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Although photographing animals is never easy, in the case of pets the photographer has a couple of advantages. Firstly the animal should not regard you as a threat, and secondly you probably have some knowledge of the animal's character. Be sure to take full advantage of these factors.

Once the pet realizes that something unusual is happening, and that he or she has suddenly become the centre of attention, it may become over excited or determined not to remain wherever it is put. Be patient, and let everything calm down for a while. Eventually the animal will forget all about the camera and return to more normal behaviour.

Cat eyes
Chinchilla Persian Kitten by kind permission of Ilker, Turkey.

Dogs may be persuaded or bribed into to co-operating, but cats are very independent and more likely to stalk off in disgust. Cats do not like being posed or placed in a particular location. Sometimes they will remain still for a minute or two, but eventually they will want to do their own thing. Young animals may be engaged in some form of play to distract their attention from a camera and encourage alert expressions.

Look for pictures that reflect the animal's characteristics. Kittens are usually very curious and love to play in a cardboard box with a ball of wool. Cut some holes in the box and it will not be long before the kitten's head appears in the opening - probably wrapped in coloured wool! Dogs may have a favourite trick. Some may be encouraged to stand on their hind legs to take a biscuit or a ball. Capture the moment when the ears are up and the face is at its most expressive and appealing.

Don't be afraid to fill the frame with the pet's face. get down low to the level of the animal and zoom in on the head or face. Take care to maintain sufficient depth of field and always make sure the eyes are in sharp focus. Also keep the shutter speed up to 1/250 second or higher to freeze any movement. Very small animals, such as rabbits or hamsters, can be placed on a table to make low-level shots rather easier for the photographer.

Whatever sort of shot is being attempted, make sure that the background is not distracting. If possible drop it out of focus and keep distinctive shapes, colours and bright areas out of the frame. Certainly do not include the baby's toys or a kitchen chair in the field of view beyond your pet's most adorable expression! Outdoors, distant vegetation makes the best possible background.

Natural light is generally the easiest and best source of illumination, so working outdoors has a lot of advantages. Many animals are frightened by flash. Animal's furry coats do not reflect much light, particularly if they have a dark colour, so take care not to underexpose the shots. If possible, shoot in RAW mode which allows the maximum amount of exposure adjustment at a later stage. Otherwise, it may be worth overexposing dark coats by half a stop in every case. In the case of a light-coloured or white coat, take care not to over-expose the light areas.

Always remember that the eyes are the centre of focus of the picture. Keep them sharp and make eye contact with the animal wherever possible. Wait for the best expression and then fire the shutter using high-speed continuous mode to get a fast sequence of pictures. One of them should capture the moment.


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