How to Perk Up Pet Pictures

Perfect your pets, lock your auto exposures, grow a third arm and other cures for your photo woes.

Everybody loves to photograph their pets -- but few know how to get the most out of their furry friends. Following any or all of these tips can improve your pet photography:

1) Get down and dirty. You usually see Rover and Fluffy from above, but that's not the best angle for a portrait. Instead, flop down on the floor and meet them at eye-level; this presents them as equals in the photo and reveals their personalities.

2) Light it right. Direct on-camera flash will give your pet a killer case of green-, yellow-, or blue-eye. Try to avoid direct flash: If you can, bounce the flash off the ceiling or a wall, or move the flash off-camera. Or just ditch the flash and try available light, both indoors and out.

3) Fill the frame. You've heard this one before. Fill the frame with your subject to make it prominent and to crop out any distractions.

4) The eyes have it. You might find yourself shooting with a shallow depth of field, so whatever else you do, make sure the eyes are in focus. The windows to the soul must be kept clear!

30 Second Photoshop Tip

Picture in picture: Ever working so closely on a photograph (for instance, when cloning) that you can't tell if what you're doing is making the picture better or worse?

Solution: Get Photoshop to show you a zoomed-out version of your image while you work on a zoomed-in one. You'll see your changes happening in real time. Just go to Window > Arrange > New Window For [your file name]. Zoom out to any size you want, move it to the side so it doesn't block your workspace, and in no time you'll be using that little picture to keep the big picture in mind.

What's That Button For?

Autoexposure (AE) lock : Using a spotmeter with autoexposure is a pain. Aim the spot at the area you want to meter, and you probably won't have the composition you want. So you gently press the shutter release to lock in the exposure and recompose -- and now the autofocus may be locked onto something other than your subject. Or you take your finger off the shutter button momentarily and lose the exposure reading. It's enough to make you start using manual exposure ...

The button : Usually on the back of the camera, within poking distance of your thumb. Markings range from the obscure to the obvious.

What it does : Separates meter reading/exposure lock from the shutter button. Aim the spot at the tone you want to read, press the AE lock button, and the camera memorizes this reading. Now you can focus where you want, and recompose, without losing the meter reading.

Why: AE lock is really for speed spotmetering. If you're a perfectionist (especially a slide film or digital shooter) who wants precise exposures, AE lock lets you shoot much faster than if you went to manual control. For this reason, some cameras automatically switch to spotmetering when AE lock is engaged. The most obvious situations for AE lock: backlighting and spotlighting.

How: With some cameras, you have to press and hold the button (a little clumsy). On others, you need only press it momentarily and the camera will hold the reading until you take the shot or make another reading (better). On some cameras you can program how the button works. As always, consult your manual for all the details.

A) Where is it? Usually on the back, and sometimes even clearly marked, as on this Pentax *ist DS2.

B) Spot marks the exposure: For a quick meter reading without the dark background throwing it off toward overexposure, aim the meter spot at a midtone (outlined) and hit AE lock. Now you can recompose and shoot.

Problem Solver

Grow a third arm: Photographers who need a way to hold accessories often resort to teeth and duct tape. A better idea is a flexible tube with a gripping clamp on one end. One of the best is the McClamp ($40, street; www.mcclamp.com): it has a long reach and a soft gripping clamp that's gentle on foliage. To hold the McClamp in place, use its ground stake (if you're outdoors) or its clamp to attach the device to a tripod or any other handy anchor. Hold on! A McClamp can hold small reflectors, diffusers, fill cards, and gobos to improve indoor or outdoor lighting. Hold still! Shooting a flower outdoors can be a pain if it sways in the wind. A McClamp on the stem just out of the frame holds the subject steady during long exposures. Hold away! When shooting outdoors there may be branches or leaves in the way of your subject. A McClamp will pull them out of the way.

Bonus: A McClamp can also hold a recipe while you're cooking in the kitchen.

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