Take Pet Photos Like a Pro with Proper Lighting

Take Pet Photos Like a Pro with Proper Lighting

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Take Pet Photos Like a Pro with Proper Lighting

To All Pet Lovers: A Photography Lesson from Pet Photographer Cass

Two baby foxes have joined my family this week. Adorable yet naughty, these little mates have turned the house upside down. When I finally have time to rest on the sofa, I recalled the scenes of me taking care of my puppy dog in the old days. Now he is already 7 years old, and I regret not taking photos of him more often.

Being a pet photographer, I am always busy taking photos for others but not for my pets. It was so fulfilling to watch him grow happily and play with him every day. However, nothing lasts forever. Pet grows fast and becomes old in a blink of eye. After so many years taking family pet photos, many of my customers would send me thank you notes again after a while of time saying they were so gratified with the photo-taking decision as their memories and emotions could be relived once again by flipping through the photos. A photo not only records a moment of everyday life, but also serves as a container for memories and love. It is my belief that pet owners are always the best pet photographers, because you guys spend time with them every day and live a life together.
A bowl of baby foxes!| EOS 5D Mark II | EF 50mm f/1.4 USM | 1/180 f/3.5 ISO800
This blog is going to share everything you need to know to take pet photos like a pro, such as the mindset and mentality towards pet photography, simple yet practical skills, application of photographic knowledge and even some queer but useful tips! Let’s focus on lighting and fill light tips this time.

Home Studio: Use of Natural Light Source for Professional Result!

With natural sunlight, we can take nice photos easily at home even only with our smart phones. But to achieve more professional result, we still need a digital camera and some proper settings. A home is not evenly and sufficiently lit in general. To take good photos, one of the key trainings is the sensitivity of our eyes towards brightness and the source of light.

1. Make good use of natural light source. You have to know well when are your living room and bedroom brightly lit, and whether there is morning or sunset light coming in. This is how you sort out when and where is the most beautiful place in your own home studio. Besides, pay attention to the living habit of your pets, such as the time they spend staying in the brightly lit corner.
You can be proactive of course, trying to arrange or seduce your pets to sit by the windows. (More will be shared in the upcoming article – Capture the Funny Moments)| EOS 5D Mark II | EF 50mm f/1.4 USM 1/180 f/5.6 ISO200
2. Light-colored wall or light-colored large-sized furniture can help provide good reflection or fill light. This can help create depth to the pets’ contours, facial features and hair colors. Light-colored bed sheets and floor can also be used to provide fill light.
3. If your pets have darker shade of hair colors or always hide themselves in the dark corners, you can use a reflector for fill light. Apart from the professional ones, you can also buy a big sheet of white-colored mahjong paper to serve the purpose, or even something you can grab from home such as a plate covered with aluminum foil or as simple as an A4 paper. Be aware to position the fill-light object in the opposite direction of the light source so as to reflect more light to your pets’ body or face.
Sway the reflector left or right, up or down to find out the best fill-light angle.
4. Table lamps and floor lamps can help your shooting too. Direct the lamp light towards the wall so you can have a softer reflected light to illuminate the scene and your pets. If flash light is used, remember not to use it directly onto the eyes. The uncomfortable feeling of eyes being lit by strong light will pose a bad impression to your pets about photography, making them try to escape whenever you lift up your camera or smart phone.
5. If your home is dimly lit, you can set the camera’s ISO to higher setting such as 800 and use a large aperture as possible. A proper exposure and shallow depth of field can help make your photos look more impressive. If the environment is too dark and a slow shutter speed such as below 1/125s is required to maintain proper exposure, the problem of hand shaking may become noticeable. Under this situation, it is better for you to lean against the wall or place your camera on objects like a chair to maintain stability. If your camera supports remote or timer shooting, use it to minimize the chance of camera shaking that comes from pressing the shutter release button.

Outdoor Shooting: The Brighter the Sun the Better? Shooting into the Light is Bad?

1. Smart phone users may take YES as the answers to both questions above. However, the truth is exactly opposite according to my experience. When shooting outdoor, it is easier to create photos with good depth when the sunlight is soft, such as in the morning hours before 10am or slightly before sunset. During noon time when the sunlight is strong, we can shoot under shade of trees. When your pet is properly exposed under the relatively dark shade of trees, the resulting photo will have a lovely sunshine glow as the background will appear brighter.
The shadow of the pet owner can create this kind of sunshine glow effect in the background too | EOS 5D Mark II | EF 50mm f/1.4 USM 1/350 f/3.5 ISO100
2. More about “Backlit Shooting”. Sometimes I would adjust the shooting direction intentionally so that the light source shines from behind the subject. This way the sunlight will penetrate through the hairs around the pets’ body and the ears. Coupled with proper fill light, a beautiful photo with a lovely golden glow around the subject can be captured.
EOS 5D Mark II | EF 100 mm f/2.8 L Macro IS USM 1/250 f/4.5 ISO400
3. I understand that there are already many to bring when going for an outing with your pets – water, snacks, dog leash, anti-bug spray and dog stroller, just to name a few. Seriously who will bring a reflector?! Good news is you can always have chances to take a good shot by making use of what you have, for example the white t-shirt you wear. Light-colored tops can serve the purpose of a reflector to some extent. Likewise, light-colored jackets, picnic blanket and scarf can also come in handy. Like a magician, simply wave and place it in front of your pets and you can have the fill light you want.
4. Unleash your creativity and be sensitive to the light source. Make use of the handy props with you to enjoy shooting with ease.

Get the Right Exposure and A Photo is Half Done

The power of a photo is not only determined by the decisive moment it captures, but also the ingenious arrangement of colors and light and shade. To start with, getting the right exposure is half success.
A very useful camera setting is the exposure compensation (EV +/-). This is what I always tell my students in my class, “No matter how unfamiliar you are with your camera, this is one function you must learn to use!” Despite the camera’s auto-metering function, it does not really know what we want to achieve in our photos. Let’s go straight to the application of exposure compensation.
After the camera has done its job with auto-metering and auto-focusing, the live view shows what the photo will look like with these auto functions. If it looks too bright or too dim to you, you can adjust the exposure compensation to increase / decrease the exposure by steps until you see the result your desired. If your camera does not support live view shooting, you can take a shot first and determine whether you need to increase or decrease the exposure. During daytime shooting at home, according to my experience, photos look fresher and sunnier when it is slightly over exposed. In fact, there is no absolute right or wrong nor rules to follow. After all, the photos belong to you. If you prefer over exposure, just go ahead; or take a shot that is slightly under exposed if you prefer darker scene and richer colors.
You can train the sensitivity of your eyes towards light by photographing the same scene with different exposure settings. Through this practice, you will understand how the same scene viewed with the naked eyes can appear so differently in the world of photography with different exposure settings. What we are trying to learn here is to find out the best version. (More will be shared in the upcoming article – Make Good Use of Camera Functions)
Here is an assignment for you guys: Take a sunny shot entitled “A Lazy Morning” of your pets when they are still sleepy in bed this weekend! Have fun!
A lovely shot of my dog and cat taking a nap together. | EOS 5D Mark II | EF 50mm f/1.4 USM 1/180 f/2.8 ISO1600
About the Author:Cass Shing-Biegala is a renowned pet family photographer in HK. With experience and sensitivity, she captures the valuable moments in each family. TV and Magazine interview her about the unique photography approach and the touching stories behind the scenes. Cass is now living in Poland building her own Casmati Village for city people to reconnect to nature and inner wisdom. Every year she make pet photography trips to HK and she loves to engage in private photo class at pet owner’s home. Website of her works : www.shingcass.com | Facebook: www.facebook.com/shingcass/
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