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Photographing Animals/Pets

Photographing Animals/Pets

Author: Michael Braun
Description:

At the end of the lesson, students understand the basic concepts of photography, particularly composition, depth of field, and lighting. They apply their knowledge by taking a photo of their pet or any other animal. Since most animals don't always follow instructions, students have to be patient and wait for the right moment to take the picture (this is why I prefer to assign a pet portrait to a human portrait), which improves their study skills, because patience and endurance is needed for any task. The students also demonstrate their understanding of the concepts by writing three paragraphs justifying their choice of framing, depth of field, and lighting.

This tutorial is about the basic concepts of photography, particularly composition, depth of field, and lighting.

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Tutorial

Assignment

The assignment is as follows:

  1. 1. Take a photo of your pet or any other animal. But here's the catch: The more outstanding your photo is (i.e. different from the other submissions), the more credits you'll get. You can make your photo special by following the tips below.
  2. Show me you've understood these techniques by writing a composition justifying your choice of composition, depth of field and lighting.

In class we will display all your photos and critique each other's works, finding out which one is the most outstanding.

The Power of Depth of Field

This video explains the depth of field and how the right depth of field helps you highlight the most important part of an image.

What is the rule of thirds and why is it so important?

This video explains the rule of thirds, the most basic composition technique, in detail.

How to Photograph Pets

This video demonstrates how pets (in this case dogs) are photographed best.

How to Photograph Cats

 

Cats are known for their laziness. However, this very treat poses a great challenge for a photographer-how can you take an interesting shot of such a lazy subject? And how can you capture the cat's cuteness without making the picture look like a random snapshot? In short, how can you create something special? Let's find out.

1. Make it special by capturing something special. Although it may look cute, a sleeping cat is too common to be special. However, with the right surroundings, props and lighting you can make a big difference. For example, instead of having the fluorescent lamp on, why not switch it off and illuminate the scene only with the warmer light of the bedside lamp?

If your cat likes sleeping at the window, try to catch the first rays of morning light softly shining through the blinds on the cat's fur. Additionally, reflections also look great, e.g. when the cat is lying on a shiny floor.

2. Do not place the cat in the center of the image. Or positive: Place the main object off-center. Since cats are usually lazy and still objects, placing it in the center makes the picture look static and boring. However, you can place the cat in the center if you want to accentuate symmetry.

3. Go down to the cat's eye level. Most cat pictures are taken from the perspective of the human eye, which looks boring. It's better to take the picture from the cat's eye level-or even from the prey's perspective. 

4. Keep the focus on the cat. Although it can be very difficult, it is important to find the right balance between focusing on the animal and including the right amount of surroundings. Apart from zooming in or cropping the image to eliminate distracting surroundings you could narrow the depth of field, which will result in a sharp animal and a blurry background. You can maximize this effect by choosing a low f-stop number, a short distance to the animal and a high zoom level.

5. Focus on details. Similar to portraits of human beings, taking a detail shot can spice things up. Try it and focus only on a paw, the whiskers or the cat's intimidating eye.

6. Try black and white. Black and white colors make a photo of a kitten appear more intimate and emotive. Keep in mind that in black and white photography the lighting plays an even bigger role.

8. Catch the cat in action. Even the laziest cat will jump once in a while. If it does, be ready to catch the action.

Getting started with animal photography

Animal photography is one of the most difficult fields of photography. However, with these explanations of vital skills, technical requirements and composition techniques it's easy to get started.

 

Vital Skills

The most important skills you need for animal photography are patience and constant alertness. Unlike humans, who can be told how to pose (and especially how long to pose until you got the shot!), animals are hard if not impossible to control. Therefore, waiting for the right moment and then being ready to press the shutter is the base everything else stands upon.

 

Another essential skill is anticipation. The better you know how the animal will behave and react in its environment, the better you can plan your photo and take the necessary preparations, i.e. choosing the right lens and aperture.

 

 

Technical Requirements

Depending what kind of animal you want to take a picture of, the technical requirements vary greatly.

For example, shooting a pet or a savage animal in the wild is a makes a big difference. Your pet will probably not run away when you come a little closer, but savage animals such as deer instinctively flee as soon as they see or hear you or your camera shutter. Therefore, in order not to intimidate the animal and scare it away you should choose a telephoto lens, which allows you to take the shot from a greater distance. Camouflage is also an advantage.

If you like insects a macro lens will come in handy to discover the world of smaller life forms. Divers and underwater enthusiasts will go for a waterproof camera case or a special underwater camera.

Depending how fast the animal is moving you may want to freeze the action, e.g. when taking a picture of a bear capturing a fish, a dog jumping through a ring, or a flying insect at a flower. For action photography like this you require a lens with a low f-stop number, and a camera with a fast shutter speed and/or a high ISO setting.

 

 

Composition Techniques

If you do not want your photo to look like a lucky snapshot, there are several composition techniques to consider.

First of all, an animal photo taken from the human eye's level usually looks ordinary and boring. Therefore, if possible take the photo from the animal's eye level. Thus, the shot will become more intimate and interesting. You could even add a more dramatic effect by taking the shot from the perspective of the animal's prey.

Next, find the right balance between focusing on the animal and including the right amount of surroundings. Apart from zooming in or cropping the image to eliminate distracting surroundings you could narrow the depth of field, which will result in a sharp animal and a blurry background. You can maximize this effect by choosing a low f-stop number, a short distance to the animal and a high zoom level. This technique is particularly helpful when you go to the zoo and want to blur the metal bars of a cage.

Finally, make the photo special by capturing a special scene, which could be caused by interesting lighting, a distinctive prop, or something the animal is usually not doing. This will help your photo stand out from the huge crowd of animal photos.