Every year we see incredible entries to our calendar contest from local amateur photographers. The photos get better each year as we receive many repeat entries from hobby photographers aiming for that “perfect” shot. In the spirit of supporting our entrants that love photographing their pets, we met with local photographers and asked them to share their expertise on the subject. Here is Shanna Paxton:
BIO: I am a lawyer-turned-photographer with a specialization in action and documentary photography. As a government lawyer I worked on solving social problems and that carries over to my photography work where I often further the missions of non-profits and community organizations with a special focus on veterans. As a dog mom and animal lover, I spend a lot of my time photographing all kinds of animals in action capturing their personalities doing what they love.
One thing that is nice about photography today is the wealth of online tutorials online that can guide your camera skills and practice. Youtube and camera brand websites all have instruction videos that can answer most questions you might have. Be sure to use those resources to learn more about the most important settings, the triangle of Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO. All three work together to control the amount of light available for your image and your ability to freeze your subject with or without motion blur, depending on what you would like to see. While all cameras have an AUTO mode where the camera will choose those settings, in this digital age don’t be afraid to try manual mode and trial and error.
One of the key settings for a pleasing action photo with a frozen, non-blurry subject is shutter speed. For most images, you will want to keep the shutter speed at a higher number, above at least 250, in order to get that frozen image. When I photograph agility dogs or horses jumping I often am shooting at 1600 or 2000! With an iPhone try burst mode to approximate the higher shutter speed. On other digital cameras look for a “sport” or “action” mode setting if not using manual. If using manual mode then you will need to practice adjusting the ISO and aperture to be sure that as you increase shutter speed you have enough light for your image. Most cameras have burst mode so you can take many frames in quick succession which helps ensure you get a moment you want. Be sure to turn off your flash which can slow down your ability to take many photos in a row. It’s also important to use autofocus and try to set focus points over your pets’ faces and track their face as they move.
Once you have practiced the basics with your camera you can really focus on having fun and capturing the personality and joy of your animals. Don’t forget to get in close for a look at their paw, claw, feathers, nose or eye. Then show them in the bigger landscape, running and playing at the beach or a wooded trail or even being a goofball on your couch. Getting down on the ground to their level also offers a new perspective. Try out the different looks you can get being in close and using a wider angle, like a 10–35mm lens for example. Most point and shoot cameras have a focal length variation that can give you a wide variety of images and even phones have different modes now that can approximate different lenses.
The key to great action shots is practice, patience, taking lots of images, and engaging your pet in something you both enjoy. Have fun and expect to see the unexpected!