Working with animals is fun, but can be very challenging. They do not follow instructions, get bored very quickly, and move a lot. Trained dogs can behave better, but you should learn some tricks to handle photo sessions with all kind of animals. Here is some advice to help you manage the basics of animal photography.
Use telephoto lenses
The best way to minimize the impact on the animal (pet or wild animal, it doesn’t matter) is to stay away from it as much as possible. Invest in powerful telephoto lenses and use them to catch details without stressing the model. Taking photos from the distance gives you another advantage: the flash will neither scare the animal nor will produce reflections. Especially when you are working with cats it is better to leave the flash aside. Otherwise, red eyes will haunt your pictures.
Use a fast shutter speed
Animals will not have patience. It is not in their nature. So be sure you choose a fast shutter speed in order to get real animals in your photos and not just ghosts. Besides, choosing the right exposure and camera settings should be done. If you don’t have the time to set your camera, choose the Shutter priority mode and let the camera decides the aperture parameters. When working with animals you should act very quickly and determined. Learn how your camera works and don’t waste time manipulating it.
Take multiple pictures
Continuous Shooting (Burst Mode) is a safe thing to do when you are photographing animals. It’s better to be safe than sorry like the proverb says. Statistically speaking, more pictures of the same scene will give you more chances to have a perfect photo. Animals move, change their position and have bad angles like everyone else. Sneaking up on them is not easy. Will be a shame to do all that work and only take one picture.
Follow your model
When you are taking wild animal photos is natural to follow your subject into its natural landscape. But this should be the case when you are taking pet photos also. Pets are used with people, but they still act more gracefully in their own habitat. Keep your distance and observe. Natural positions are always the best. Keep your camera at hand and take snapshots when the moment comes. Be patient. It might take some time.
Pay attention to the light
Because animals force you to use a fast shutter speed, the shutter will be opened for a very short time. Improve your exposure conditions as much as you can. Increase the light if possible, use a tripod (even an improvised one), or choose the best moment of the day for your session (usually at sunrise and sunset). Flash will not help you.
Get to know your subject
You cannot photograph lions if you know nothing about them. The same rule applies to dogs, cats, birds, and fish. Do your homework and learn about their life, customs, and psychology. Maybe the most important thing is to love what you do and the subject you have chosen. Take a look at The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards or some other animal photography competitions and get inspired.