How to take better pet portraits

J.D. Biersdorfer, The New York Times

Posted at Oct 22 2020 06:18 PM

Much of the internet seems to be made of animal photos, especially pictures of cats. If it all makes you want a decent portrait of your own pet for posterity — and you can’t afford a professional photographer — just grab your smartphone.

Many recent phone models include all the hardware and software you need to take a great picture of your friend. You’ll also want to consider factors like location and lighting. And remember: Let the pet rule the photo session, and never agitate or distress the animal — just wait for his or her personality to shine through the camera lens. Here’s a guide.

STEP 1: MAKE A PLAN 

While you may need to add or adjust the lighting, try taking pictures while your pet is relaxing in a favorite spot. Even if you don’t have an expensive camera, you can capture memorable images of your pets with your smartphone, the right software and a few tricks. J.D. Biersdorfer, The New York Times

Decide where you would like to create your portrait. Depending on the animal, you may get better results if you take the photo in a familiar place where your pet is likely to be calm.

If you’re going for the portrait studio approach, try taking the photos during a time of day when your animal is more relaxed, like right after a meal or on the edge of nap time. Once you pick a spot, remove as much clutter from the background as you can. A sheet or bit of fabric hung up as a backdrop can also keep the focus on your subject.

If you’d rather capture the animal’s natural bounce and liveliness, take your camera along during a regular park stroll or backyard romp so you can snap away.

Don’t forget to factor in plenty of time and patience. Animals can be unpredictable or uncooperative, so take your cues from the creature. It may take dozens of shots (or another session) to get your perfect picture.

STEP 2: SEE THE LIGHT 

Avoid the flash and go with natural light when you can. Even if you don’t have an expensive camera, you can capture memorable images of your pets with your smartphone, the right software and a few tricks. J.D. Biersdorfer,The New York Times

When setting up your smartphone shot, avoid firing the flash. The unexpected pop may startle your pet, and the glare reflected in the back of the animal’s retinas usually creates eerie red or green eyes.

Natural light — outdoors or from a window — often works best. If you’re taking the pictures indoors, you can gently brighten the area with inexpensive clip-on lamps, but be mindful of where the shadows land and adjust the lighting positions accordingly.

STEP 3: SET YOUR CAMERA 

The timer function on the Android (left) and iOS camera apps will snap the shutter up to ten seconds after you press the button. Even if you don’t have an expensive camera, you can capture memorable images of your pets with your smartphone, the right software and a few tricks. J.D. Biersdorfer, The New York Times

 

While not as powerful as a digital single-lens reflex camera’s, smartphone camera technology has greatly improved in the past decade. With a recent phone, you can get some of the same looks for your photos, like using the portrait mode to keep the foreground subject in sharp focus while gently blurring the background. Many of Apple’s iPhone models and Google’s Pixel phones support a portrait mode; phones by Samsung and other manufacturers have similar settings.

Some camera apps have a “burst mode,” which captures a rapid series of shots when you hold down the shutter button so you can later pick the best photo of the bunch from the camera roll. In Apple’s iOS 14 camera app, you can take a burst by holding down the phone’s Volume Up button. Google’s current Pixel phones have a burstlike Top Shot feature.

Before you start your session, make sure your camera app is set to take photos at the highest possible image resolution.

STEP 4: POSING THE PET 

Now it’s time to actually take some pictures. Don’t be afraid to try creative angles. But positioning yourself on the pet’s level and focusing the camera on the animal’s eyes often makes for a soulful portrait.

Taking pet photos is often easier if you have help. While you handle the camera, the other person can keep the animal engaged by supplying treats or focus with a favorite toy.

If it’s just you and the pet, consider using a tripod with a shutter timer so you can work with the animal right before the photo; Apple, Google and Samsung have timers in their camera apps. Remote shutter controls that connect to your phone via Bluetooth are another option, and pressing the volume button on Apple’s corded headphones also sets off the iPhone camera’s shutter. And some voice assistant apps can take photos on command.

STEP 5: EDITING YOUR SHOTS 

The cropping function and other editing tools in your smartphone’s photo software can make your homemade pet portraits look much more professional. Even if you don’t have an expensive camera, you can capture memorable images of your pets with your smartphone, the right software and a few tricks. J.D. Biersdorfer/The New York Times

Now that you have your photos, it’s time to make them even better. Most camera apps include tools to straighten crooked framing and enhance color and exposure. And the cropping tool is great for eliminating unwanted background elements.

If your images need more help than your default software offers, look for a third-party app with features like a healing brush tool for removing flyaway fur. And don’t forget the power of filters to give your photo a whole new look and feel. Even if a shot is slightly fuzzy or the color is off, you can get really creative — and even make art out of your pet portraits.

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