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Chapter 4. People Shots, Portraits, and Pets > Photographing kids and pets

Photographing kids and pets

Whether you're a professional photographer, an advanced amateur, or just a proud family member recording a special moment for the future, taking pictures of children is one of the most rewarding things a photographer can do. It's been said that you can't take a bad picture of a child, and due to the wide range of emotions and expressions that a child can exhibit, most people would agree.

What about family pets? Many people would apply the exact same statement to them, since many of us consider our dog or cat to be another member of the family. Trying to capture these moments can be a little tricky, though, since your subject may not always want to sit still for you!

Your subjects: Will they ever stop moving?

When you start to photograph children and pets, you quickly learn one of the biggest drawbacks is that they won't hold still. Children often have short attention spans, and your dog or cat may have an even shorter one. Generally, having a favorite toy handy can be helpful, as it will hold the child's or animal's attention long enough to snap some pictures. One of the best methods to get the picture you want isn't the most obvious: Put your camera down for a few minutes and take a little time to play with your subjects; talk to them if necessary.

Essential tools for the shoot

One of the biggest (and most expensive) items we can recommend is a larger memory card. Most digital cameras come with an 8 MB or 16 MB card. When shooting at a higher resolution, you'll probably fill up these cards quickly. When we've used a 1 GB card in the camera and the higher resolutions, we could store between 500 and 700 images. Having this kind of space allows you to continue shooting uninterrupted, which will result in more captured moments.

Using a flash

One of the first things to be aware of is the use of the flash in your images. In some cases, flash is necessary, but usually using a flash is just a matter of individual preference. Here are some ideas on how to make the decision.

Seeing the light when itcomes to using a flash

Figures A and B show photographs of our first model, Allison, which we took using flash and natural light, respectively. As you can see, both methods capture a beautiful moment, each with its own subtle difference in texture and mood. In this case, the use of flash would be an individual preference. By keeping the aperture at f/2 to f/2.8 and focusing on the eyes, you'll get photos that are picture perfect.

A. In this photo, we captured Allison with the on-camera flash filling in the shadows.

B. Allison is posing sweetly in this photo, which we took using the available natural light.

Even though the flash image shown in Figure A is brighter and has captured more detail than the naturally lit image shown in Figure B, it appears more stark in comparison. Most digital cameras do a good job of balancing the flash with natural light, as shown in our pictures of Allison. Natural light, however, has a beautiful quality of its own. Try it both ways to see what works best for you.


Try to maintain eye contact with your subject. When the eyes look right into the lens and you snap the shot, you're guaranteed a good result.

Capturing subjects that often fly by in a flash

Jeff the cat was an interesting subject to photograph. You'll need to be patient, quick … and forget about the posed part when photographing animals.

While Jeff, seen hunting in Figure C, went about stalking his prey, we couldn't get a crisp shot of him using the natural light. As you can see, there's a bit of a gray and unfocused cast to the image.

C. Jeff the cat goes into stalk mode, which makes getting a sharp and simple natural light shot difficult.

Remember when we said there would be instances where you'd need flash? Well, this is one of them. Flash is necessary with moving subjects. Our on-camera flash came in handy here because it enabled us to record the details of our subject while he continued to hunt. As you can see in Figure D, the resulting image is quite acceptable.

D. Jeff was still stalking, but using our on-camera flash, We were able to get a sharp shot of him.

A return to an old classic: Black and white images

One of the best functions on most digital cameras is the black and white function. Although black and white photography has declined in popularity over the years, it's back with a vengeance. But this time, with digital cameras, there are no messy chemicals or expensive darkrooms, only the beauty of an image that looks unique when compared to color photography.

As you can see in Figure E on the next page, black and white images have an editorial, almost old-fashioned feel to them. These images can be further enhanced in most image-editing programs, and different toning effects (such as sepia toning) can make them seem even more like family heirlooms.

E. The absence of color in this shot of Andrew (appearing a little more angelic in black and white) is a great way to draw attention to your subject's softer side.

Combining kids and pets in the same shot

When it comes to putting children and pets together for a photo opportunity, you need to be ready to take quite a few snapshots to get the desired image you're looking for. We decided to photograph Emily with two of her pets. First was her cat, Dewey, who wasn't in the mood to be photographed that day. Emily herself had been in better moods as well, and things were looking a little grim. However, when they started rolling on the ground, the mood seemed to change for the better, as you can see in Figure F. We kept the shutter speed to 1/250 of a second to better capture the spontaneity of the moment.

F. Emily and Dewey share a special moment—unplanned and unposed.

Emily's other pet definitely won't be for everyone, but as a photographic subject, it couldn't be beat. Jessica is an albino Burmese python—tame, gentle, but quite a handful when she's out. It isn't often you get a chance to photograph a child who's comfortable around such a creature. When photographing exotic pets, you'll find it pays to have someone around (like a parent, handler, or owner) who can handle the animal while you shoot.

In our case, Jessica turned out to be quite a brilliant subject. Her yellow markings set her off nicely against the green color of the grass. The only issue was getting all 10 feet of Jessica in the frame along with Emily. Using the camera lens at the widest setting allowed us to frame Jessica and Emily together. A square crop with the snake running along the edges and Emily in the upper-right corner, as shown in Figure G, solved that issue as well. We set the aperture to f/5.6 (to allow us to get both subjects in focus) and the camera shutter speed to 1/100 of a second.

G. Emily and her 10-foot friend look cute and comfortable with each other on the grass.

Off to the beach!

Our second location, the beach, gave the kids we were photographing a new place to play and gave us a new place to take pictures. We spent some time experimenting with the camera, following the kids with it set to a slower shutter speed, as shown in Figure H. A shutter speed of 1/20 or lower gives the effect shown; just try to keep up with the kids!

H. If you follow your subject with a slower shutter speed, it results in dynamic images like the one shown here.

The slower shutter speed blurs the image. However, if you follow your subject closely, a portion of the image will remain in focus. This gives the feeling of motion. Fun images of the children clowning around for the camera can be a real treasure, like the one we took of Emily, shown in Figure I. Setting the camera at its widest lens setting, turning the macro focus option on, and getting in tight can result in some images that emphasize the whimsical nature of children.

I. The combination of the wide-angle lens and the position of the railing make for a fun photograph.

Keeping your subjects' attention

We've collected some tried-and-true techniques you can use to get kids and pets to pay attention during a photo shoot:

  • A good way to keep the attention of children is to get down and play with them while you take their photograph. Talking to kids as you take their picture is another good way to keep their attention. Babies and small children also respond well to having Mom or Dad in close range. Providing your young charges with variety is another good (and fun!) way to keep their attention. One way to do this is to have fun props on hand, such as a toy frog, crown, and magic wand for a little princess or art supplies and an easel for the aspiring artist. You can also arrange to photograph them at different locations such as the beach, the zoo, or perhaps even the local planetarium.

  • In place of the spoken commands that work for well-trained pets, be creative with animals. A treat or bright toy just next to or behind the focal point of the camera works quite well. When photographing our own pets, we've used bounce flash or fill flash on most occasions and the animals hardly bat an eye.

  • It's important to be flexible at times. Keep in mind that you may need to alter a setup.

  • Avoid skimping on the number of shots you take. This way, you're sure to wind up with one or more agreeable images. Beyond that, imagination, compassion, and a little old-fashioned ingenuity go a long way.

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