I'm often asked how I get dogs and cats to sit still for my photos. I honestly never really gave it too much thought. It's an obvious hurdle when it comes to photographing animals, but one that you can't avoid.
Sometimes the animals are curious, or energetic, uncomfortable, tired or even angry; but after about half an hour of trying most animals will let go and pose for the portrait. I won't reveal all my secrets but I will say that I give them some incentive to sit still, if they won't on their own. Understanding the psychological motivations of dogs and cats is fundamental to photographing them, here are a few tips:
- Cats are territorial, if you take them out of their territory, or the house they live in they can easily get stressed. If you do manage to get them to sit still for a photo, your cat is among the minority of adventurers. If you're going to photograph a cat, I highly recommend doing it in the comfort of your home.
- Dogs are easily distracted and often will not focus on one thing at a time if they are in a new environment, or if there are too many people. Ideally, photograph them at home, have as few people as possible in the room, and give them one focal point of attention. As the photographer, attract their gaze, call their name. It is important to have someone to help but otherwise, keep the room free.
- Cats enjoy high places. Instinctually, high places are considered safe. This is why you see leopards hiding in trees, and domestic cats finding their way up them as well. I put a stool in the room, and then just sit and wait. You'd be surprised how often this works. When you introduce something new to a cat's environment, they need to assess the danger, and they need to discover it. Most of the time, because of the fact that it is higher than the ground, they will pounce onto it. It isn't large enough for them to stand comfortably, so they sit and observe the world from that point. 90% of my cat photos are due to this one little trick.
- Make a sudden noise that you haven't made before, make sure your camera is focused and your finger on the shutter, because you'll have a very brief moment to get it right. The only difference is, when the dog or cat looks at you, the look lasts seconds, not even, but the photo is immortal.
I do think that the fact that I am a stranger to many of the animals plays a part. I am new, and have yet to be discovered. This curiosity works in my favour. I know that I am completely unable to get our cats and dogs to sit still for my photo, and I have tried a few more times than I am willing to admit. So with this in mind, I can understand why lots of people have trouble photographing their own animals.
This being said, it really just boils down to patience. If you have the patience to sit down for half an hour and try and get a good photo, I can almost guarantee that you will succeed. Unless you've got animals as difficult as mine, then I can only wish you luck.