This story was originally published in the July/August 2017 edition of Living Intown magazine.
Anyone with an Instagram account will tell you that there’s no shortage of inspirational pet photos to emulate.
But pet owners need time, patience and a discerning eye to replicate a striking image on a camera phone.
For frame-worthy portraits of Atlanta’s pampered pets, professional photographers Parker Smith and Leesia Teh put animal companions in their best light.
Smith’s stripped down approach features engaging, studio-style portraits that turn pets into supermodels. Teh’s slice-of-life images hone in on the essence of animals in their favorite environments. Each has spent more than a decade in the business and cultivated a loyal following for their ability to capture a pet’s personality, whether it’s an introspective boxer or a pair of fun-loving Cavalier King Charles spaniels.
“One great photograph is worth a thousand little snapshots,” Smith says. “It’s not about thousands of pictures so much as having the right pictures.”
Smith and Teh offer these 7 tips that can help enhance an amateur’s pet pictures.
Look to the light
The best photos make careful use of light and shadows, Smith says. Look for well-lit spots in your home, especially if you are using a camera phone or capturing dark-colored pets, which can be more challenging. If you catch your pet doing something cute, Teh suggests enticing it closer to a window, which can provide the most flattering light and reduce the chance for blurry photos. Photographing black cats near a window definitely helps capture definition.
Get on the pet’s level
Teh finds that beautiful moments happen when photographers meet pets at eye level. Don’t be afraid to lie down on the floor or kneel next to the pet, and position the camera really low. Then, look for opportunities to engage and make eye contact.
“A lot of times, [dogs] don’t like the camera up in their face — even if it’s a phone,” she says. “If you just lower it a little bit and make eye contact with them, it can really help.”
Once you regain that connection, slowly raise the camera again. Treats or squeaky toys will help keep dogs engaged. With cats, a well-placed piece of string can bring them out of their reserve.
Don’t overly rely on treats
While some dogs will work for treats, they can be a mixed blessing. Smith notes that some dogs get hyper-focused on a treat, making it difficult to capture a great portrait. When that happens, put the treats away, wait a few minutes and start again.
You can get a decent photo with a camera phone
Although Canon DSLRs are their primary tools of choice, Smith and Teh say that you can get great pet portraits with camera phones, especially outdoors. Smith finds they can more easily capture those wonderful in-between moments of pets and people.
Don’t be afraid to delete, says Smith, who even likes to cull vacation photos down to his favorite three or four key images. He notes that most pet owners take tons of pictures and are afraid to delete anything. Hoarding photos will tax the best phone data plan. Usually, portrait sessions have one great image. Whether it’s 20 minutes or an hour into the session, Smith knows when he’s captured that perfect pet portrait.
“I always use the analogy of a concert pianist,” Smith says. “They practice enough and make enough mistakes when they’re not on stage that they can play and, even if they do make a mistake, you don’t hear it. [Photography] is a process of constantly making images and reviewing them and changing perspective and lighting until you get that one picture that says everything you want it to say.”
Pet portraits aren’t cheap.
In addition to one key portrait, Smith and Teh offer collections of images, and fees vary accordingly. A professional photography session and photo order with Smith (ParkerSmithPortraits.com) typically ranges from $600 to $1,500. Teh (leesiateh.com) charges a portrait session fee, which begins at $250. Her edited photo collections begin at $500.
Schedule your holiday pet portrait early.
If you want a professional pet portrait for the holidays, schedule an appointment early. Spaces tend to go quickly, and Teh says her busy season ranges from September to November.