to set the light balance (don’t rely on auto). He said that a flash is to be avoided, especially when the animal is looking at the camera. First, it tends to make animals uncomfortable and they may bolt, he explained, adding that it’s likely you’ll wind up with canine green eye.
The key is to stay relaxed and your pet will too. That way, the resulting images will reflect “who” your pets really are. And, and Veit repeated: Don’t forget the treats!