OK. Your camera's ready and so are you. You look through the viewfinder, make the finessing adjustments and . . . your pride and joy--the one that was looking so cute a minute ago--turns into a streaking blur or runs to cower under the couch.
It's almost enough to make you want to shoot the little darling with something other than a camera.
But there's hope. For those pet owners who have experienced photo frustration, Brian Leng comes to the rescue, offering tips to help you get a good picture of your recalcitrant critter.
Leng, a Los Angeles photographer who is an expert at animal portraits, says the most important thing is to start out with a plan. "Most animals have a very short attention span, so you want to be able to move quickly when the right moment comes to capture the expression you're after.
"You have to decide beforehand on the pose, the setting, the light you want and have all your camera equipment ready to go. If you think it all through before you begin, your photo session with your pet can go smoothly and be a lot of fun."
Professional animal photographic sessions are usually done with the trainer nearby to work behind the scenes, and Leng suggests you enlist a family member to fill this role. This will leave you free to concentrate on the camera work, while your helper gives the commands to get the animal's attention. Your helper should stand in back of the camera, not too far to the left or right, so that the pet will appear to look directly ahead.
To help you work out a "lights, camera and action" scheme, Leng has these suggestions:
Lights. Remember that it is the quality of the light that will determine the tones in your black-and-white shots and the intensity of your color shots. Always study the light at a potential setting and get an idea of how your pet will look in it and how your particular camera will record it. At what time of day will you shoot the picture? Do you want something casual--a candid shot in a natural setting--or do you prefer a portrait that captures the essence of your pet?
Natural, filtered light coming through a window can produce beautiful candid shots, pictures that typify a moment in the animal's life--a cat grooming its whiskers after a meal, a dog snoozing in the sun, a bird singing with ruffled throat feathers.
You can also get candid shots outdoors, but the light can often be glary and unpredictable, giving you trouble unless your camera is sophisticated enough to adapt to such conditions. If you decide to shoot outdoors, wait for the diffuse lighting that occurs on cloudy-bright days; it is soft and even enough for good candid shots and can be very flattering for portraits as well.
For portraits, a controlled environment is necessary. The background has to be very plain and inconspicuous so that the full attention is focused on the subject. Whether indoors or out, always use a flash for portraits to freeze the action. And keep in mind that some animals are very much affected by a flash and might panic, so use one with care. You can soften it by covering the flash head with a piece of white cloth or gauze, which creates a more flattering light as well. And if you have a flash unit that is a separate piece of equipment, have your helper hold it off to the side where it will be less startling to your pet.
Camera. Your camera will determine whether you should do a candid shot or a full-fledged portrait. The most popular models, the kind found in most American homes, are simple and
easy to use. However, because they are automatic and you can't focus the lens or change the exposure on most of them, you'll have to settle for full-body pictures rather than close-ups. If you have this type of camera and you can't get any closer to your pet than three to five feet without blurring, your best option is to do a series of candid shots.
If yours is one of the more sophisticated cameras, such as the 35-millimeter models with interchangeable lenses, you will be able to get close enough to achieve a tightly framed composition of portrait quality. Use a telephoto lens if you have one, because it won't distort the animal's head and body out of proportion when you're in close. It's the ideal accessory for photographing your pet.
The best camera angle is at eye level. This can be accomplished by getting down on the floor with your camera or by putting the animal on a table or chair. To get a professional look, steady your camera on a level surface or a tripod.
Action. Once you've planned your technical approach, it's time to bring in the star of the session. You have to know your own pet, how it will react to a given situation and what will gain its attention.