Work To Capture The Soul In Front Of The Lens

Most of the really wonderful animal images I’ve made are close up views that reflect the soul in front of the lens. Here are some hints for how to capture the true personality of your subject.

For starters, be sure you are totally in the moment so you are able to communicate on a non-verbal level with your subject. If your mind wanders and you are thinking about anything else, stop and come back when you can be present.

Animals are often prone to getting skidish once they see a camera. So relax. Have your settings ready to go and just hang out with your pet. They will pick up on your relaxed mood and relax too. Then you can start creating.

Use a long lens, (150mm is ideal). The magnification is always pleasing and will help create an image that places a larger than life animal in front of the viewer. But remember there is a cost with using long lenses and that cost is camera shake. Even tiny movements will be magnified by the optics. The rule of thumb is to increase your shutter speed to the focal length of the lens. (If you are shooting with a 300mm lens, set the shutter speed to at least 1/320 of a second.)

Always be aware of the background. While I love the image below, the background was distracting. I was able to eliminate some of the distractions by cropping, but not all of them.

Be sure the animal is well groomed. Nothing ruins an animal portrait faster than gunk in the eye area. Here’s what I mean.

While the gunk can be removed with your editing software, our goal is always to produce a technically perfect file that does not need further work.

And make sure those clear eyes are looking straight at the camera. Eyes staring off the page instead of directly into the viewer’s eyes break the connection you are working so hard to create.

Be aware of the 1/3 in front: 2/3 behind rule which always comes into play with a long lens. Woooh. Ok, it’s complicated. For a good review, look it up in my blog last year from October 12, 2013, or in pages 92-95  in my book.

For this week, try making some portraits of your animals using the suggestions above.

Good shooting!


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