Pet Photography Tips with Elke Vogelsang

Elke Vogelsang is a photographer from Germany specializing in portrait and pet photography. We love Elke's unique perspective on pet photography, and today, she's sharing some tips on how to capture those little moments with your pets to make them shine.

Tell us a little about yourself and your photography.
My name is Elke Vogelsang. I'm a 40-year-old photographer living in Germany with my family and three dogs. I specialize in people and pet photography, and dogs are a favorite photographic subject of mine.

When did you decide to get into pet photography?
I got into pet photography five years ago, when our first dog, Noodles, joined our family.

What gear do you use for your photos?
With a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and a Canon EOS 7D, I'm pretty well equipped. The EOS 7D is still my favorite camera for action photos, and I love the 5D for its noise properties.

A few lovely lenses complete my equipment. There is the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8, which is my favorite lens for action shots. Furthermore, I've got a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 and some prime lenses, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 and the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 macro, which I love using for portraits as well. Since I love experimenting, I also got a Lensbaby Composer. I shoot in RAW and develop in Lightroom. Afterwards, I use Photoshop Elements for minor corrections.

Give us a couple of tips on getting the best pet photos. How do you get the animals to behave? And how many shots does it take until you get the perfect one?
A well-trained pet is definitely a pro, but some animals just don't follow orders, so it's always good to have a person to assist you. Although you can produce gorgeous spontaneous shots while watching the action unfold, you will get more predictable results when you are able to direct the animal. Some animals react to food or toys. Try getting their attention by sounds. You could use a squealing toy to try to get a dog's attention. Let your assistant hold the toy behind your head and squeeze it. You might get a surprised look from a dog looking straight into your camera. Test a few sounds and see what happens. Try whistling or humming. But take care not to scare the animal off. Rule No. 1 is be patient.

There are some things I always try to achieve in my photos when it comes to composition or picture quality. First of all, I always try to get the eyes tack sharp. Furthermore, I try to go for unusual perspectives. I usually take photos on the animal's eye level or even below that. Why not try to get a bird's eye view on your subject? Make your photo more interesting by showing the world from a perspective that's different from our everyday view. I always make sure that there are visible highlights in the eyes. The background is just as important as the subject. Try to choose a background which suits the subject. The subject should be clearly visible and not blend into the background. Try to avoid distracting objects in the background. If it's not part of the story, it should not be part of the picture.

The best way to improve your pet photography is to practice, practice, and practice. And to get interesting pet photos, you should be willing to get your clothes dirty.

A happy dog running or jumping is a good subject. Have a person to assist you and throw a toy to direct the dog. Try different approaches and be different. Know the rules and break them. Leave your comfort zone and try out techniques you usually won't use. It might work out or it might not, but you will learn a lot by practicing.

It usually takes a few shots for me to get it right. I'm very picky, and if the picture is not 100% the way I want it to be, I give it another try. So I'm very thankful for digital photography. There are some pictures I tried over and over again for several days. Working with animals, it's not always possible to get it right in the first place.

What's the most rewarding part about pet photography?
I could spend all day taking photos of my own or other people's dogs. I never get tired of their beauty, energy, and patience. The best part is being outside and being able to behave like a child again. During an outdoor photo session, I lie on the ground, in the grass, or on the beach. I stand in a river or lake with my camera just above the water. It's lots of fun and I love the activity. It's interesting to get to know so many individual characters among my animal models. Each and every one of them is so unique and amazing. Every photo session is unpredictable, just like children. I love the surprises and challenges.

Also, to see the sparkling eyes of a satisfied customer, who thought that there is no way somebody could ever get a decent picture of his energetic or maybe shy pet, is priceless.

Any tips for someone looking to break into the pet photography field?
You should have a thorough understanding of the behavior of the species you are trying to photograph. It's hard to get a decent horse portrait when you are not familiar with horses. Furthermore, you should be interested in what you are doing and in what or who you are trying to portrait. Enjoy what you do and make sure you models enjoys the photo session as well.

Also, meet with other pet photographers. There are quite a few out there. Connect and share. You will learn from others and others will learn from you. If you need to practice taking photos of pets and you haven't got a model, ask your local animal shelter if you can take pictures of the dogs or cats there. You might even find a home for one or two thanks to your photos.

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