Getting the Right Colors
De Laney suggests injecting color into the background of your pet's portrait, but says the shade should be complementary to the animal. Golden retrievers and redheads look good against a background of dark green. White-colored cats are flattered by blue or another cool color. And a black Labrador retriever needs a lighter backdrop.
Getting the Best Angle
Place the camera at about the same level as the animal, so the frame will be filled with the subject, Dratfield advises. If you're outdoors, get down on your hands and knees to go eye-to-eye with your pet. Not every picture has to be taken from that angle, but, Dratfield says, "Animals are very pure and honest in their responses, so it's lovely to capture some pictures at that level."
Pose your pet in a room or on a piece of furniture he considers cozy, or, if you're doing outdoor shots, you can position your subject in front of a tree. "Just be careful that the trunk is not directly behind his head," says Dratfield. He and De Laney both agree it's important to remove clutter from the background, whether the shot is indoors or out.
If a dog has a favorite chair that will make him feel comfortable but the fabric is a busy print, toss a plain-colored cloth over the furniture, De Laney suggests.
Delaney is no fan of funny costumes for pets, saying they tend to make an animal look tense and uncomfortable. "I think the guideline I would encourage pet owners to keep in mind is, 'Would I mind appearing in this outfit, or is it in such bad taste that I'd be insulted?'" De Laney says.
But some dress-up shots work, like a picture De Laney saw of a bunny wearing a pair of sunglasses. "It looked cute," he says. Dratfield believes costuming should be left to the pet owner's taste.
How to Get Your Pet into the Family Portrait
The easiest solution is to place the pet in the lap of someone they feel comfortable with, says Dratfield. But sometimes it's the human members of the family who need guidance. De Laney says family members can feel awkward sitting for group portraits and the challenge is to bring a sense of unity to the picture. Have all the people look in one direction or at each other and strive for a natural effect.
“You don't want a picture of Mom sitting next to the dog like a pair of frogs on a log, so get Mom to put her arm round the dog or scratch the cat's neck, or whatever the case may be,'' he suggests.
Because pets can be unpredictable and jump at the slightest camera click, set your shutter speed at a minimum of 1/125th of a second. That way your pet won't come across a fuzz ball if he leaps away quickly. "I do 125th a lot, sometimes 250 or even 500," says Dratfield. "I use 400 speed or faster film, because the quality of film has gotten so much better, and there's still a lot of latitude you can get with 400 speed film."
If your pet bird will perch on your finger, she will probably pose long enough for a photograph. Make sure colors in the background don't overwhelm or clash with the bird's colors.
To capture your pet fish, put your camera lens up against the tank and wait for the fish to swim your way. Let the aquarium lights illuminate the shot or, if you use your flash, be sure to take the photograph from an angle of about 60 degrees, so you don't get a blinding hot spot.