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    Staging pets and farm animals

    Staging pets and farm animals

    Pets are part of the family. They have a character of their own and we can hardly ask them to pose. Here are lots of tips on getting the best out of your pet pictures.

    Preparation

    Unlike wildlife, the advantage of pets is that you can get close to them. You don't need any special equipment, your normal camera with a standard lens is perfectly adequate. First, decide whether you want to photograph the animal outside or inside. Whichever you choose, the lighting will be very different. The atmosphere in the living room is nothing like outdoors. I prefer daylight and avoid artificial light (wherever possible), whether it is a flash or room lighting. Direct sunlight is not normally ideal because of the harsh shadows. Diffuse light provides more even lighting. You get this kind of light when it comes through a window to the side, or outside when it is cloudy. Sunlight is great for reflecting sweat, wet fur or water drops flying off during a shake. You only get light reflections and shine in sunlight.

    Not all animals are afraid of strangers in the same way. There are benefits to taking a little time to befriend the animal. Treats work wonders.

    Setting the scene and your camera

    Domesticated animals such as cows, horses, rabbits, poultry or sometimes even cats will not always remain calm and stay in the right position while you take photos. As a photographer, you have limited influence over how an animal poses or moves. So you need to set yourself and your camera up for action. If you shoot at 1/1000 of a second, you can capture even tiny movements in focus. If the lighting is a little low, I increase the ISO setting until I can get the aperture and exposure time that I want. The aperture controls the bokeh (blurriness) in the background. Choose the aperture setting to determine whether your whole cat is in focus or just its eyes and whiskers. If the aperture is wide (e.g. f2.8), the depth of field for a cat portrait is just a few centimetres. With the aperture closed (e.g. f18) the whole cat is in focus. As well as the light conditions, the camera settings of exposure time, aperture and ISO also have a considerable influence on the results. So I recommend not working in automatic mode, but preselecting the aperture or timing or even working completely in manual mode. If the subject moves while I am taking pictures, I set the exposure time, while if it is calm, I preselect the aperture. I find a tripod gets in the way a bit for fast work, so I prefer to work without one.

    Set the autofocus on your camera to the smallest setting so that you can focus sharply on the eyes, for example.

    The background is the stage for your subject. Make sure it is not too busy or cluttered. Lots of details in the background can distract from the subject and can be annoying. With staged photos you can choose the background, but this is not possible for spontaneous, natural shoots.

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    You can see how happy the dog is in the snow and how it is looking forward to the next game. The background is unobtrusive, which puts the focus on the subject.

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    You can see how happy the dog is in the snow and how it is looking forward to the next game. The background is unobtrusive, which puts the focus on the subject.

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    The arrangement is strictly centred on the deep blue eyes and the depth of field is short, which make this an attractive photo. The head fills the image and the gaze is almost magical.

    Direction of view and movement

    The expression on the cat or dog's face is anthropormorphised and captivates the viewer. The animal uses its posture to communicate. Let those looking at your photo guess what message it is trying to convey. If the movement or the way the eyes are drawn goes from left to right, it is positive, otherwise it goes against the grain. Always photograph animals from the front and not from behind.

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    If you are waiting and watching, the area around you is important. The sepia colouring takes away all the distracting colours and the observers can concentrate on the animal.

    Relationships

    If there are multiple animals in the photo, they create a social relationship amongst themselves which includes us as observers. We feel an empathetic connection to the herd or pack, which is what makes these kinds of animal pictures attractive.

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    The relationship between the ewe and her lamb is captured through the gap in the fence. The 'world' is there to be discovered, but the little one seems a little tired still.

    Baby animals

    Nearly all baby animals of all sizes are cute. Baby animals are the among the most charming subjects. We find them irresistible and cannot stop looking at them.

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    This pile of cuddly kittens would warm the coldest of hearts. You just want to pick them up and cuddle them!

    Ralf Turtschi

    Ralf Turtschi

    Ralf Turtschi has made a name for himself as a specialist book author and journalist. He works as a photojournalist, is a hobby photographer and lecturer and gives technical and creative advice on all aspects of photography. He is particularly fond of nature, landscape, portrait, travel, macro, architecture, and night photography.

    Further information: www.agenturtschi.ch

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