10 Tips and Tricks for Photographing Your Traveling Pet!
The web is awash with information on how to take photographs of your pets OR how to take great photographs while traveling. There does seem to be a bit of a gap when it comes to combining the two. So, although we are far from experts and will never be professional photographers, we have been asked by enough readers what our approach is to feel that perhaps we may have a few tips and tricks to share.
We are “kinda” purists. Other than the fine art of cropping a photo, very little work is done in what is called “post production”, a fancy way of saying manipulating an image with software such as Photoshop or using a lot of the filters available today. We are considering taking a class at some point but we somehow prefer the honesty of not overly manipulating a shot…although softening wrinkles has started to become a common thing for the bipeds. Ah vanity … There is an app for that you know!
After all, we have no desire to sell the photographs and we do this purely for our enjoyment and to illustrate the text in our blog. For us, it is just for fun. And that is probably the greatest advice we could give. Enjoy it and remember that when it comes to photos of your trip – and pet – the only person (other than yourself Dear Reader) to care are family and friends. So do not let the fear of “not capturing the perfect shot” stop you.
But on with the tips!
1. Fear of the Camera
Not every pet (or human) cares for the camera. Take the time to let your dog (or any animal) get accustomed to your equipment – especially large lenses! Place your camera safely on the ground and let them sniff it and approach it on their own. Give a treat when they approach without fear. Lavish your dog with lots of praise and maybe even a new toy! Before a trip, start with taking photos from a distance at home or on familiar territory and slowly allow yourself to move in closer. Never shove a camera in the face of a skittish pet.
2. Basic Obedience
Training is a key factor for a good shot; it really helps if your pet knows basic commands. “Sit” and “Stay” are key. Especially “Stay”. There are many online videos that can help you teach your pet these basic commands but we recommend you go sign up for some obedience training. Not only will it make your life easier for taking photographs it will also make you and your dogs life safer when traveling.
3. Say Cheese
The most difficult thing about photographing a pet is keeping their attention. This is especially true when you add the thrill of fresh smells and the discovery of a new place into the mix.
- Tire out your pet! A pet that has been walked and fed is a much better model!
- Give your pet a chance to explore first. Let them sniff and smell and get acquainted with the space. They are less likely to then shift during your shot. This is especially true if the location is a noisy one. When I was in Pisa, Mom had to let me get use to a constant bell tolling in the background before trying to get me to sit still for a shot!
- Keep a treat or squeak toy to catch and hold interest. We find that a treat placed just above the camera lens is a great way to make your pet “look into the camera”.
- Embrace the selfie. I know it may seem really narcissistic but there are times when it is the ONLY way you will get your pet to cooperate. Safe in your arms.
4. The Camera
By no means do you need to spend thousands of dollars on a camera. We used to have the Sony NEX-5; a mirror-less digital camera with high image quality and without all the bulk of it’s DSLR counterparts. Major bonuses were the interchangeable lenses. We loved that camera….
BUT … Over time we started to notice something.
The first thing was that the camera on the iPhone that we had at the time (the iPhone 4) was really catching up in terms of quality. In fact as the years have gone by, dare I say what almost no photographer wants to hear? The iPhone 6S that Dad got…? It surpassed the small portable camera not only in terms of photo quality but also in terms of portability.
In the end Dear Reader it boils down to this:
The BEST camera to have is the one you have on you!
Neither of the bipeds want to be bogged down with a camera and multiple lenses anymore. No matter how small and portable they make the new DSLRs… they are STILL bigger and less convenient than the iPhones. At first the “real” camera started being left behind for “active” events and messy, sweaty hikes. Then for short walks… and then not even getting packed at all.
The best part? The bulk, the wires, the battery rechargers… all gone. And we are ok with that.
Being able to share on social media, use a plethora of apps and more…? Indeed the need for a “real” camera has now disappeared for a full 4 years. I really believe that great photos have a LOT more to do with having a good eye and basic understanding of photography than the amount of money spent on a camera.
5. Framing the Shot
When taking pictures of your pet on a trip the challenge is often the same as with people: The trick of a double focal point in a shot. You want both your pet – and of course whatever it is you are capturing – to shine. There are a few tricks that help with this.
- Avoid every shot being perfectly centred! Place your pet to the side of the shot and closer with the backdrop centered in the photo. So for example put Fido to the left and a historic monument in center of your shot.
- Take everything from the side and don’t be afraid of “empty” space in your photograph. A good example would be your pet and a beautiful sunset on the right and loads of sky and sea filling the rest of the frame.
- Don’t get too close to monuments, these and vistas are often larger than life! 9 times out of 10 the best shot is taken by actually walking away from what you are visiting.
- Bring your pet up to eye level. Find a fence, a post, a ledge, a stool … Anything to bring (especially a small pet) up and more in line with the view. Even a persons arms will work well!
- Get down on the ground! If you are very close to the monument then get down on your stomach! Yep! Taking a shot from ground level looking up is often the only way to get a decent shot.
- Frame your shot! If you have a doorframe, window frame, two trees or even two statues or pillars – use them to frame your shot. This forces the viewer’s eye to go to what you wish for them to see.
- If you must center both your pet and a monument make sure that one of your two focal points is not obstructing the other!
- Fill the frame with your subject(s) – If you have to explain something about your shot then it isn’t a good photo!
- Try both horizontal and vertical and see what happens! Most people use horizontal as a default – play with the angles – even go crooked!
- Move around and see how the light hits a subject from multiple angles. Shoot the same subject from different places. Don’t assume that the first place you see something is the best place to take a photo.
- Make sure you focus on the eyes! No matter what the setting your pet’s eyes should always be clear and in focus.
Light is key! A gorgeous building that is in the shade is far less interesting than one that is being bathed in the warm glow of a sunset. If you have the luxury to return to a site to get a better shot – then do so!
But that is not always possible and we will admit that we DO use apps to help with this. Weather is completely out of our control. When it is grey and raining the light is “flat”. Not much can be done about that. We have found that in some cases it is well worth playing with a few filters to find one that give a bit of life to a listless shot.
7. Plan Ahead
Know ahead of time what are your “must have” shots and go online. Study how professionals have taken pictures of these spots and plan how you think you will be able to achieve the same. Take that information with you. The best time of day for gorgeous photography is sunset and sunrise. You may want to plan your trip so you arrive at those times – or plan to wake up early. Sunrise is not just lovely for lighting but tends to also have the benefit of fewer crowds. Combine an early walk with your dog and a photo shoot!
We often Google Map a location – note from where the sun will rise and set and see if there is a better place to take the photo than at the feet of the monument. For example in Florence , the best shot was actually taken from a hill a half hour walk up and across the river! The view, the walk and the shot were well worth the trek!
Note: Facebook prefers landscape shots. Pinterest prefers horizontal shots and Instagram? It’s all about the square. So if you are on a lot of different social media sites plan to take the same shot both horizontally and vertically as well as close up and from further away. You will need the options.
8. Major No No’s
Some things are always true, yet somehow often forgotten. These little things will spoil a perfect shot no matter how wonderful the light, the focus or the setting was. These are what keep your photos from shining.
- Cutting off the tips of paws, ears, monuments etc. Our biggest pet peeve? Shots with people’s feet “cut off”.
- A photograph is of no interest if all you see is a tiny little speck on the ground or in the distance. Get right in there and use your Zoom lens and Macro settings!
- Don’t always shoot your pet from above. No seriously! Stop it!
- Avoid using a flash with pets. This only causes weird reflections off their eyes changing the color of their eyes or making them yellow, orange or red. Natural lighting is always better than artificial.
- Keep that leash out of the shot if possible! (safety first!)
- Get rid of distractions! A water bottle, wrapper, half empty glass or dirty plate of your recent dinner will take away from your shot! Make sure things like your camera case, bag of souvenirs or shopping don’t clutter the shot.
- Only share with others those money shots! Even we are bad at this but most people do not want to see 7 variations of the same shot at once.
9. Get Dirty Looks
Don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself by making insane noises. Dogs respond very well to high pitch sounds, whistles and new and unknown noises.
Get some help! Traveling as a couple makes this easier; one person can keep the dogs attention while the other takes the shot. You can (and we do) enlists the help of other travelers and even locals! If there is a huge crowd get a few people to help you clear a space for a moment, get them to take the shot for you if you wish to also be in the photo and frame the photo for them. Offer in exchange to take a photo of them with their own camera. We did this for a particularly good shot in Paris ! 4 people held pedestrians at bay while Dad held the treat and my focus and Mom got on the ground, on her stomach to take the photo. People were laughing and smiling and when she jumped up and shouted “Got It!!” everyone rushed over to see it on the screen. Don’t be shy!
10. Outside the Box Thinking and Patience
Create Action shots! Have your pet run towards you, or walking past a building – or jumping down famous step, walking along the edge of a fountain or lunging from one pillar to the next. If your pet is active then they are not getting bored and make for a better subject.
Be patient. You can’t be in a hurry when photographing a live animal. The monument may not move and will always stand perfectly still but the odds are your pet will have a mind of its own. No matter what be prepared to have to take numerous photos to end up with only one really good one… if any.
Most importantly have FUN!! This is only worth it if you are having a good time. The process should elicit some laughs and chuckles and be a part of your fond memories of your trip. Remember that you are there to see the place you are visiting, so try not to spend the enter time viewing everything from behind the camera. Take the time to soak it up with your own eyes. Better yet, hire a photographer to take the best shots of you with your pet on location! We have done this a few times through Flytographer and it is always the best decision for that trip!
Do you have any secrets you would like to add to our 10 Tips and Tricks for photographing your traveling pet?
Note: This post is updated and nearly a re-write of an earlier post written in 2013. Adding an extra 5 tips based on newly aquired experience, encompassing new equipment and options relevant to 2018.