Cell phone technology has advanced tremendously since the early days of the large, clunky “brick phones.” One of the most appreciated advances was the addition of a camera, making it the critical tool we never knew we needed and which we now carry right in our pockets. The cell phone camera became so popular, in fact, that one of the most successful social media platforms rose out of our love of photography—Instagram. And some of the biggest Instagram stars who emerged are beloved pets—just everyday dogs, cats, iguanas and more, captured regularly at their adorable best. And users eat it up, with many of these Instagram stars being followed by thousands, even millions of people. Because, as it turns out, owners are not the only ones who thinks their pet is the cutest little furball in the world!
But capturing your own pet’s charm, as you may have discovered, is not as easy as it may appear, particularly with a cell phone. Here are some tips for photographing your pet that’ll help make your shots Instagram ready.ANABEL DFLUX»
Photograph from your pet’s eye level.
Eyes are the windows to the soul, and angling your camera to your pet’s eye level is key to creating really striking photographs. Viewers are more empathetic and attracted to images that are taken from the same perspective as the subject’s. Your pet’s viewpoint is intriguing to viewers!
Some pets will immediately try to come toward the phone when you bend down to get to their eye level. Just keep exposing your dog to the phone camera until they realize it’s not interesting and they begin to ignore it.
Get those ears up!
Ears up, boys … ears up! Images are static, so a dog with his ears down (even if he’s relaxed and happy) may look sad in pictures. Dogs (and even cats) look more endearing with their ears up, like they’re excited and ready for anything.
You’ll want to get those ears up and those faces “smiling.” Be aware that this will require a good bit of attention-grabbing on your part. Use high-value treats (foods that your dog finds irresistible) or a favorite toy to catch your pet’s eye and get those ears up.
If you really want to win hearts, add a head tilt in addition to the ears up technique. Try making a noise your pet hasn’t heard before, like a bird call or a pig snort. You’ll have only a split second to capture the tilt, so be ready for it! Now, if you have a dog that is already fearful, never use this or any other technique that may startle or confuse your dog. You know your dog best, and you know whether you will be invoking curiosity or genuine fear. Always use common sense when you’re going for that “perfect” shot.
Reward your pet whenever they do something good.
Don’t forget to give your pet a treat or vigorous praise whenever they do something good. Whether it’s sitting down on command or staying in place (or even just not biting the phone!), you want your pup to associate the cell phone and being obedient with something positive.
Put the phone on silent if you want to catch a candid moment.
Candid moments—those images that aren’t posed—are sometimes the best way to convey an expression, tell a story, or document particularly enchanting behavior.
Unless you change your settings, most cell phone cameras mimic the shutter noise of a regular camera. Although this might provoke some cute facial expressions from some animals, it could also ruin your perfect candid moment. Remember to set your phone to silent before trying to capture your pet doing something captivating when they think you’re not looking.
Also, use the zoom feature on your phone camera so you can capture the moment from some distance away. You never want to become part of the story by distracting your pet from whatever he’s doing!
You can make a studio light out of a lamp and white sheet.
If the lighting in your home tends to be on the darker side, you can make a studio light out of a lamp and white or light-colored sheet. Just position the lamp behind or under the sheet (make sure the sheet doesn’t touch the lightbulb!), and you have yourself a studio light. The sheet will help diffuse, or soften, the light. This eliminates any harsh contrast—you don’t want your shadows to be too dark or your highlights to be too light.
If your phone camera has manual settings, use them.
Some cell phones, like the new iPhone and new Google Pixel, allow you to manually adjust the settings (similar to a proper camera).
You can adjust the—
■ ISO, which is the sensor’s sensitivity to light. This makes an image lighter or darker.
■ Shutter speed, which is how fast the camera takes a picture. This will help avoid blurriness from your camera moving as you take a picture.
■ Aperture, which is how much of the image is in focus (say, the subject) and how much is out of focus (such as the background, if you choose).
Practice working with and adjusting these settings, because they will open up your options exponentially for phone photography, as you learn to control how the camera takes your picture.
The most compelling photos are images that reveal your pet’s personality.
Use phone applications to edit your photographs.
The default editing app on most cell phones isn’t very good. Luckily, there are many free programs you can download to help you edit your pictures.
A favorite among the phone photographers is Snapseed—it’s a powerful editing tool that will breathe new life into your favorite photos. In addition, Adobe has also released a mobile version of Photoshop and Lightroom for even more advanced editing capabilities.
By using an editing app, you can enhance the best features of your lovable subject and make your photographs stand out among the crowd.
Understand the limitations of a cell phone camera.
The cell phone camera will never replace a proper camera, so don’t expect it to. Understand what your cell phone can and cannot capture and work within its limitations.
For example, most cell phone cameras are terrible at capturing action, so don’t disappoint yourself with blurry photos of your dog catching a ball. Instead, take captivating photographs of your dog chewing on a toy.
Aim to capture their personality!
The most compelling photos are images that reveal your pet’s personality. Does your furry, feathered, or scaled friend have a unique quirk or characteristic? Showcase that! Many internet-famous animals are well known because of something unusual—one of the first animal celebrities, Grumpy Cat (who sadly passed away in 2019) was known worldwide for her perpetually sour face. Her star continues to shine, and as of August 2020, Grumpy Cat had 8.3 million likes on Facebook, 2.6 million followers on Instagram, 1.5 million followers on Twitter, and 283,000 subscribers on YouTube. Others have followed, including 9-year-old Chiweenie Tuna, a rescue dog with a comical but very endearing overbite, and Marnie, a 12-year-old rescue ShihTzu whose permanent head tilt and drooping tongue give her a unique and adorable look.
Not every pet aspires to be an internet sensation, but as owners, we want to showcase our fur babies in the best possible light and capture their own personal spark. With a little effort and some practice, you’ll be snapping engaging cell phone photos of your pet to enjoy for a lifetime.
Innovative Phone Attachments
Does your cat, dog or other furry or feathered friend ignore you when the phone comes out? Here are a couple of aids you can try.
Flexy PawCOURTESY PAW CHAMPS INC.»
The Flexy Paw allows you to take portraits or selfies of your pet by clipping on your pets favorite treat or toy! Works great on dogs and cats. pawchamps.com
Pooch SelfieCOURTESY POOCHSELFIE.COM»
Make your pet Instafamous with Pooch Selfie! Pooch Selfie comes with a removable Squeaking Pooch Selfie ball and one smartphone attachment. poochselfie.com/
Anabel DFlux of www.DeliquesceFlux.com is a professional photographer and canine enthusiast in Southern California. She spends her days photographing pups from all walks of life and providing photography education to aspiring pet photographers.