5 Tips for Taking a Pet Portrait

Taken with as simple point and shoot camera at the cat's level.

Taken with as simple point and shoot camera at the cat's level.

I am the photographer for Ooligan Press. I think I’ve gotten a pretty good handle on photographing portraits of humans. Animals are a completely different deal. They’re so wiggly! The happier they are, the more wiggly they get. Kittens and puppies are the cutest, but also the worst to photograph. They only want to play. You can tell a person to stand there, tilt their head this way, look that way. You might be able to tell a dog to sit and stay, but there’s no way to order them to stop watching that squirrel and look at the camera. Here are a few hints I've learned. None of them require having a fancy camera.

1.     Have their human stand just behind you or right next to you. Pets usually want to look at their human, instead of a stranger with a camera. Having their human as close as possible to you makes it more likely that they will be looking in the direction of the camera.

2.     Get on the ground. While I have taken many lovely shots of pets while standing, I am often more successful if I sit or kneel down and get face to face.

3.     Get them tired. If you are having difficulty getting a shot that isn't blurry from motion, play with them until they aren't so energetic anymore. Or sneak up on them during a nap.

Sleepy baby goats with shed and hay in the background.

Sleepy baby goats with shed and hay in the background.

4.     Be aware of the background. That kitty may be adorable, but the litter box? Not so much. Is the puppy in the laundry room? Get him outside! While humans are more aware of their surroundings and can tell you if they don’t want to be pictured in front their dirty dishes, the pet isn't going to speak up. Also, get close. Too much background is a bad thing.

5.     Try not to use the flash. It can hurt the sensitive eyes of some pets, or scare them. Everyone has seen the terrifying laser eyes of a cat caught in a camera flash. Natural light is the best way to go, so take your furry friend for a walk. Or, if you have an indoor pet, photograph them near a window. The sunlight should be behind you and shining on the pet.

I Couldn't Save Ariel

My school friends made fun of me when I told them I performed CPR on our family cat Ariel. I was in seventh or eighth grade, so he was only six or seven years old when he died.

He was so friendly and peaceful, my mother called him the Butterball Buddha. Yes, he was very fat, weighing well over twenty pounds, but he was also very strong. He could pull open the glass sliding door to the deck using just his claws. He might have been the biggest domestic cat I have ever seen. I didn’t realize how enormous he was until he followed my family to a neighbor’s house without us knowing. When we rang the doorbell a black beast the size of a bobcat came up behind us and mewed. Despite his size, he had a high-pitched voice. Ariel wasn’t a Maine coon or a Norwegian forest cat, just a humble domestic shorthair from a farm. He was all black except for a white patch on his lower tummy.

Death is not peaceful. Death is grotesque. I walked into my parents’ room one night to see Ariel seizing on their bed, eyes glassy, tongue lolling out. I screamed and my mother came running out of the shower. When Ariel’s body became still, I did the only thing I could think of and started CPR. I tried to remember what I had learned several years before in Girl Scouts. Was the body of such a large cat more like an infant or a child? CPR instructions are different depending on age. Back then, the emphasis of CPR training had been on giving rescue breaths to the victim (now the emphasis is on chest compressions). At first, I cupped my hands around his mouth to funnel my breath into his mouth, because I didn’t want to put my mouth on the cat. I don’t think I was grossed out, but I felt like I should be. Normal girls do not give mouth to mouth to animals. It’s just a cat, not a human. When it became evident that my distant CPR wasn’t working. I put my mouth around the cat’s mouth and nose like I learned to with an infant, but Ariel was too far gone.

My mother drove us nearly an hour to get to the closest 24hr vet hospital. I sobbed as Ariel’s body became colder and colder in my lap. We knew it was too late, but we drove desperately anyway, not knowing what else to do. The vet offered us an autopsy and we consented. What had killed our gentle giant?

The next day, I told my school friends and they thought it was weird and disgusting. They ridiculed me. My dad told me that when he got to work and told his coworkers that his cat had died, they got very quiet and said, “I’m sorry for your loss.” It made me feel better to know that adults felt the gravity of losing a beloved pet, even if teenagers had difficulty understanding another person’s grief. My parents were very proud of me for attempting CPR on Ariel even if I felt embarrassed.

The autopsy revealed that Ariel had a genetic heart defect worsened by his size and a lack of taurine in his diet, since we only fed him dry food and not all dry foods provide sufficient levels of taurine. Although it is unlikely that I could have done anything to save Ariel, the current method of CPR, which focuses on chest compressions rather than breathing, would be more effective on an animal suffering a heart attack.

Don’t be aid to step in and fight for your critter’s life. Anyone who tries should be proud. As an adult, I am proud of myself. While there are no regular pet first aid classes in the Portland area, The Rose City Veterinary Hospital, Dove Lewis, the Red Cross, and the VCA Specialty Vet, all offer classes a few times a year. The VCA has a pet first aid class coming up on September 15 at the Oregon Human Society. Call them or check their website for more information.

 

Meet Spot's Summer Intern

My name is Lauren.  I’m excited to be Spot Magazine’s summer intern.  Currently, I’m a graduate student at Portland State University working on an MFA in Creative Nonfiction and an MS in Publishing with Ooligan Press.  I’m also a photographer, so I’ll be taking a lot of photos of lovely domestic animals for you.

I don’t have any pets myself.  I take pet ownership very seriously and don’t think I should commit to life-long companions until I know what my next step after grad school will be.  In the meantime, I’m lucky to have roommates with pets.  I get to live with these three adorable and spirited cats, Pickles, Mona, and Napkin.  Mona and Pickles are almost five years old and were adopted together as kittens.  Mona is very intelligent and athletic.  Pickles is good-natured and likes to eat.  Napkin is almost four years old and is tri-pawed!  She's a rescue with only three legs.

I will be featuring Northwest celebrity animals in my posts to come.  Who is your favorite famous Pacific NW pet?

 

Pickles

Pickles

Mona

Mona

Napkin

Napkin