Taking Pet Portraits in the Digital Age

We all love our pets. They add so much joy to our lives that we consider them a part of the family. So it’s only natural to want to give them their due by including them in pictures in our family albums and in portraits that decorate our homes. The digital age has made it easy to bring a camera along with us. Most cell phones have a built-in camera so those special moments with our pets can be captured even when we weren’t planning to take any pictures. Cameras are small enough to be thrown in a purse or glove compartment so they’re handy on family outings. While those informal snapshots aren’t often the best for a picture that you’ll want to hang next to your family portraits, you have all you need to take a great picture of your furry friend that will do him justice. All it takes is you, your pet, a couple of hours, and your camera and you can make a great portrait.When you decide to take a portrait picture of your pet, a little preparation will make both you and your pet more relaxed when the day finally arrives. There are some tips below for insuring a memorable experience and the best possible results. I’m focusing on outdoor photos because it’s nearly summer and there’s nothing quite as colorful and cheerful as outdoor photos, but most of these tips apply to taking indoor portraits as well.Equipment CheckYou don’t want to miss that special moment when your pet does something cute or strikes a perfect pose. So make sure your camera is ready. It all starts with the camera, and a quick check will prevent disappointments. A quick browse through the instruction manual will refresh your camera operating skills and limit fumbling on the big day. Check the batteries now. If your camera uses replaceable batteries, keep a fresh set on hand. If your camera uses rechargable batteries, make sure they’re fully charged. They’ll hold their charge for a long time, so you can recharge them several days before you intend to take your pictures and still be ready at a moment’s notice.
If you have a conventional film camera, make sure you have lots of film. If you have a digital camera, make sure that there’s room on the memory card to take lots of pictures. You might need to transfer some old pictures to your computer, or simply erase them from the memory card. SchedulingSet a specific time and day to take pictures of your pet. While everyone loves informal snapshots of their cat or dog, if you want to make a portrait that you can hang on your wall, you want to be prepared. You’ll be cool, calm, and collected, and won’t convey any anxiety to your pet. If you want to include family members in your pet’s portrait, do whatever you can to make it a pleasure and not a chore. I can’t think of a better way to do this than to have a picnic in the park or a backyard barbeque. That way everyone is involved in the planning and you’ve set the stage for fun. A sunny day will insure that your pictures are bright and colorful. An overcast sky will result in dull pictures with a bluish hue. And while you could always use a flash, many pets don’t like them and won’t tolerate having a flash go off in their face more than a couple of times. So check your local 5 or 7 Day Forecast to give yourself the best chance of good weather.
Choose a location where you and your pet will be comfortable and relatively free from distractions. Your backyard is the simplest choice, of course, and often the best. But if Fido likes to chase the Frisbee, or Fluffy enjoys exploring the foliage, a local park can be a great place to take your pictures. Naturally, you want to avoid distractions when the picture taking begins, like other people’s kids running and screaming, and other owners out with their pets.
You certainly want your pet to look their best when you want a portrait that you can hang on a wall, so a trip to the groomer is a good idea. Clean, combed, and pampered pets are happier and more comfortable, which helps insure that your pictures reflect the things you love about them. When The Day ArrivesOkay, the skies are clear, and breakfast is over. It’s time to Carpe’ Diem and head out to take your pet’s portrait. Make sure your pet is well-rested. A tired pet will be less cooperative and anxious to go home to eat or sleep. So limit play time on the day you want to take your pictures, and for dogs it’s a good idea to allow for some time after a morning walk.
Limit the number of people in the area when you begin your picture taking to avoid distractions for your pet. You don’t want that great shot ruined by a “What Was That??” snap of the head. Bring a toy with you so that you can put your pet in a happy, playful mood. Keeping a few treats on-hand makes good sense, too. Try to stay between 6 and 12 feet away from your pet when you take your photos. That’s the distance that will make it easiest for you to follow your pet with your camera and still keep him prominent in the shot. It can be very helpful if you have another family member engage the pet’s interest to free you to concentrate on taking the pictures. Take advantage of any sunlight that’s available, but if you’re forced to be in the shade, set your camera to “fill flash” so that your pictures will be sharp and colorful.If your pet starts to become uninterested or uncooperative, take a break and try again in 15-20 minutes. A treat will often restore a pet’s disposition, especially if he’s given time to fully enjoy it without interruption. Once you’ve taken your pictures and selected the best shots, there’s more to be done. It’s rare that a picture you take will be exactly right without some editing. Fortunately, you can edit your own photos in your own computer. All computers come with some basic image editing software, and many include programs that can turn your pictures into professional-looking portraits.All Windows computers have the Windows Paint Desk Accessory, but its only suitable for cropping photos. These days, many computer manufacturers include a photo enhancement program, such as HP’s Media Smart Photo package that will crop, rotate, and much more. Macintosh systems come with the easy-to-use iPhoto program that covers the basics, and adds organizing and sharing tools. There are also many inexpensive commercial packages like Adobe’s Photoshop Elements that make photo editing simple enough that anyone can get great results immediately, without requiring hours of learning how to use them. With these programs you can crop your images so that your pet is the center of attention, as well as straighten, and adjust the brightness and contrast to make that perfect portrait.If all else fails, there are free photo editing services available online like Lunapic that work in your browser and don’t require any advanced skills. You can experiment with the different settings until you’re happy with the results.With your portrait properly cropped and enhanced, the next step is to make a print that you can frame and hang. You’ll need photo paper to print your photo on your own printer. The popularity of digital photography means that you can buy this special paper easily at drug stores, department stores, and office supply stores, or you can find it online through sites like HP Shopping. The most common sizes are 4×6″ and 8-½x11″. Some printers have an extra paper supply tray to hold the 4×6″ paper. If you want to print your pictures in that size, you’ll need to select it when the Print dialog box appears. If you use the 8-½x11″, you’ll need to remove the regular paper from your printer and replace it with the photo paper. Photo paper is available with either a glossy or matte finish. Glossy tends to give images a sharper appearance, and matte a slightly softer one. Printing photos tends to consume a lot of printer ink for each print, so check your ink levels before you shop for paper.To begin, open the image you want to print in your image editing program and select the “Print Preview” or “Page Setup” option. This will give you the opportunity to properly position the picture on the paper, and to select the proper orientation – Portrait or Landsape, as well as selecting the size of the image for printing. Naturally, you want the image to fill as much of the available area on the paper as possible. If you’re unsure of the settings, make a test print on plain paper before committing to using a sheet of the more expensive photo paper. Handle the prints only by the edges until the ink has completely dried because they can easily smudge or smear. I suggest that you remove each print from the printer before making another one.When you have your perfect print, it needs to be matted and framed if you want to hang it. Art supply stores carry pre-cut mats that will do a good job. You’ll have a variety of colors and patterns to choose from to make the portrait even more appealing. You can buy simple frames at many department stores, but higher quality frames will often include UV-safety glass that will help protect your print from fading due to exposure to ultraviolet light. While homemade prints from your computer are apt to fade much faster than conventional photographs, you can simply make another print should the need arise. Of course, faming stores will provide professional matting and framing, if you prefer to have someone else do the work. It’s largely a choice of cost and convenience.If you’re interested in creating something special, there are artists who can create portrait paintings from your pet photos. These services create hand-painted portraits using a computer, which allows them to creatively enhance the original image. They then use special printers to print the final image on canvas to give them life and texture. You end up with a portrait suitable for hanging that you’ll be proud of.It doesn’t need to be a formal portrait to have one of these attractive portrait paintings made. It can be your favorite pet or family photo. Because the artist’s work is done digitally, it is fast and very reasonably priced. I hope you found some useful tips for taking your pet’s portrait here. Most of this advice is just common sense that every pet owner knows from experience, and the technical skills required are easily learned. The point is that you have everything you need to make a great pet or family portrait that you can enjoy for many years.

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