Pet Portraits

Kenneth C. Hoffman

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Gathering dust in the closet is a shoe box of pictures. Among them are snapshots of your beloved pets. Unfortunately, the pictures of Skippy are all too far away for us to enlarge for placing on the wall, and the snapshot of our cute little kitty cat is an unrecognizable blur with eyes lit up like spotlights. Here are some tips to help you create a beautiful close up portrait of your pet.

First you need a decent backg5round. Procure a panel of thin plywood sized about three by five feet. Mix the following colors using tubes of color with flat ceiling paint: one cup of alarizon crimson, one cup of beige, one cup of gray-brown, and one cup of apple green. Paint the whole panel with the gray /brown, then blend in the other colors with a large brush, stroking in a diagonal direction. Keep the center portion light. Blend the paint while still wet, but don’t blend too much or you will hide the different colors.

Use a camera which features a telephoto lens or zoom in the 135mm range which will focus at four feet. Use a medium fast ISO setting (200). Locate a spot lit by strong window light for a source or bounce your flash off a silver 36 inch reflector. If you have to use the built in flash, use a mirror or a piece of foil to angle the light to the side or upwards. Place your pet on a box large enough for your pet to be comfortable. Cover the box with a dark, plain material like velvet, satin or damask. For large dogs, it may be better to work on the floor but be sure to lower the camera to the same height. Black dogs are difficult to capture. Try using a flash off camera with a window or other light behind your pet and to one side just out of range of the lens.

Take a few full length shots and then crop just below the neck for a good close up image. Keep your pet’s eyes slightly to the left or right and a little above the camera lens. On long nosed dogs, make sure you can see both eyes. Make a variety of little noises to keep the ears forward. It is a good idea to have ready several squeaky toys because your dog or cat will only perk up their ears once for each different noise. For small dogs or cats, have a wicker basket ready for them to peek out of. Feel free to make a dozen exposures in order to insure capturing a prize winning expression. Save your background for the next time your pet is photographed. Your final pet masterpiece will be treasured just as your pet is a treasured part of your family.

My first professional animal portrait was a horse!

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