Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes
Everyone has a phone camera with them almost 24/7. Here are a few tips to capture the cuteness of your pets with that everyday convenient camera. Just as there are seven or more main face shapes for humans, there are hundreds of shapes and sizes of animal faces. I learned how to add shadow & light to enhance a human face and to bring out desired features and tell a story. So, too, we can add shadow/light to show the dimensions of a pet's face. This diagram below is just an example to illustrate ways to think about light as it plays on different face shapes. The dark areas represent shadows and the cream represents areas to emphasize the most out of flattering light. The goal is to create volume and shape and form on the human face through manipulating light in various ways.
To get a three dimensional look, that could be described as adding volume and shape, but using a two-dimensional medium (that is photography) - we need to study the light. For your pets, you can find many ways to create a soft shadow transition across the muzzle, so then you will bring your pet photo out of that dull, uninteresting light and make it come alive. What if you have a dark haired dog with dark eyes? Add light to your dog's face, in the same way you might add shadow to a lighter colored dog in order not to make her face too bright. Be aware of what light situation to look for (it is simpler than it sounds). Examples: you can place your dog in the shade near a bright wall or a light colored object that can bounce into the shadow where your dog is and create beautiful, interesting light. So often I see people placing their pet, or their child, right in the bright light near a pretty scene. If the child/pet is the subject, then make them shine. Place them in a shaded place that has bright light shining in. The area just beyond the shadow is your best friend in terms of flat, soft, even light. Simply face your subject directly out toward the light source. What? Yes, you will be surprised how often this light situation exists now that you are thinking about it. Example: Place your dog inside a garage, a few feet in. The light on a sunny day or even a cloudy one acts as a large softbox or light source that is so much larger than your dog -- it creates a soft flattering light. When you're on a hike, go underneath a stand of trees for the pic by placing your subject there. Go underneath an outcrop of rock on a trail near a larger, reflecting light source. Same concept. You will be happy not to see the dappled, or white hot & bright light shining directly on your pet or child's squinting face. The light often bounces off the surrounding rocks or even the light colored dirt trail into the shade. What if you are in a new town exploring on vacation? No problem. Place your dog (or child, now that I am talking vacation) just a few feet into a doorway or entrance to a building or courtyard. (Choose one which has a trellis, or architectural frame or old wood perhaps). You can make a portrait on a shaded deck with the sky bouncing its beautiful light toward where you or your pet are standing. Voila. These scenarios can be found. They are everywhere. Experiment with your smart phone. Turn your pet's face to one side and another & watch how the shadow or highlights position themselves on the face. Find what you like. Snap.
When I see a spark of light naturally twinkling in my dog's eyes I always get excited. It's called a catch light. Catch lights are a key way to make your picture come alive and be emotionally moving to draw you in. That puppy dog love brimming in Jennifer Aniston's eyes in her movie scenes comes from catch-lights. Sandra Bullock's anger or angst or humour in so many scenes is amplified by catch lights. Every scene in your favorite movie is lit by studio lights exactly for those catch-lights. Even during the most mundane settings and conversations. To get a close up of your dog's puppy eyes brimming love up at you with sparkles, wait until late in the day. Then you will find the sun's rays are not as high in the sky, and you will avoid bright light spilling directly onto your dog's nose.
My last tip is the head, shoulders, knees & toes part. Get down on your knees. Get even with your pet's eye level. Or your child's if he/she is your subject. Decide if you want a head and shoulders close-up? How about just the furry toes and paws? What about the environmental shot that includes the beach & waves where your dog is running & swimming? Decide what is the most important thing to tell about this photo. Give up one thing to show another. Oh! But that's digressing and for another blog post. Remember to take a second & assess the light. You might make a picture in a spot where you didn't think it was worth the shot.
This image is using window light in the living room of a home. Notice the catch lights in the pup's eyes. And the soft shadow across his muzzle that is subtle and adds dimension.
This image is window light as well, and shows the addition of light on one side of the face to camera left - to create some interest & more shape. There is so much more to say about photographing what you love. And you can always break the rules & not choose to follow the advice of any photographer. Make your own ideas shine. Have fun! And please print some of your pictures for lasting memories!