Photo Kit: Taking better photos of your pets (and kids)

Cute puppy: The advent of digital cameras has allowed me to capture my pet's life from when he was a puppy all the way to adulthood.

Cute puppy: The advent of digital cameras has allowed me to capture my pet's life from when he was a puppy all the way to adulthood.

In many ways, our pets are like our children – except they don’t live quite as long as us.

Recently, my 11-year old dog passed on and it really hasn’t been an easy time for me – like many of our pets, he really was a part of the family and it’s been really quiet around the house without him.

In fact, it’s been a couple of months on now since he’s been gone that I finally feel ready to do a Photo Kit on it.

One of the interesting things about my dog is that he came around the time when I got my first digital camera and I’ve been able to chart his life from a puppy all the way to his death.

Capturing moments like this are what makes photography so rewarding.

Before digital came around, I’d have a few pictures of my pets, but the relatively high cost of buying and processing film meant that I never quite had as many photos of my pets as I would have liked.

With the advent of digital, however, I’ve been able to shoot photos of my dog whenever I felt like it, and the photos you see here are actually just a few of the hundreds I’ve shot over the years.

I’ve learned quite a bit over the years about taking photos of pets and I’d like to share them with you right now – and you know what?

These tips actually work equally when you’re trying to take photos of your kids.

So here are my quick tips on how to take better photos of your pets or kids:

Taking a photo at the same eye level as your pet tends to produce better photos.

Get down to their level

Most of us try to shoot photos of our dogs and children from our eye level, looking down, which isn’t an ideal position because it’s really not the most flattering angle to shoot them from.

Instead, whether you’re shooting your pets or your children, you’ll really get the best results if you get down to their eye level, which produces a more intimate portrait and gives the best perspective.

Bounce flash allowed me to capture my dog in mid-yawn and freeze motion for a sharp shot.

If they’re moving fast, use bounce flash.

Let’s face it, whether you’re shooting kids, your dog or your cat, they’re just not going to sit down and pose for you for any length of time.

If you’re shooting indoors, where light levels tend to be very low, all you’re going to get most of the time is blurry photos of your subject matter since your camera will tend to use slower shutter speeds.

Sure you can crank up the ISO to get faster shutter speeds, but then you’re going to get very noisy images or images with such strong noise reduction applied that you won’t see much fine detail.

Instead, try attaching an external flashgun to your camera and turn the head so it bounces light off the ceiling and down to your subject.

Using bounce flash instead of direct flash produces more natural results and will also allow you to use fast shutter speeds to freeze motion AND allow you to use lower ISO settings to preserve detail.

Always try to take a photo when your pet is doing something interesting. Here I managed to snap a photo when he was burrowing under my cushions and then popped his head out.

Catch them when they’re doing something interesting

While we can (and should) take photos of our kids or pets when they’re resting or sleeping, some of the most interesting shots happen when you see them doing something interesting.

In the case of my dog, I noticed one day that he was sleepy and yawning and I whipped out my camera and managed to catch a shot of him in mid-yawn.

This photo is actually one of my favourite shots of my dog and it was because I waited for him to do something interesting and managed to capture that moment.

A wide aperture throws much of the background out of focus and helps to draw the viewer's eyes to the subject matter.

Use a wide aperture prime lens

This is an entirely optional step but I found that getting a nice fixed focal length lens with a very wide aperture has a lot of benefits when shooting portraits.

In some of my shots here I took a photo of my dog with a 50mm f/1.8 with the aperture set at f/1.8 and in some other shots I took it with my 90mm f/2.8, again set at its widest aperture.

Using a prime lens set at its widest aperture actually has two benefits – it lets more light in (so you can get faster shutter speeds) and you can throw busy backgrounds out of focus.

Since most of our shots tend to be taken indoors in our own homes, being able to throw distracting stuff in the background out of focus is a definite plus and will help to draw the eye of the viewer to your subject matter.

Don't think that getting a prime lens is expensive either – a 50mm f/1.8 for example is one of the cheapest lenses you can buy and typically costs between RM350 to about RM900.

Tan Kit Hoong ( is a journalist who's been an enthusiastic photographer longer than he's been reporting tech news and this monthly column allows him to ramble on about cameras and photography.