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The next time you take a photo of your pet, think about using color in a creative way. Color can make a portrait sing. The first thing I do when photographing pets is I seek out or create beautiful light. If I'm working in a studio setting, I can create that beautiful light with strobes, soft boxes and umbrellas. If I'm using natural light indoors, I seek out north windows or rooms filled with diffused light.
When shooting outdoors, I seek out open shade, soft cloudy days or that magical early morning/early evening light. Once I have the light I want, I seek out the background. I can't stress enough the importance backgrounds play in pet portraits. The last thing you want is a distracting background that pulls the eyes away from the pet. The perfect background is often right in front of you. Furniture, floors, walls, carpet, walkways, grass can all make wonderful backgrounds. You can take your portrait to the next level by using color creatively. The color can be bright, rich, subdued ... just make sure it compliments your pet.
I photographed my dog, Gracie, from a high perspective so I could take advantage of the floor. The color of the tiles complimented Gracie beautifully. The room was filled with diffused light provided by three large windows. I love the warmth of the tiles and light in this portrait. Look down and you may find your next background. This same shot would work with colorful carpet. Think diagonal lines as a way of adding movement and flow across the frame. Use the lines and patterns of the floor/carpet creatively when composing your shot.
Since most of the light is coming from behind Gracie, I used a white reflector (camera left) to throw some light back onto the side of her face that faces the camera. Gracie is missing her left eye. I take lots of profile portraits of her "good side," but I like the way the light illuminates her face here and how you can see both eyes.
You can also use walkways or patio floors. Find some colorful pavers or bricks to showcase your dog or cat. This shot was taken outdoors on a partially cloudy day. The billowy clouds simulated a giant soft box. The quality of light is everything. Make sure some of that diffused light illuminates the eyes. That will bring out the color and detail. And don't forget about those catch lights in the eyes. They add spark and life!
The background for this photo was a wall and the light source was a glass door, which the cat was facing. When shooting profiles, get your pet to look toward the light. If you are using a window or door, have someone stand outside so it gives the pet something to look at or focus on. That can create an inquisitive expression. Make sure the light coming through the window or door is diffused. Avoid direct sunlight. It will be too harsh. Your pet does not need to be right next to the window. They can be a few to several feet away. If you have a colorful wall in your home with beautiful light illuminating the room, consider taking a picture of your pet there.
Below is the same cat, same home but different room. The color doesn't have to be solid. It can have patterns and be multi-colored too. When showing a home environment, make sure you de-clutter the background. Keep the background clean but natural looking. Get rid of junk, clothes, stacks of paper, etc. You don't want anything to pull the eyes away from the pet. Shoot shallow to keep the background blurred but show enough to give a sense of place. There are lots of colors and patterns in this living room, but I just love the way this black and white cat looks surrounded by all that color. It's visually interesting and fresh. I took this portrait using natural light and a reflector.
The color of your background can be dark and rich, it doesn't have to be bright. I love the way the dog below looked on the blue couch. His multi-colored coat and the blue couch seemed like a perfect fit. I photographed this dog using a strobe/softbox, camera left, and two large windows to the right of the dog. This was a very active dog, and I needed to shoot fast. The strobe allowed me to do that. He loved being on the couch, but he also loved moving around. There are times you may need to use your flash, not only to enhance the existing light, but also to get your shutter speed up.