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  • Create Your Light: pet photography with Sarah Click

  • As lockdown brought with it a new way of life for most, many will have never been more grateful to have a furry friend by their side.

    We spoke to passionate animal photographer Sarah Click for the latest edition of #CreateYourLight on pet photography. Having been fascinated by animals since she was a child, Sarah is all too familiar with the challenges this genre poses – after all, you can’t tell an animal where to sit or to smile for the camera. Here she shares her top tips on capturing ‘pawfect’ images.

    Understanding your camera is key

    Automatic mode works well if you’re just getting started with photography, but once you’re familiar with the manual settings you will really see the benefits of understanding your camera. Knowing the implications of aperture, ISO and shutter speed, and how they all work together, is key.

    However, for those starting out, and especially for moving subjects, I would suggest using Auto-ISO. This will help protect against massive over or under exposure if, for example, the light situation changes quickly while working with the fixed values on exposure and aperture.

    Personally, because of pets’ quick movements, I always make sure to set the shutter speed fast enough. I prefer to shoot at least 1/1000s. For action shots I like having the shutter speed at 1/1600s – that way you’ll be able to freeze every single movement with your camera.

    To get the beautiful, creamy bokeh effect in the background, I usually set the aperture at f/1.8 but when you are shooting your pet in action, I recommend setting the aperture at f/2.5. This will reduce the bokeh effect, which means even if you didn’t quite nail setting the focus directly on the face, it won’t completely blur it out. This tip helped me save many great action shots!

    Also, don't worry about taking too many pictures. More is more in pet photography – just be sure to allow enough time to choose your favourites afterwards.

    Nikon Z 50 | AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G | 85mm | f/1.8 | 1/3200s | ISO 320 | © Sarach Click/ @mausi.meow
    Nikon D7500 | AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G | 85mm | f/1.8 | 1/1600s | ISO 160 | © Sarach Click/ @mausi.meow

    Attention!

    Side profile pictures of pets are beautiful, but when you get them to look straight into the camera it’s a whole other level. To get my cat’s attention I often swing toys above the camera or shake a treat bag.

    When pets haven’t been photographed before, they already look fascinated when I release the camera shutter. My cats are used to being in front of the camera so it can be hard to get them to look into the lens. In that case I make some weird noises, funny moves and it usually works!

    Another key element is getting your pet’s full cooperation! My cats’ favourite treats are usually enough to keep them happy. But don’t forget to give your pets a break and don’t photograph them for too long in one sitting.

    The importance of perspective and light

    Photographing at your pet's eye level will bring out its unique personality and the viewer will see more details.

    When shooting outside, always avoid direct sunlight or you risk your images being overexposed. My favourite weather conditions are slightly cloudy days when I don't get the harsh sunlight and shadow contrasts. If you're planning to shoot on a sunny day, make sure to do it either in the morning or evening – not when the sun is up high.

    If you still want to take photos when the sun is out, don’t photograph with a fully opened aperture or set the ISO too high. I like having the aperture between f/2.2 and f/3.2 and ISO between 100 and 200 to help avoid overexposure.

    During lockdown I was experimenting with photographing my pets indoors and I always made sure to shoot near a window to get enough light. If you can’t find a light enough spot in your house, a softbox or another artificial light are good alternatives.

    Your starting kit

    I started with the D5300 and it was great to learn photography with. For me prime lenses work the best. For photographing outdoors I like using my NIKKOR AF-S 85mm f/1.8G and I love the smooth background this lens creates. When I photograph indoors I like using a shorter prime lens, such as a AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G. Recently, I have upgraded to a mirrorless Nikon Z 50 and I love how fast this camera is – it takes up to 11 frames per second which is awesome for pets in action. But you can take great pictures of your pet with any Nikon camera and lens. I use only natural light and I prefer shooting without a tripod, so I can move around freely.

    Nikon Z 50 | NIKKOR Z DX 16–50 mm f/3.5-6.3 VR | 17.5mm | f/3.5 | 1/500s | ISO 100 | © Sarach Click/ @mausi.meow

    Get inspired

    If you are looking for new creative ideas, look through an animal photo calendar, animal magazine or pet photography accounts on social. It’s so motivating and inspiring to see the work of others. I also like photographing my cats with different, non-poisonous plants and flowers. The options in pet photography are endless, so it’s worth taking a moment to write down all of your ideas!

    Natural behaviour

    Watch your pet living its everyday life. Sometimes the simplest things look the cutest on camera. For example, your cat taking a nap, your dog playing with his ball or your bunny eating some greens. I often just follow my cats with the camera, and I get the sweetest and funniest expressions.

    Nikon D7500 | AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G | 35mm | f/1.8 | 1/1600s | ISO 800 | © Sarach Click/ @mausi.meow

    Learning by doing

    Pet photography requires lots of patience. It’s completely normal if your photos don’t turn out as you expected. Photography is a learning process and that’s one of the reasons I love it so much! Even though I’ve been passionate about pet photography for five years now, there are still areas I would like to improve. Just don’t be too hard on yourself; try to see your progress and not the flaws. Even the best photographers were beginners one day.

    Sarah's top 5 pet photography tips

    1.     Get to grips with the settings on your camera. Automatic mode is ideal if you’re just starting out, but understanding the benefits of being able to manually adjust your settings is where you’ll really see the differences in your shots. For example, because of the quick movements of many pets, I always make sure to set the shutter speed fast enough. I prefer to shoot at least 1/1000s. For action shots I like having the shutter speed at 1/1600s – that way you’ll be able to freeze every single movement with your camera.

    2.     Try to see eye-to-eye. By this I mean that photographing at your pet's eye level will bring out its unique personality and the viewer will see more details.

    3.     Understand how lighting can affect your shots. When shooting outside, always avoid direct sunlight or you risk your images being overexposed. My favourite weather conditions are slightly cloudy days when I don't get the harsh sunlight and shadow contrasts. If you still want to take photos when the sun is out, don’t photograph with a fully opened aperture or set the ISO too high. I like having the aperture between f/2.2 and f/3.2 and ISO between 100 and 200, this helps to avoid overexposure.

    4.     Finding the right kit. I started out with the D5300 and it was great to learn photography with. For me prime lenses work the best. For photographing outdoors I like using my NIKKOR AF-S 85mm f/1.8G and I love the smooth background this lens creates. When I photograph indoors I like using a shorter prime lens, such as a AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G. Recently, I have upgraded to a mirrorless Nikon Z 50 and I love how fast this camera is – it takes up to 11 frames per second which is awesome for pets in action! But you can take great pictures of your pet with any Nikon camera and lens. I use only natural light and I prefer shooting without a tripod, so I can move around freely.

    5.     Practice, practice, practice. Don’t worry if your photos don’t turn out as you expected, that’s completely normal. Pet photography requires lots of practice – and patience. Photography is a learning process and that’s one of the reasons I love it so much! Even though I’ve been passionate about pet photography for five years now, there are still areas I would like to improve. Just don’t be too hard on yourself; try to see your progress and not the flaws. Even the best photographers were beginners one day.