Full Length or Portrait
It's usually best to photograph a cat or dog at eye level. This often means you must kneel or sit on the ground to be at the right angle. A towel, blanket, or pair of knee pads comes in handy to keep your pants clean when you are photographing animals outside.
Once you get your camera at eye level with the animal, decide on whether you want to take a portrait or full length photograph of your subject. Both have advantages and disadvantages, so you may want to try both for some animals to see what works for you and what works best for the animal.
Full Length Photographs
Full length body photographs have the advantage of showing an animal's entire body so that potential adopters can get an idea of its overall size, color, and shape. This can be very helpful to people who are looking for a specific type of animal.
However, with full body photographs it is often hard to see facial detail in low-resolution newsprint and the smaller pictures typically seen on adoption posters and Websites. Full length photographs can also make it hard to crop out distracting elements such as leashes and handlers.
Also, most people shots are not full length because it's the eyes and facial expressions of people that we are most attracted to. We think the same goes for animals and therefore usually prefer to take portraits, or head shots.
Portraits often serve to make animal photographs look more professional and the animal more dignified. People photographs are usually portraits and photographing animals the same way allows people to visually personify the animal somewhat and recognize in it the traits we typically think of as being human such as intelligence and inquisitiveness. A portrait also allows you to crop out the leash and any human body parts that would otherwise enter the frame. The downside is that a portrait does not allow a potential adopter to see the true size and shape of an animal.
When taking portraits, it is important to note that a successful portrait does not necessarily have to mean a full face picture of the animal. We usually try to take straight on photograph of the animals whenever they cooperate because we find this to be generally the most successful. However, sometimes this proves to be too difficult or stressful for the animal. We've occasionally encountered animals that were either frightened by the lens, flash, or me and getting a straight on portrait was just not possible. If this is the case, a portrait taken from the side can often be quite successful.
In addition to a straight on portrait, you can photograph the animal in profile (90 degrees from straight on), or what some photographers call a three-quarter (or around 45 degrees from straight on). Both can be successful although I find the three-quarter position to be particularly attractive. The three-quarter view gives you a three dimensional view of the animal's face, allowing you to see how long the nose and snout are in relation to the face while at the same time allowing you to see both eyes and ears. If this isn't possible, a profile can also work but is a little less personal that the other styles mentioned here.
Once you have decided between full length or portrait, you will have to determine the best exposure for your subject.
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