A few days ago, I found my cat Calvin in yet another comical position: all stretched out, but with his paws completely hidden under his head.
I grabbed my camera to take a few pictures. Later, when I downloaded and reviewed them, I found a few that were standouts. They were the ones where I got down on the floor facing Calvin and snapped away.
This got me thinking about how some of my most favorite photos of my pets are ones when I’m on their level. Those pictures often seem more emotional, more personal and more interesting. They tell stories. They invite you in.
Usually when we interact with our pets, we’re above them — literally, not figuratively. It’s very natural to take photos from where stand, from our normal height.
Get down for great pet photography
However, my advice to people who want to take great photos of their pets is this: Get Down.
Get on the floor with them. Or the grass.
Put yourself (and your camera) on their level.
Look into their eyes. See things from their perspectives.
How to get down, get dirty and get the picture
Sometimes it’s easier than others: laying on a nice warm carpet is a lot more fun than getting down on cold, wet snow. However, here are a few tricks that can help:
1) Keep a garden kneeler nearby when you’re outside. Depending on how you employ one, it can cushion your knees or protect your rear from mud puddles. You can keep one in the car as well.
2) Include an inexpensive plastic painter’s drop cloth as part of your standard photo equipment. It folds up small, weighs next to nothing, and is easy to replace if it gets muddy beyond repair. A drop cloth can come in handy if you need to get on the ground, but can also keep you (and your equipment) dry if you get caught in the rain.
3) When outside with your pets, wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty. You may do this already (pawprints are lovely accessories), but if you start with an expectation that you might get a little messy, you won’t mind crawling on the ground to get that perfect picture of Fido.
4) Take advantage of times when it’s easier to adjust your height. Take a picture of your dog when he is at the top of the stairs; you can position yourself several steps below. Or snap a photo of your pup when she’s on the bed; kneel on the floor to get the right perspective. Cats can be a little simpler, since they move vertically; grab the camera when your cat is on the cat tree, a window sill, the back of the couch. You can get great kitty photos by adjusting your angle.
5) Buy an angle finder. This simple device attaches to the viewfinder of your camera, and uses mirrors to enable you to see through the viewfinder without lying down. Your camera can rest on the ground, and you don’t have to be a contortionist to take a picture of your dog rolling in the grass.
Getting down works for portraits, candids and actions shots
For this picture of my cat Athena on my backpack, I lay down on the floor in front of her.
We kept this upside down box at the top of the stairs for years. To take this photo of Dawn I knelt several steps down and put the camera on the carpet.
To get this picture of Elsa Clair on our buffet, I put the camera on its surface and just had to bend slightly. An angle finder would have made it even easier. The reflection is emphasized in this black-and-white version.
I used the kneeling pad for this one — just on the edge of the leaf pile. With the camera on Jasper’s level, the yard and fence disappear, making the photo of my dog more interesting.
Lilah was standing on our deck, and I was on the ground — four stairs down. A little creative bending on my part, and I was even with her eyes. She has a gaze that goes right to the soul.
I love to try and capture my pets interacting with their favorite toys. Sometimes I’ll throw Tucker’s ball while sitting on the ground. Here, I was sitting on the lowest step of my deck, putting me right on his level.
This photo of my three dogs inspired me to purchase an angle finder. I was on my stomach in the spring grass, and when I stood up, I had wet and muddy spots all over me. With an angle finder, I could have rested the camera on the ground or my hand, and simply knelt down to look through the viewfinder. Much easier.
An oldie but a goodie, and an example of a photo taken with a point-and-shoot camera. The only way to take this picture of my son and my dog Rosie was to get down on the floor.
One of my favorite photos of all time shows my three dogs’ noses peeking through my gate. I leaned down to get on their level — just in time to catch the moment.
Sometimes it’s easy to get down and sometimes it takes a little creativity. But the results are nearly always worth it.
Do you have any favorite tips for pet photography? Share them in the comments.
You may also like:
- Running with the Shadows
- Portrait of 3 Dogs
- Picture Perfect, Part I
- Picture Perfect, Part II
- Photobombed by a Cat — Twice
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