Hi, I’m Kira DeDecker (“key-ra dee-decker”) and I’m a pet photographer serving Arizona’s greater Phoenix Metro area. Welcome to my blog! This is where I share not only my most recent work but also my life with you. Client sneak peeks, Facebook recaps, announcements, updates, awesome new offerings and the occasional (okay, frequent) story about my crazy but amazing life with my three dogs – Sox, Bixby and Waffles.
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In 2011, I had the opportunity to share my some of my favorite tips to help you snap the perfect pet portrait in an article for Nomad Edition’s Good Dog magazine. Unfortunately, in the years since being featured in Good Dogs, the publication has folded (side note: BOO!), so you can no longer get your hands on my issue but don’t fret my pet because I’m posting the goods below.
Take a look at your dog. Cutest pup you’ve ever seen, right? You tell people that all the time, but it never seems like enough. Unfortunately, every time you try to capture your furry friend’s heart-stopping adorableness, what you see through the lens isn’t translating to the final image. Stop fretting. You don’t need a big, expensive camera or weeks of lessons from a professional to snap the perfect frame of your perfect pup. You just need to know a few tricks of the trade.
No dog will hold a pose while you tidy up, so make sure to prep the area beforehand. Clean up clutter, make sure your pet is relatively clean by running a brush through his fur and cleaning up eye boogies and dirty mouths. If you have a hyperactive pup, take him for a walk or some other brisk activity beforehand to calm them down. Also avoid doing photo shoots when your dog is stressed from a long day (like a trip from the groomers).
Let there be light
Illuminating your subject can be tricky, but done right it can mean the difference between a crappy and an amazing picture. Avoid your camera’s flash, since not only can it overexpose the image and give your doggy glowing green eyes (the human equivalent of red eye), but it can also terrify your model. Instead, opt for natural light, though more does not mean better. Aim for soft morning or early evening light, overcast days, or light filtered through trees, windows, or skylights. Overcast weather is one of the best times to shoot outdoors.
If you have to use a flash, experiment by turning down its power level so that it gives you just enough pop without overwhelming the image. Most cameras will let you make these adjustments in any other mode than Auto.
Pet-friendly camera modes:
Auto: A great all-purpose setting that automatically selects the shutter speed, aperture, ISO, focus and flash to take the best overall shot for the environment you’re in. If you’d like to adjust a setting here and there, consider switching to Program, which is like Auto with customization options.
Sports/Action: Chances are at some point your dog is going to get up and get wild. Don’t stop shooting! Instead switch over to the Sports mode. Capturing movement is what this setting was made for. It uses a fast shutter speed to freeze-frame your pet in action. These days most cameras have advanced focus features that will track a moving subject, making it easier to get the perfect shot.
Portrait: Great for when Fido is ready for his close up. This setting will blur the background, ensuring all the attention and focus is put on your pooch. It’s not made for moving subjects, so if your dog can’t keep his head still, opt for another mode.
Macro: Want to zoom in on your dog’s cute little nose but keep getting blurry photos in return? There’s a special setting on your camera called Macro, made just for extreme close-ups. It’s generally symbolized with a little flower and when selected will tell your camera that you want to focus on a subject closer to your lens than normal — anywhere from 2 to 10 cm away.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The trick to getting your camera-shy pup to love life in front of the lens is treats. But not just any kind; you need high value goodies like cheese, freeze-dried steak, or dehydrated duck on hand. Give your pooch a treat while you’re holding your camera and slowly work up to holding it to eye level. If your pup tends to react every time they hear the beep of your camera’s auto-focus, turn off the sound in your menu settings.
Shoot Fast. Shoot Often
One of the many advantages of digital cameras is that there is no film to pay or wait for. You can shoot as many photos as you want and toss the bad ones away without spending a penny. So when you encounter a great moment, keep pressing your shutter button until the moment is over. You can worry about the bad shots later.
Getting the best angle
Conventional advice says you shouldn’t photograph your pet from your eye level. I say there’s nothing wrong with doing that. After all, you want to remember what they looked like from your point of view. Just don’t stick to a single perspective. Do some gymnastics and try to shoot from every conceivable angle you can think of. A steep high angle will give you an exaggerated look of how you perceive them. Take it further and crouch down a few feet from the ground so you are in their world. This will result in more personal, intimate portraits.
To give your photos that “wow” factor, avoid shots in which the subject and their eyes are smack dab in the middle of the image. Instead, try framing your subjects to the right or left. Anytime you photograph your pooch’s face, it’s a good idea to have her eyes in either the top or bottom third of the frame. Experiment with focusing, tilts and angles. And don’t forget to pay attention to your background. An ill-placed tree can look like it’s growing out of a head.
The best way to capture your pet showing his award-winning personality is to photograph Fido where he likes to hang out the most, whether it be the backyard or his favorite walking spot. And give your pet his favorite toys. The more fun they have, the more likely they are to forget about you and your camera.
Get some tongue
If you want to capture your dog licking it up for the camera, give her a big glob of peanut butter. It’s how the pros get those great tongue shots.
All you need is a little patience
Animals are unpredictable. Don’t expect to walk into a room and get them to pose on command (unless you’re a really amazing trainer). Get in position with your pup, compose your frame, and then wait for the moment. Most of the time you have to be willing to wait to get the truly great shoots.
Originally published in the July 22nd, 2011, issue of Nomad Editions Good Dog magazine.
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Kira DeDecker | email@example.com | Arizona Pet Photography