Pet Photography Tips
by AtlantaPet Photographer Cindy McIntyre


 For many people, pets are furry children, friends, and confidants.  Our pets bring joy and companionship, and we do the same for them.  Their souls are part of ours, and we grieve when they leave us.  Dogs and cats, because they share our homes, invite the strongest bonds, but some people have ferrets, parakeets, parrots, and other exotic animals - large and small - that they love just as much.  The kitty to the left was my beloved Tommy cat, who used up his nine lives several times before he died in his 14th year.


Horses are among the most magnificent of domestic animals.  Many little girls are "horse crazy" and some, like me, may never own horses but watch every movie and read every book about horses.  I even own a collection of fine Breyer horses. 

Photographs of your furry family members are as important to many people, and these portraits grace many walls and desks right beside those of their children. 

Bad Pet Portraits -  Of course, nearly everyone has taken at least one really good photograph of their pets, but more often they are poor quality images.  Some of the problems most snapshots have:           

            *Out of focus, or unsharp
            *Low resolution - many people don't understand that they need to set their digital cameras to the highest resolution quality.  That allows for larger and better quality prints.  Low-res images tend to pixelate (break up into pixel squares).  Not pretty.
            *Demon Eyes - using your camera's flash indoors makes the back of the eyes glow (usually green), giving a demonic look.  As with people, the eyes mirror the soul, and you've lost an important part of your pet's personality with Demon Eyes. 
            * Looking down at your pet instead of getting at eye level
            * Being too close with a wide-angle lens (your widest zoom).  This distorts facial features, making the nose out of proportion to the rest of the body.
            *Harsh lighting - photographs in direct sun often have harsh shadows and washed-out highlights.  Light is very important in creating a good photograph, and while it can be tricky, backlight (with the sun behind the subject) can be very pleasing if done right. 
            *Poor composition
            *Poor pose
            *Panting - not the "doggy smile," but outright drippy panting - ick.

As with anything, if you don't have the skills, hire a professional! 

 Good Pet Portraits  

Many great photographs are made outdoors, especially on an overcast day or with backlight.  A nice portfolio would have close-ups as well as action images that show your pet's personality.  Studio portraits, using a simple background, focus the attention entirely on Buster or Sophie.  Unless the animal is used to the show ring and can hold a pose, it can be very difficult to obtain a nice pose in the studio.  Using the owner as the assistant to hold the animal in place, or simply to sit nearby to reassure it, helps the photographer concentrate on getting the perfect expression.  It may take a few minutes for the animal to explore its surroundings in the studio and to settle down.  The photographer and owner should speak softly to help calm it.



          The photographer should be the only one trying to get the animal's attention.  Squeak toys usually get an immediate reaction, and there may be only a second to capture that perfect, alert look with eyes wide and ears perked in attention.  It also helps a dog's tongue disappear if it is panting.  I prefer an alert "non-smiling" portrait, but some owners like the doggy smile better.  Most photographers will do a range of photographs that capture many expressions. 

             However, the animal may soon lose interest, and switching to the temptation of a biscuit or treat may revive waning attention.  There are several tricks photographers use to get those lovely poses and expressions, including making absolute fools of themselves.  Whatever works.

            I've taken pet portraits at outdoor fairs and farmers' markets, using the white shelter canopy as a huge reflector.  My canvas background is set up easily, and a pro-flash bouncing off the canopy creates soft, flattering light.  Artistry is the quality I strive for, not just a "picture" but an heirloom portrait.

Family Portraits with Pets
            Some of the nicest images are family portraits with your pets, especially at your home or in a beautiful location outdoors.  I was especially lucky this day to have a lovely fog shrouding the vivid autumn landscape, a perfect backdrop for this family.  I also did studio portraits as well (just above this one), and the final environmental portrait enlarged to 20x30 inches on canvas makes a gorgeous work of art. 


Horse Photography

            Good horse portraits show an alert expression and ears forward.  Horses, like many animals, move their ears to keep tabs on their surroundings.  If they are upset, they may lay their ears back on their heads.  Not very flattering. 

            Noises like the rattle of grain in a coffee can get a horse's attention, as well as riding the animal toward the photographer.  Many horse owners love portraits of them riding or standing beside their steed, as well as images of the horse alone.

            Horse Show photography is a specialized field, and those who compete with their horses often love photos that show good conformation and the winning ribbon. 

Finishing the Portraits

            A good professional will include retouching with each portrait.  This takes care of stray hairs, slobber, collars (if they could not be removed for the portrait), and vignetting of the edges.  This usually involves darkening the edges of the image so that the subject is more the center of attention.  Sometimes with a high-key image on a white background, vignetting means fading out the edges to give a dreamy quality.

          Of course, Photoshop lets us retouch out those stray hands in case the owner really needs to keep Fluffy from jumping on that enticing squeak toy the photographer is squeezing. 


examples of Photoshop retouching

            Pet Photographs can be printed in traditional sizes, but gallery-wrapped canvas is becoming very popular.  Gallery-wrapping means the photograph wraps around stretcher bars, creating a frameless work that can hang as is.  Other advantages are that the image is not diminished by glass reflections, since the canvas has a protective spray and needs no glass.  And large canvas prints - 20x30 inches and larger - weigh very little, making it easy to hang them. 

            Other presentations include Triptychs and Pop Art.  Plus you can have the photographs printed on mugs, mousepads, dry erase boards, magnets, and many other products. 


Who Owns the Copyright?

            One thing that people should understand is that when you hire a professional to make a portrait, or when you buy a print or work of art, you only own the prints, not the rights to reproduce them.  The photographer always owns the copyright.  So unless he or she grants permission to the customer to have the pictures reproduced in any way, they should be ordered through the photographer.  After all, it is his or her talent that enabled you to enjoy a portrait of your treasured family members, and that talent, like any skill, is worth paying for!

If Your Pet Has Passed On

            We are lucky if we get 10 years with some of our pets, especially the larger dog breeds, and some people wait too late to get fine photographs of them.  Fortunately, there are also ways to digitally "paint" or enhance snapshots - even poor ones - so that they look like watercolors or oil paintings.  This is the only way to salvage many of the defects listed above.  Some of the effects use adjustable Photoshop filters; others are done with a stylus tablet to "paint" on the digital image. 

Original snapshot transformed into Digital Oil Painting

To book a Portrait Session with Cindy McIntyre, Atlanta Pet Photographer :  

Cindy McIntyre Images
550 Auburn Ave NE #C, Atlanta GA 30312

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© 2012 Cindy McIntyre, 550 Auburn Ave NE Apt C, Atlanta, GA 30312 207-522-4664