Generally, I'm never afraid of making a fool out of myself in order to get a surprised or interesting look from a dog. I do animal noises, whisper, squeak, whatever surprising sound I may come up with. I always start at low volume to not scare the dog. If the dog is too cool for this, I also have a variety of different sound-makers, which might cause a cute head tilt even from the most relaxed senior dog. There are kazoos, animal noise apps on the phone, hunting whistles, flutes, etc.
Most dogs would do anything for treats. Again, start with something low-priority with dogs you don't know. A treat obsessed beagle or labrador might otherwise now sit on your lap instead of posing for your picture. But for cooler dogs, I have bacon cream or liver paté.
If neither sounds nor treats interest my model, I try toys to attract the dog's attention and gaze. Some dogs react better to toys, but again, be careful. The energetic terrier might actually be a ball junkie and look utterly crazy when a ball is presented to him. Ask the owner a few questions about the dog's behavior beforehand.
It's also great to use the owner to entertain the dog. When my model is a very obedient dog who's not that much interested in my tricks, but rather looks at his owner for instructions, I let the owner hide somewhere to get the dog's ears up in bewilderment.
Adapt your approach to the individual dog. The energetic terrier might need action to really enjoy the session, while the sensitive sighthound might prefer a very calm environment and some super treats.
The key is patience, trust, repetition and lots and lots of bribery.
Another super important step in the process is to leave out the boring pictures and develop an eye for the ones that are indeed a bit more special. There's always that one shot that is slightly better than the rest. For this you need to keep on shooting, comparing, becoming critical about your pictures, repeat the process.
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.
What's the most rewarding part about pet photography?
As I love dogs tremendously, it's a huge joy to be able to get to know so many individual characters among my models. Each and every one of them is so unique and amazing. Every photo session is unpredictable. I love the surprises and challenges.
Any tips for someone looking to break into the pet photography field?
Meet as many different dogs as possible. Enjoy what you do and make sure your models enjoy 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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