Being a crazy cat lady and an avid photographer, I've take quite a few portraits of my pets over the years. Especially when the weather is bad, or I'm stuck at home working - and not traveling - pet photography is a fun way to shake off the doldrums and get creative.
In my last post, about Carter, I talked a little bit about how to set up a portrait session for you and your cat. I didn't mention lighting because I tend to use available light. What that means though, is that I can't shoot with just any lens...
Here are a few recommendations for a DIY portrait session with your pet:
- Because the available light in most homes is pretty skimpy, select a lens that has a large maximum aperture. I often use the Canon 50mm 1.8 which, at less than $150 is an accessibly priced lens for most people. I've been borrowing the Canon 50mm 1.4 which is still priced fairly accessibly at $350 and gives you one more stop of light than the 1.8. If you really want to invest, buy the Canon L series 1.2 which is about $1400.
- Start off with your camera in aperture priority. Set your aperture between 1.2 and 1.8 keeping in mind that at 1.2, your depth of field (the portion of your image that's in focus) is just a sliver.
- Take a few test shots, adjusting your ISO until your shutter speed reaches or exceeds 1/250. For active pets (like Carter), you'll need to go faster, 1/500 minimum.
- Make sure your auto focus is set up so that you choose where the camera focuses.
- Choose the expanded focus point that looks like a cross, then select AI Servo (on Nikon it's called something else...). These settings will help you keep quick-moving pets sharply focused.
- Generally, you'll want to focus on your pet's eye that is closest to you. With details shots, you might choose to focus on a nose, paw, ear or tail instead.
- As you shoot, look for gestures and facial expressions that show your pet's unique personality.
- Import your images into your processing software and select the best 4 or 5 images. I use Lightroom but all of my suggestions can be accomplished in any software suite.
- In DIY pet photography, the 1st thing you want to do is adjust the white balance of your images so that they don't have the odd yellow-green cast you often get with incandescent light.
- Next, increase the contrast and clarity to selectively sharpen your pet's eyes in the images. If you focused on your pet's paws, sharpen there instead. I use radial filters for this but a brush would work too.
- Think about improving your composition by cropping your image. This is easy to do in Lightroom so experiment a bit. I've been cropping to a square lately. I love it!
- Consider converting to black and white. Color is wonderful but black and white portraits have a timeless feel to them.