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September 10 2010

Today, guest author Emilee Fuss [pictured] talks the basics of pet photography — and the biggest requirement for entering this super-rad photographic field.  Please don’t hesitate to leave her some love or ask her your burning questions! 

Our pets mean so much to us–they’re
not just animals, they’re family members and best friends. They
show unconditional love and remind us to lighten up and live in the
While pets are easy to love, they’re not so easy to

They ignore you when you bring out the camera, or cower
in fear of the big black clicking machine. Or maybe they get so
excited they just won’t hold still! People think I photograph super
well-behaved dogs, but that is NOT the case! I’ve worked with
extremely crazy ones, and super lazy ones. However uncooperative pets
may be, you can still get great photos of them, it just takes lots of
patience, treats, and a fast lens and shutter speed.


The first and most important tip I can
give is this: you must love working with pets in order to photograph
Animals have some kind of sixth sense–they know if you are or
are not an animal person, and if you’re not, they won’t respond
to you well. You can know all of the right camera settings and how to
get the perfect lighting, but if you don’t appreciate and
understand the animals you will be photographing, you won’t get
far. A genuine love and respect for pets is critical to taking great
photos of them.

Also, animals don’t work for free.
Figure out what your subject works best for, be it treats, toys, or
belly rubs.
Know what bribes and rewards make them tick. Sometimes
they have to have their owner close by, other times the owner can be
a distraction. If you find that the pet is distracted by the owner,
or that the owner is stressed, just ask him or her to step back, and
give them the freedom to go do something else, like read a book,
check their email, or call a friend. You want to keep the environment
as calm and relaxed as possible, so both the owner and the pet don’t
get stressed out.


Be very patient when photographing pets
(with the pets and their owners!).
They won’t always do what you
want them to do. They don’t like being forced to pose, so let them
be themselves and capture their real, natural expressions. Work with
their personalities. If the dog likes to run, run, run, then go
outside and play with him! Get photos of him catching his favorite
tennis ball, or looking alert and excited right before the frisbee is
thrown. If you’re working with a couch potato, then let him get on
the couch. Those are the images that will really tell a story and let
the pet’s personality shine.

If you find yourself in a situation
where the pet just won’t hold still for anything, try putting them
on something high, like a chair or bench, or back them up against a
wall, fence, or other barrier.
Use toys, treats, and affection to
encourage them to stay in that space. You could also have the owner
put the pet on a leash, and clone it out later in Photoshop.

For equipment,
you want to use a fast lens and keep your camera set on a high
shutter speed. Pets move quickly and won’t give you much warning
before they dart off!
My newest lens has become my favorite – the
Tamron 28-75 2.8. I can get a nice wide-angle shot and zoom in to get
detail shots all with the same lens. I shoot exclusively in manual
mode, although aperture and shutter priority are good, too. I just
prefer total control with manual. I always use the largest aperture
possible, set my shutter speed as high as I can, and raise the ISO as
needed. Normally I try not to go below a shutter speed of 1/100th
of a second. If I’m in a low-light situation, or am photographing a
black animal, I raise the ISO and use my Nikon 50 1.8 instead of my
Tamron 28-75 2.8. It’s an awesome little lens that I used 99% of
the time for two years, until I got the 28-75 2.8. Both of those
lenses are reliable and affordable, I can’t say enough good things
about them!


While I’m sure I could go on about
camera settings, I want to stress the importance of working with
pets, because you can’t photograph them if you don’t enjoy
working with them. With patience, an arsenal of toys and treats, a
love for and understanding of pets, and a fast shutter speed, you’ll
be on your way to taking great professional photos of man’s best

More questions? Leave a comment and I’ll be happy to answer your questions
as best I can!