Photographers tend to photograph that which is closest to them more often than anything else.  For me, that means photographing my dog.  My dog is such a good dog too.  She sits when I ask her to sit, stays when I tell her to stay, shake, and all the rest.  But I’ve not had the best of success in taking pictures of her.  Every once in a while, I got lucky in a shot or two, but something was missing.  After reading Lara Blair’s book from Amherst Media: Photographing Dogs: Techniques for Professional Digital Photographers, I sort of head-smacked myself and said “Well, where was this book five years ago?!”

Maggie on the Bed - Looking Cute!

Maggie From AboveTilted Head

Are You Kidding Me?

She offers insights in her book that only an experienced pro can really give you.  For instance, as much as I love my dog and her trotting to me – I can’t tell you how often I’ve let her barge into me and my camera, thus resulting in my sending gear in for repairs from scratches, nicks, and re-alignments.  One would think I’d learn from mistakes, but until Lara said:

“I hold mine high above my head when a dog is running at me”

I just kept on missing the obvious!  Now I know better…just in time for my beloved pet to be the most docile and non-running pet in the world (sad to say, she is in her twilight years…every day I have left with her is precious!). Other great insights include shooting dogs from a lower angle (it makes them look larger than life, which is what owners want), anticipating session behavior (timid and aggressive dogs), and yes, handling the inevitable messiness to clean up from your studio!

Not only are her insights valuable, but her sample portfolio she includes to demonstrate various techniques, as well as insights on how and where to market yourself as a dog/pet photographer make this book an ideal resource for both the photographer turning to pet portraiture, as well as principles for setting up a pet-friendly studio.  If you’re looking to make an entry or transition into pet photography, this is definitely one to include.  My one nit for this book is that a substantial portion of the book is devoted to the business side.  Lara talks a lot about branding, what outlets to visit, setting up your business, and other aspects of a pet studio.  While these are very useful insights, these aren’t really specific to pet photography techniques.  The technique portion is really only about 1/3rd of the book.

Don’t get me wrong though – it’s a great read, and very easy to get through.  Often how-to books like this get either too wordy, or do not really have enough substance to them.  Lara provides both, but does have a good portion that is tangential to the main topic. It’s all good content though, so it’s a very minor nit. Thanks go out to the folks at Amherst Media for sending me the review copy too!  And that does mean that some lucky reader will be in the running to win this, along with several other prizes to close out 2012!

For a quick link to purchase though (if you can’t wait until year-end), hit the link below:

Photographing Pets by Lara Blair
Photographing Dogs: Techniques for Professional Digital Photographers

Another book review is coming up later this week on human portraiture, so stay tuned!

5 thoughts on “Pet Photography 101

  1. I photographed a lot of pets during my career. I built a carpeted box that was about 2x2x3 ft. I always like my pet subjects elevated and I could rotate the box to two different heights depending on the size of the pets. I’m a firm believer a pro should try to get a least one good head shot which is not always possible with nervous dogs because they won’t stay still very long.

    During many pet sessions the first minute of the session produced the best photos. A quick squeak sound gets their ears up and you have the shot. This only works a couple of times with most dogs so you have to be quick. The attention span of most dogs is only a few minutes. Pet owners can be helpful but in many cases an assistant is better. Pets are manipulative of their owners and sometimes you will get better photos if they are not even in the camera room.

    Cats are another story all together. You need to give cats more time to get acquainted with the studio surroundings. Young cats are easy because they respond to cat toys. Good luck with older cats.

    I used to get a lot of requests for photos of multiple pets at one time. This can be tough. Work fast, you won’t have much time. Try to get individual shots of each pet in case the group shot doesn’t work out. A good composite could keep the client happy!

  2. I take mostly pictures of cats but would love to learn how to shoot dogs.

  3. One of the tips I learned from Scott Bourne, and this applies to skin tones as well, is try setting your EV compensation opposite of what you would normally set it to. Remember the your camera is trying to make everything %18 gray. So inherently, your camera will try and lighten a black dog and darken a white dog. Stopping down you EV comp (negative values) will help retain some of those blacks. It’s not a perfect science, but it should help a bit.

  4. I so need this book! From time to time, I get a good picture but not consistently, so pet photography tips are always welcome when I see them. One thing I struggle with is getting good pictures of our all black animals (2 dogs and 1 cat!) Does the book address this issue?

    1. Yes, actually,it does address black pets and lighting.

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