Everyone needs a good pet photography cheat sheet. Photo shoots can be stressful, overwhelming, anxiety-inducing, and a whole lot of fun.
Even if you do them every single day for thirty years, it can still be easy to forget something important. To help you out, we have devised a photography cheat sheet for your reference on everything you’ll need for pet photography!
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What’s in Your Camera Bag
Every photo shoot starts with packing the right equipment. Here is what we suggest is always in your camera bag!
- Additional Lens Caps: Considering these small caps tend to get lost amidst the hustle and bustle of a photo shoot, carrying some extras is a good idea.
- Camera and Lens Cleaning Supplies: Most basic camera cleaning supplies include microfiber cloths, lens cleaning solution, lens cleaning pen, lens cleaning paper, and a bulb air blower.
- Extra Batteries and Charger: There are battery pouches available for sale for safe keeping.
- Extra Cards: Find a nice sturdy card case to make sure they aren’t accidentally damaged.
- A Small Squeaky Toy and/or Treats: You’d be surprised how many pet owners forget these essentials when they rush out to meet you for a photo shoot.
- Tape: I prefer to carry a mix between masking tape and packing tape for whatever needs arise.
- Metal Clamps
- Towels: From wiping off drool and cleaning furry coats to creating a comfortable seat for whatever animal you’re photographing, you will find that a towel has many, many uses for pet shoots. Towels also have many uses for you, since they can act as a clean surface you can place your gear down on.
- Tripod: As a rule, I keep two in my car. One short tripod and a large tripod that raises over 7 feet.
- Notebook and Pen
- Cell Phone Charger
- Credit/Debit/Prepaid Card Reader
- Business Cards
Extra Things for Outdoor Pet Photography
- ND Filters: A neutral density filter is a piece of glass that goes in front of your lens in order to reduce the amount of light that enters the camera.
- Waterproof Casing: The weather can be unpredictable or you may end up in a situation where the likelihood of your equipment getting wet increases.
Extras for Indoor or Studio Light Sessions
- Lighting Kit
- V-Tap Portable Battery: Although outlets are generally available everywhere, you may run into a situation where an outlet is shockingly unavailable.
- Extra Tripods: Tripods may or may not break on set, so have some extras!
- Sandbags or Weights: To ensure safety and stability, you’ll want to secure the bottom of your lighting stands with something heavy.
- Extension Cords
Quick Breakdown of Settings
Here are key setting differentiations to keep in mind when shooting:
Aperture refers to the opening of a lens’s diaphragm through which light passes.
Wide apertures = shallow depth of field. Use f/1.2, f/1.4, f/1.8, f/2.0, f/2.8, or f/4.0.
Narrow apertures = deep depth of field. Use f/5.6, f/8.0, f/11, f/16, or f/22.
The length of time your camera shutter is open, exposing light onto the camera sensor.
Slow shutter (for nighttime and long exposures): 30”, 15”, 10”, 2”, 1”.
Mid-Range (neutral): 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/250, 1/500.
Fast shutter (for freezing action): 1/1000, 1/2000, 1/4000, 1/8000+.
Your camera’s sensitivity to light, this is a camera setting that will brighten or darken a photo. The larger the ISO number, the more noise the photograph will have.
ISO for daytime: 100, 200, 400, 640.
ISO for nighttime: 640, 800, 1600, 3200+.
Exposure = Aperture + Shutter Speed + ISO
Wider aperture = lighter frame
Narrower aperture = darker frame
Slower shutter speed = lighter frame
Faster shutter speed = darker frame
Smaller ISO numbers = darker frame
Larger ISO numbers = lighter frame
Exposure Tips for Fur
Light Coloured Pets
Underexpose by one to two stops.
Dark Coloured Pets
Overexpose by one to two stops.
Dark and Light Pets
Black and white animals are difficult to expose properly. It can be easy to underexpose the black to bring out the white or overexpose the white to bring out the black. Shoot in the shadows or under an overcast day where the lighting is very even. Then underexpose by about two stops!
It’s easier to bring detail back out in the black in post processing than in the white. Overexposed white has no detail to bring forth as the information is missing.
Take advantage of the frames-per-second your camera offers by using burst mode (high-speed drive mode). You can ensure that you get the right shot by setting your camera to burst mode (where you take multiple photographs in a row while pressing down on the shutter) and shooting with a fast shutter speed to freeze the moment.
Change your focus mode to Continuous Focus Mode (AI Servo for Canon users or AF-C for Nikon users). This mode allows your camera to lock onto your subject and follow it around, without you consistently needing to refocus.
Photograph from the pet subject’s eye level. Viewers are more empathetic and attracted to images from the same perspective as the subject.
Leave more negative space in the direction of implied movement. If the subject is too closed off compositionally (by being cropped in such a way that there is little negative space) the image will feel claustrophobic and caged.
Action: Keep the animal in action either centered in the frame or with plenty of negative space in the direction of the action.
Portrait: There is a lot of wiggle room with portraits. The general idea is to keep the subject either centred or significantly skewed to either side. Leave plenty of negative space around the subject to prevent the image from looking too tight.
Multiple Pets: Keep all of the pets on the same level for sharp focusing purposes!
Mind the crop! Don’t crop ears, tails, or any joints. If you are cropping legs, crop between joints (such as the shin or upper thigh) but never at the joint.
Focusing for Shallow DOF
When you focus your camera on a subject, it establishes a focal plane. Focal planes happen on an x (horizontal) and y (vertical) axis. This means anything along either of those axes will be in focus, and anything not on them will be out of focus.
When shooting wide open, even the smallest diversion from either of the focal plane axes will cause your subject to be out-of-focus. You cannot take a step forward or back without the need to refocus when shooting at a wide aperture.
But by keeping this in mind, you can adjust your photography technique to better accommodate the small focal plane. A trick is to use single point autofocus. Try to set up all of your subjects on the same axis. Keep everything you want perfectly in focus the same distance from the camera.
The farther away you are from the subject, the easier it is to get the subjects all in focus. If you have a large group of subjects you’d like in focus, move farther away from them!
Mind the Leash for Post Processing
Make sure the leash does not cross any paws, joints, or complicated details. In order to remove the leash in post processing, you will need to clone it out. This becomes difficult if the leash crosses any complex points.
One trick is to have the owner hold the leash above the pet.
Focus on the Eyes
Ensuring that the eyes of the animal you are photographing are sharp and in focus makes for a very effective photograph. If the eyes aren’t sharp, a bit of that emotional tug is missing. To achieve this, I like to set my focus points straight in the middle.
What I do is focus on the eyes, then keep holding the shutter down halfway to lock the focus, and proceed to move my camera to my ideal composition. As well as this, bumping the aperture (or f/stop) up a few stops higher can make focusing on the eyes easier.
Bookmark this article and reference back whenever you need!