When my son was born a little under a year ago, one of my two dogs was instantly enamored.
He ran to him every time he whimpered and he licked him incessantly.
As a sleep-deprived new mom, I was missing many photographable moments (mainly due to my inability to locate my camera). After a week or two, I made it a point to leave my camera out so I could capture as much possible, even though I doubted I’d ever get around to editing any of it.
I’ve since learned a lot about capturing pets and little humans. If you’re struggling to successfully capture your four-legged loves with your babies, you might find some of these tips helpful.
1. Have your camera accessible at all times.
The only way to make sure you capture fleeting moments is to have your camera out and ready to go 24/7.
Since we spent most of our time in the living room during those first few weeks, I kept my camera safely on the nearby dining room table with my most frequently used camera settings already selected. When a picture perfect moment presented itself, all I had to do was grab my camera, take a test shot and then quickly adjust a setting or two if the picture was under or overexposed.
2. Be careful with your aperture and shutter speed.
Speaking of settings, don’t open that aperture up too wide. If you do, the chance of getting both pet and baby in focus are slim to none. I try to keep mine around f/2.5, give or take, but sometimes I can even shoot at f/3.2 if it’s a really bright day and tons of natural light is pouring in.
You’ll want to be mindful of your shutter speed as well. Since animals generally don’t sit perfectly still (and babies wiggle around a lot at times, too!), I don’t like to shoot any slower than 1/160 of a second.
3. Rapid fire.
This one is critical whether photographing your own pets and babies or a client’s. Animals have minds of their own and are inclined to do something cute for a fraction of a second and then move on.
My camera is permanently set in rapid fire mode (for Nikon shooters, it’s called Continuous Low or Continuous High mode) so I can fire multiple shots in one second, pretty much guaranteeing that I will capture a moment or a pose before it’s over.
Even better is my camera’s “Quiet” rapid fire mode. This allows me to fire off a bunch of shots in quick succession without sounding like the paparazzi and disturbing my subjects.
4. Don’t use flash!
Flash is likely to disturb a dog or cat and ruin a perfect moment. My house gets great natural light so this isn’t something I need to worry about.
However, if I didn’t have so many windows, I would opt for shooting with a high ISO over using flash. A high ISO can make your images grainy but that’s better than ruining a perfect moment!
5. Pose the baby, then the dog (most of the time).
If you’re attempting to take a posed shot of baby and dog, I suggest getting the baby nice and settled first (ideally sleeping, if baby is brand new), and then carefully place the little one where you want them. I like to place them on big comfy chairs and then have the dog sit right next to the chair so that the baby is safe.
With smaller dogs, or a large dog that is *really* well-behaved, I will use a bed and have the dog lay down on the bed right next to baby. Every once in awhile, when my own dog is relaxed and lying down on his bed or on the floor, I’ll put my 8 month old in a seated position right by his belly, which sort of cradles him and helps keep him upright. They are both happy to stay like this for a bit but 90% of the time, baby first!
5. Just roll with it.
If you’re trying to capture a candid moment and it ends the second you pull your camera out, don’t put your camera away. Something better might be a second or two away!
And if you’re trying to take a posed photo of baby and animal but the animal refuses to sit, just photograph what they *will* do. You might end up loving what you get even if it’s a ridiculous outtake.
6. Cats are a different animal (literally).
Cats are a little different. Or a lot different. They generally don’t know any commands and they tend to run the show. So if you or a client wants a picture of baby and kitty, I would see where the cat settles and then, if you can, place baby as close to it as you can.
7. It takes a village.
If your goal is to capture real moments of your babes and pets, then all you need is yourself and your camera. However, if your objective is a posed shot or two, I suggest getting as many adults as possible to help.
For my own Christmas card this year, I knew I wanted to get both my son and my two dogs in the shot looking at the camera. I recruited my husband to keep the dogs in check, and a friend to help with my son.
My original intention was for my friend to get his attention so he’d look in my direction but she ended up needing to hide behind a log to hold him up from behind.
8. Don’t assume treats will help.
When I was taking our holiday card photo, my husband was attempting to bribe our dogs into sitting still with chicken jerky. The trouble was, my big dog loves chicken more than life itself, so he’d sit for 30 seconds and then get up and run to my husband because he NEEDED that treat.
After about ten repeats of getting him on the log, getting him to lay down, and then watching him promptly jump off the log 10 seconds later, I finally realized the chicken was just making the situation worse. Once my husband put it away and just told our dog to lay down and stay (which he knows how to do because he’s gone through obedience training), he did it just fine.
I’ve seen this time and time again at client sessions, too. Sometimes it’s best to not use treats, and other times it’s helpful to use low-reward treats (treats that are good, but not their absolute favorite).