For most people, pets are more than animals that share our dwellings. Pets are an extension of their family and are just as deserving of quality photos as any other person in the family, however, if you've ever tried your hand at photographing your pet in the snow, you likely found the experience to be just as challenging as photographing a hyperactive toddler. Unpredictable, short attention span, complete disinterest in posing for a photo. We've been there but don't worry. Part of their unpredictable energy is what makes us love them so much.
From our days spent training sled dogs in Alaska to snapping pics of our husky in Norway, we've learned a thing or two about creating awesome images with our pets in the snow and with a few tricks and tips, you'll soon be on your way to capturing the perfect winter portrait of your furry friend too. Ready to dig in? Here are our best tips!
The key to any good portrait, human or animal, is to ensure your subject is comfortable. With animals, it can be hard to keep them comfortable when relaxed when they are in a new place with a lot of distractions. To help keep their anxiety down, pick a spot they are familiar where they can relax and be themselves. Once the animal is comfortable and relaxed, it’s time for you the photographer to relax. Photographing animals is all about exercising patience and practising control. Animals will hardly ever do exactly what you want them to do so it’s best to go into the shoot with an open mind and be ready to adapt based on how your pet is behaving.
Be prepared to spend a while getting a shot your happy with. Because of the unpredictable nature of pets, it’s a good idea to have your camera on continuous shooting mode so you can get a range of photos while your pet is moving. Remember, in pet photography, there is no such thing as too many photos. You may need to have hundreds of shots before you can get a decent image.
Think about the photo you want to create before you ever go out into the field. Do you want the pet looking at the camera, playing in their natural environment, being goofy, looking pensive? Planning out your final image will help give you direction in the field.
When you’re ready to shoot, remember to get on their level. Pets are a lot closer to the ground than humans and getting down to their level not only helps you get a better frame for a portrait but it will help portray the world from your pet's eyes so the viewer can see what the pet sees.
If you’re going for a more environmental shot, don’t forget your general composition rules! The pet will obviously be the focus of the subject but also consider leading lines, rule of thirds and distracting elements in the frame. If you’re doing a portrait shot, your focus point should always be on the animal’s eyes. Just like humans, we look animals in the eyes and connect emotionally through eye contact. You’ll be able to draw out a lot of the animal’s personality by focusing on their eyes. To ensure your camera focuses on the eyes and not the closes object to the lens (often the nose), set your camera’s focus to single point and manually move the focus to the eye.
As with any winter photography, you’ll want to be equipped with warm winter gear. Baselayers, mid-layers, insulated jackets and a waterproof outer layer should do the trick. Don’t forget a beanie for your head and of course some photography gloves to keep your hands functioning.
Don’t forget about your pet's warmth either! Just because your pet has a thick coat of fur doesn’t mean they are impervious to the cold. Sure, most pets can tolerate being outside in the cold snow for a while but unlike their human counterparts, they don’t have waterproof boots and warm photography gloves to keep them comfortable. Keep your pets moving so they stay warm and watch out for shivering and lethargy which can indicate they are uncomfortably cold.
A good rule of thumb is if you’re feeling the cold with your winter gear on, your pets are likely feeling the cold too through their fur. Limit your photoshoot to a reasonable length (this will vary depending on your pet and their fur) and don’t be afraid to call it day if the temps drop too much.
If you have a particularly active pet, you’ll want to pay special attention to your shutter speed. A speedy dog and a slow shutter speed is a quick way to ruin the shot. Adjust your shutter speed to 1/250th of a second or even faster if you’re trying to shoot an action shot. Depending on your light, this may cause your image to be too dark so you can adjust your exposure by increasing the ISO or making the aperture wider.
For a classic portrait shot, you’ll want a wide aperture of f 2.8 - f/4. Having a wide aperture will help create distance between your subject and the background. To do this, you may need to get fairly close to your subject which some pets may or may not tolerate. If you have an active pet who tends to move or lick the camera when the lens is close, you might want to use a tele zoom lens which will give you a nice close up without having to get too close to your pet.
Any type of winter shooting in the snow can pose a problem when it comes to getting a good exposure. If you’ve ever been out in the field taking photos that you thought were perfect only to come home and realize the exposure is all over the place, it’s time to start relying on your histogram.
The histogram is a graph that represents light and dark pixels in your photo. By looking at the graph you instantly know if your exposure is correct.
"Why can't I just review the image on the back of the screen?" You might be able to make a quick review by just looking at your LCD screen, but let me say, you will be played for a fool just as I have been many times. Your screen is just too small and gives a quick JPG preview of the image. In bright light the screen is hard to see, in the cold, the LCD screen does funny things, and in the dark, you think your image is brighter than it really is. Finally, you get back to edit your glorious shot to find that it is blown-out or way underexposed.
Luckily, most cameras will have the ability to display the histogram on the camera’s LCD screen so you can get an accurate depiction of your shot right away. A good rule of thumb is to shoot so the histogram is weighted to the right.
If you are shooting in the winter with 90% of your image being white snow, then all those white pixels are going to be added up on the right-hand side. Whilst this may not look like a correct exposure given what I said about the correct exposure graph, exposing your images with a histogram that is weighted to the right-hand side, (but not off the graph, A.K.A clipping your highlights) means all that white snow is captured as lights tones, just as it should be.
If this sounds confusing, don’t worry, it’s really a simple concept and we cover it in great detail in this article here. Give it a read! It will truly take your images from amateur to pro.
When I say bring help, I’m not talking about extra people, although that could be useful too sometimes. What I mean is that you want to bring something that can hold your pet's attention. Often small treats or squeak toys can work perfectly for helping your pet look where you want them to look. Without these attention focusers, you may find it difficult to get your pet to look at your camera.
Have you attempted any winter photoshoots with your pets? Let us know in the comments below what worked for you!
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