Friday, January 6, 2012

Animal Photography for the Rest of Us

Maggie the Greyhound, 12 x 9" oil on canvas. This is based on a small snapshot, the best photo the owners had. Maggie died a few years ago, so what I had to work with was, well, what I had to work with.

I create paintings of deceased animals pretty often, and this frequently means reconstructing portraits out of photos in which the animal's face is tiny, poorly lit, or not in focus very well; it's a difficult process of artistic instinct and guesswork, and usually involves searching for images of similar-looking animals to help me make the best decisions I can.
While it's true I can craft a surprisingly good painting from some very poor photos, there are two problems with this. First, it's much harder than it would be if the photos were better; second, not everyone can hire me. And it's just nice in general to have more good photos of your furry companions. I take shots of my own for use in making portraits, and I've learned that you need not be a pro to do pretty well. So here are my ...

Top Three Tips for Amateur Animal Photos

1. Turn your flash OFF and photograph in daylight. A bright window is good, or outdoors pretty much anywhere (you may want to avoid full midday sun, though, and use shade or morning/evening sunlight). Flash photos make animals look unnatural, causing eyes to reflect and coat colors to look harsh and cold.

2. Get close enough to see details. It often helps if you get on the animal's eye level instead of your own.

3. Take lots and lots of shots. If you're using a digital camera, why not just have fun? You're not wasting film, and good photos of animals are often the product of sheer luck, having snapped the shutter at what turned out to be just the right moment.

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