The key to taking good photos of your pets is to approach them in much the same way you do people in regards to lighting and composition. Much like children, however, it may be hard to get them to actually pose for you. I took a few shots of Spanky and Darla while they were having a quieter day. The lighting in each of the shots is slightly different, but each photo is done without flash and using only window light. Try to not use flash when taking photos of pets to avoid washing out their fur. In the main photo, Spanky was positioned very close to the window and looking out of it. You can actually see the window reflected in his eyes. I was close to him, and at 70mm, the F/2.8 aperture really helped to drop out the background and keep the main focus on his eye closest to the camera.
In picture B, Spanky moved to another table in my work area to lounge. Here, that same window is behind him, creating a nice bright background, and he is lit by the light from that same window that is bouncing off the white wall he is now facing. When taking portraits of people or pets, reflected or bounced light provides a beautiful even lighting that can be very flattering. See a post about reflected light off of a house in the backyard here. You can see the door reflected in his eyes, where a skylight in the hallway has provided extra light and makes a great catch light in his eyes. As with people and birds, it is important to get a catch light in your cat or dog’s eyes to really bring their portrait to life.
In photo C, Spanky was bored of posing, and moved to a location further away from the window and while the light here was not as bright as close to the window, it was spread out over the room for some nice even lighting (see how even the background is lit up). So here, I boosted my ISO a little higher to be able to capture more light. The very shallow depth of field throws his paws out of focus, but helps to show off his comfy sleeping position.
Lastly, in photo D, Darla is photographed in a diffused side-lit manner. The window partially covered by drapes is still allowing a lot of light to come into the room, and the slight side lighting gives the shot a little more definition and drama as opposed to the flattering and softer front or reflected lighting in Spanky’s portraits. Darla was much more curious about the camera and moved in closer to me for a look. The wide open aperture gave me sharp focus on her eyes and everything else drops out of focus.
It’s very hard to catch him smiling naturally. So, as I did in this restaurant during lunch, I often snap a few photos in a row hoping for that “in-between” moment when he’s more relaxed. I think I got it here! This photo has a nice natural background since I used only the light from the window my subject was facing for lighting, rather than using my flash. And since my ISO was set to 400, my shutter speed was a slower 1/50th of a second (I turned on the anti-shake on the lens to eliminate any blur that might have occurred from hand-shake). That slower shutter speed allows the shutter to remain open long enough to capture the ambient light in the background, also lit by the large bright windows. The result is a nice shot that shows the whole scene. So when indoors, ask for a seat near a window and capture the ambiance of the whole scene.
Click the link below to download Photo Tips Card #4 and add it to your d-ring with the other tips cards. Window light is one of my favorite ways to take portraits and still life shots as you well know since my blog entries frequently feature this type of shot. I felt by sketching out how I position the camera and the subject might be helpful. I am going to ask you to not laugh at my funny sketches, but I am sure you will not be able to help yourself. I laughed too as I was making the card. http://www.4shared.com/document/Nuyubuu8/TIPS_CARDS_WindowLightDiagrams.html
The window is your best photo accessory for portraits. It’s so easy to use, always there, you don’t need an assistant to hold anything, and you don’t have to pull out your auxiliary flash. I just love the light that streams through my windows in several rooms. Positioning your subject very close to the window, like in the shot at left from early Easter mornning, can give you a nice dramatic light since the light falls off the opposite side of the face quickly and the eyes have a nice sparkle from the window catchlights. To get more of an even light, move your subject just a further away from the window (as in the first photo below- the subject was across the room from the window), or, face your subject perpendicular to the window instead of parallel. In this case, you can actually stand right in front of the window with your subject in turn in front of you and you will not block the light! See this post here for an example of this type of positioning. You can also “fill in” the other side of the face with a pop of the flash as you can see in the second photo below. If you find there is still a slight “artificial” feeling, you can adjust how much light the flash puts out by adjusting the flash +/- button usually found near the flash. Hold the button in and dial it towards the minus side. Perhaps -.7 or -1.0. Review the flash section in your camera manual to see exactly how to set this on your camera. And don’t foget to add a prop that gives your portrait a sense of time. In my case, the tulips scream spring and the eggs of course will remind me this was Easter time when we look back at these photos years from now. (Watch for a forthcoming download card with lighting diagrams for window light positioning).
It’s important to capture possessions that are important to you and your family as it will be fun to look back on those photos years from now when the item is either gone or no longer shiny and new. But without a true 1:1 macro lens and macro lighting, you may feel you cannot get great shots of smaller objects like we see in home decor magazines. Nothing could be further from the truth. Any zoom that gives you a maximum magnification of 1:4 or better can yield great close-up shots (consult your owner’s manual to see this specification for your lens, or check out the specs of any lens you are thinking about purchasing). And small objects can be photographed beautifully in natural light. Window light is my favorite light for people, but also for things. The harshness of mid-day light is diffused and makes for excellent quality light for a variety of subjects. Take this cute little beaded purse- a favorite possession of its young owner. Sitting at corner table in a small cafe at lunchtime, I couldn’t help but notice how the light from the large window made the sequins sparkle. So from my booth seat, I zoomed in tight enough to catch the detail (and allowed enough of a glimpse of the non-working cell phone that resides inside this purse these days to complete the story!). The shallow depth of field, created due to my close proximity to the subject, keeps the focus on the purse details. (55mm; F/9; ISO 400)
A few things to keep in mind when taking a portrait of a person or pet by window light:
ONE: Natural window light usually means wide open apertures and slower shutter speeds, so consider boosting your ISO if necessary, be sure your anti-shake mode is on, or use a tripod to prevent camera shake.
TWO: The closer you are to a window, the more dramatic the shadow on the opposite side of the face will be. Positioning your subject further from a window means softer, more even light.
THREE: You can actually stand in front of the window and position your subject facing the window and it won’t cast a shadow! This results in very flat lighting on the face. Four, shoot by a window even if it is overcast or there are soft sheer curtains. The light will be beautiful.
That’s of course one of the tricks to getting a good photo. Just keep taking pictures! But even when your doing some of the most mundane things, you might just find some perfect light and a child with a great attitude for the day! Here are two shots from our recent overnight in NYC. We went window shopping down in SOHO and while in a furniture store, she sat down while we browsed. When I checked on her, I noticed that the window light streaming in from the high broad windows was beautiful. Her eyes just sparkled when she looked up at me. Of course, I said, oh, you look so pretty, stay right there! The warm tones in the store made it even more beautiful and she cooperated for two or three shots. (32mm; F/5; ISO 400).
At the next store, there were floor to ceiling windows all around the 2nd floor store. And she picked up a nice prop- a bouquet of artificial sunflowers – and promptly sat on the floor in front of the window. Because I was so close to her, not more than five feet, and used a focal length slightly more than normal (65mm), the flowers are out of focus. (65m; F/5; ISO 400). For both shots, I had my camera in aperture priority mode so that I could always pick the most wide open aperture I could get given the lighting. This way I ensured the background would be a little softer to make her pop out. And I always focus on the eyes (or the eye that is closest to the camera).
When it comes to our children’s stage performances, it is very difficult to get great shots unless you have total access during a rehearsal. The mistake most people make is to take photos from their seat in the auto mode. If you do this, the flash will go off and you’ll get a dark stage and very well lit heads of the people in front of you. So sit back and enjoy you child’s live performance with your eyes rather than through your camera’s viewfinder (I know, any of us shutterbugs find this an almost impossible suggestion!).Instead, concentrate on getting a nice shot of your child in costume by venturing back stage during rehearsals or prior to the performance. I checked on my daughter the day before her recital and saw her costume for the first time. I was thrilled when I saw the light streaming in from the windows behind the back stage curtains. I asked her to sit down for a moment with the side of her face parallel to the windows to get nice side lighting on her face. I then crouched down just a little so that I could see her ballerina skirt spread all around her and her big happy smile. This point of view also let me include some of the wood floor that her pretty feet danced on the next day and one that really gives the viewer the true picture of what was happening when I took the photo. Find a place in the environment that has some windows and position your actor or dancer so that the light brings out the detail in the costume and a highlight in your child’s eyes. Don’t get too close to the window as the light will be too harsh. Instead, move a few feet or more away from the window for an even light. I always try to not use the flash and opt for natural light whenever possible.
The light filled the screened porch room late afternoon on Mother’s Day. So I put down my Bellini (a cocktail I’d never had before but thoroughly enjoyed) and picked up my camera before the sun went down. Luckily, the grand kids were quite cooperative. I asked the smallest to sit on Grandma’s lap. The older girl sat on the opposite side on the arm of the chair. And I asked the boys to stand behind Grandma. And just as I asked them to all lean in toward Grandma, and the boys to bring their heads and shoulders in a little closer (to prevent them from dropping out of focus), Kelsey decided she wanted in! Kelsey is a Soft-coat Wheaton Terrier newly adopted by my mother. She just wanted to get in on the action. So she was a fifth “person” in the photo, and mom lifted Kelsey up just a little higher to get her head in good position. Then the kids all squeezed in and we got this lovely picture for mother’s day. I did not use a flash. No? No. The highlights in everyone’s eyes are from the beautiful window right behind me. I cropped out the TV in the background to make this a nice 5×7 for Mom’s house, but you can see me in it taking the picture and the window too. So, be sure to always look for a window. Even on an overcast day you’ll get brilliant looking portraits when you use the window as your light source. Two, get the kids (and pet) on several different levels to make a nice composition. Notice how those beautiful smiles make a ring around their beaming grandma! And three, use the stabilizer feature on your lens as I did to get a blur free shot. And four, go with the flow. You never know who might pop into your viewfinder! (ISO 200; 32mm; F/4; 1/25 sec, Auto WB; Aperture Priority)
I love window light. In the Italian restaurant where we celebrated this boy’s first holy communion, a bank of windows with translucent shades was near the kids table. I asked him to take a minute and stand near the windows, using the wall treatments as a colorful and classic background that leads your eyes right to the subject’s face. I set the camera to aperture priority and dialed in the widest aperture opening I could (F/4.2). The ISO was set at 400. And since the light was low, I turned on the anti-stabilizer on the lens and was able to get a sharp image at 1/30th of a second (gotta love that VC!). The natural light really lets you see the details in his dapper suit and his beautiful rose corsage. And his dark eyes sparkle from the window light. It took more than a few shots to get a natural smile, and I did it by asking him to close his eyes real tight and then open them. He giggled after making a goofy face and I was able to catch a pretty natural smile.