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Photographing Pets in Action Using Your Digital SLR

Whether your pet is a cat, a dog, a gerbil, a turtle, or any other creature, your digital SLR can capture your companion’s playful nature and give you images to treasure for life. Your job as action photographer of your pets is to know their habits and to be there with camera in hand when they do something cute.

A gerbil’s action moment may be on her wheel, a puppy’s is anytime she’s not sleeping, and a cat may be in action only when enticed by a favorite toy — or an untended recycling bin filled with crumpled paper.

Camera settings for photographing pets

When you photograph your pet playing, you want to freeze the action, so you choose Shutter Priority mode and use a fairly fast shutter speed — 1/125 of a second is good. Choose an ISO range from 100 to 400, depending on whether you’re under bright, sunny skies or gray clouds. If you dial in the shutter speed and the largest aperture (the smallest f/stop number) for the lens blinks when you press the shutter button halfway, you can’t properly expose the image unless you select a higher ISO. If you’re photographing in a room that’s not well lit, you may have to increase your ISO setting to 800. If you’re using a fairly modern camera, you may be able to increase the ISO up to 1000 and still have a relatively noise-free image.

If you have an older cat or any pet that doesn’t play at warp speed, you can select a slower shutter speed of 1/60 of a second and still freeze the action.

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The focal length you use depends on how close you are to your pet. Staying within a range from 50mm to 150mm lets you capture a picture of your pet and her surroundings, or zoom in for a tight shot of your pet pouncing on a bag of catnip.

Image stabilization can always help you capture a blur-free image when you’re photographing moving objects.

Taking the picture of your pet

If you’re trying for an action shot, get someone to actually engage your pet in play. You can’t be both instigator and photographer. Get your helper to dangle a ribbon on a string for your cat or do anything to interest your dog.

Get down on your pet’s level. Your pictures look more natural if your pet is at eye level with the camera.

[Credit: Photo courtesy of Roxanne Evans, www.dougplusrox.com]
Credit: Photo courtesy of Roxanne Evans, www.dougplusrox.com

When your pet starts doing something interesting, zoom in and press the shutter button halfway to achieve focus. Continuous Auto-Focus mode enables the camera to update focus while your pet moves.

When you’re ready, press the shutter button all the way. The camera takes pictures as long as you hold your finger on the shutter button when its in Continuous Drive mode.

Switch to a slow shutter speed of about 1/15 of a second. Pan the camera with your pet to capture a picture that shows the frenetic motion of her legs while she plays.

[Credit: Corbis Digital Stock]
Credit: Corbis Digital Stock
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