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Your Rabbit Can Shine In Your Pet Pictures

Simplify taking photos of your pet rabbit with these pet photography tips.

Daniel Johnson
Posted: July 11, 2014, 4 a.m. EDT

Rabbit from Piotr Bargiel on Vimeo.

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You can take a nice photo of your pet if you plan ahead and take the time to educate yourself on some basic pet photography rules. Some simple things can increase the quality of your own snapshots. So, before you grab a camera and rush off to snap pictures, stop for a moment and consider a few things.

Location, Location, Location 
Always consider where you are going to photograph your rabbit. It’s easy to become so absorbed with your subject that you forget to pay attention to your location. 

First, do not photograph your bunny inside his hutch or playpen. No matter how comfortable and cute he may seem inside there, you won’t be creating a photograph that’s as good as it could be. Shooting inside the hutch makes for a cramped, distorted look, because you’ll be too close to your bunny and you’ll have to use a wide-angle focal length to make it work. Instead, plan on bringing your rabbit outside his habitat. 

But where? Your choices are indoors or outdoors. Each produces different results, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. 

Outdoor Photos
Outdoors, you could either place your rabbit in a leash and harness, or place him inside a small fenced-in area. Mowed, grassy areas are usually the best (but be certain the grass hasn’t been treated with fertilizers or pesticides). The advantage of using a leash (if your rabbit is used to being on one) is that your bunny is easily controlled, and you can have a friend hold the leash and keep your rabbit exactly where you want him. The downside is that the leash and harness will be in the photo, and that’s not too flattering most of the time. 

Photographing your rabbit within a fenced-in area allows your bunny to frolic and play a little, which makes for great pictures, but it will be more difficult for you as the photographer. If you do want to try some "action” pictures of your bunny playing, use your camera’s "sports mode” or raise its shutter speed to help properly freeze the action.

When shooting pets outdoors, the best conditions are bright, cloudy days. The colors will be more vibrant and the clouds will stop any harsh shadows from forming. Shadows can be very distracting in a photo, so avoid taking bunny pictures in the middle of a sunny day when shadows are more prevalent. For sunny days, try shooting either early or late in the day when the sun is lower and the light is more attractive.

rabbit in basket
© Courtesy Vanessa Ellsworth
Get at your rabbit's level and focus on his face to create a good photo of your pet.

Indoor Photos
Shooting indoors presents its own set of challenges — the main one being that you have much less light to work with. Your camera will probably notice this and say, "Hey! It’s not very bright in here — I’d better turn on the flash!” This is not what you want. 

Your camera’s flash will bring much-needed light to the scene, but it will most likely do so in a very unflattering way. We’ve all seen (and taken!) those unattractive flash pictures in which the subject is far too bright and the background is far too dark. Fortunately, it’s easy to avoid these problems by turning off the flash altogether. (Check your camera’s manual and find out how to turn off your flash — it’s often represented on a point-and-shoot by a symbol with a crossed-out lightning bolt.)

Now you’ll need to take action to replace the extra light from the disabled flash. You can accomplish this with the light from a window. 
Set up your photo shoot near a window — north-facing windows work best. Arrange yourself and your bunny so that the window itself is not included in the photograph. Including the window in the photo can cause all kinds of trouble. You just want your rabbit to be bathed in the window’s light. A reflector can be very helpful in bouncing light from the window onto your bunny; this can be something as simple as a large piece of white poster board.

So what’s the difference between using a flash or the light from a window? Well, rather than the harsh, shadowy look that comes from a small flash, the light from a north-facing window is soft and even, and gives your rabbit’s portrait a pleasant, realistic and natural look. 

It’s easy to make a simple backdrop for indoor shooting. While professional photographers often use seamless backdrop paper or other pro backdrops for pet photos, yours don’t have to be very elaborate. A plain, solid-colored blanket or sheet (avoid patterns as they’re distracting) can be draped behind and beneath your bunny to create a similar effect. Avoid anything with wrinkles though!
Because rabbits are small animals, a simple piece of large poster board can be used as a backdrop if you’d like to photograph your bunny on a solid-colored background. If you curve the poster board, it can act as both the background and the floor for your photo.
Creating contrast can be a good thing — light-colored or white rabbits will often photograph nicely on darker backgrounds, while dark or black rabbits may look extra-nice on light backgrounds. Experiment, and see what appeals most to you!

Remember, too, you don’t necessarily need a specific backdrop — you can always create a "scene” with your own home’s décor.

What The Heck Is Focal Length?
The length of your camera’s lens — its "focal length” — has a huge effect on the resulting photographs. You might find it easier to think of the focal length as how much the lens is "zoomed in” or "zoomed out.” A longer, telephoto lens ("zoomed in”) causes the camera to make far away objects appear larger, and usually causes the background to become pleasantly blurred, which is excellent for pet portraits and gives your image a more professional feel. A shorter, wide-angle lens ("zoomed out”) tends to make objects in the scene look smaller than they really are, and this type of lens takes in a large amount of the scene, which can be distracting to the viewer when the picture is supposed to be a pet portrait.

Dan’s Top Pet Photography Tips
OK, so you have a great location and good lighting. What else? There are still a few other things to think about, so here are some general photography tips to keep in mind when photographing your rabbit:
1) Grooming. It goes without saying that your rabbit will look better in his photos if he’s been groomed and cleaned up ahead of time and had his nails trimmed. Even a bit of loose fur can be distracting in a finished photo. Pay special attention to keeping your rabbit’s eyes and nose clean, both before and during the photo shoot. And if your rabbit is currently molting, you’ll definitely want to postpone the photo shoot until this stage has passed.

2) Get down to his level. Your photograph will be more successful if you lower yourself and your camera down so that you are looking at your rabbit straight on, not down at him. 

Shooting down at a small subject is a very common beginner’s mistake to avoid — this angle isn’t flattering to the rabbit and it doesn’t give the photo any punch. Getting down to your rabbit’s level makes the subject much clearer to the viewer, and will more clearly display your rabbit’s true personality and appearance. 

At first, you may find it awkward or uncomfortable to get down close to the floor to photograph, but the results really are worth it. You may find it helpful to place your rabbit on a very low table or other item to slightly raise him up. Avoid placing your rabbit too high, or he could injure himself if he jumps off. 

3) Fill the frame with the subject. You’re taking a picture of a rabbit — not the backyard or the neighbor’s house or the living room. Your rabbit needs to be the star of the photo. Make him fill the frame by not including any other distracting objects or backgrounds. It’s amazing how distracting an unwanted object can be in the finished photo — and you might not even have noticed the object while photographing! So before snapping that perfect shot, take a quick check around the viewfinder and make sure there are no unnecessary elements creeping into the frame. If there are, then either rearrange your position or your rabbit’s position until the distraction is no longer included in the photo.

Remember, too, you don’t necessarily need a specific backdrop — you can always create a "scene” with your own home’s décor.

Best Camera To Use
Today’s digital cameras pretty much break down into three groups.
1. Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras (DSLRs). These cameras offer the very best image quality, not just for rabbits, but for all subjects. A DSLR has lenses that can be removed and swapped with one another, giving you a wide range of potential perspectives. A somewhat long lens, in the range of 80mm to 200mm, will give you the best possible results for photographing rabbits and other pets. Shorter lenses, such as 18mm to 80mm, are not as desirable for most pet portraits.
2. Point-and-shoot cameras are more common — and considerably less expensive! — than DSLRs. The downside is that a point-and-shoot camera will not give you imagery as nice as the DSLR, and its built-in lens may not be as flexible. Some point-and-shoot cameras, however, do offer a more robust zoom lens and are easier to learn to use.
3. Cellphone cameras should be avoided unless you don’t have any other options. Even if it is a high-quality cellphone, the images produced by such a small lens and image sensor will be of inferior quality to the other two types of cameras. Cellphone cameras also place severe restrictions on your ability to zoom the lens in and out, which is critical to successful animal photography. Cellphone cameras can be fun for capturing spontaneous snapshots of your bunnies, however.

4) Back up, and zoom in! This is one of my favorite ways to help people improve their photography of animals (and people!). It’s a very simple tip, but truly makes a huge difference in the quality of your images. 

Odds are, when you pick up your camera, it will be set to a wide-angle perspective to take in a lot of the scene. Resist the temptation to fill the frame with your rabbit by simply moving the camera closer. Doing so will badly distort your rabbit’s body in your photo. People break this rule all the time with their flip cameras and cellphones — they hold the camera at arm’s length (which is way too close), and then use a wide-angle perspective to fit everything in. 

The results are typically less flattering than they could be — this kind of shooting will make people’s faces and rabbit’s bodies look unnaturally distorted — not at all the results you’re after.

Instead, back up about 6 to 8 feet away from your rabbit, and then zoom in your camera’s lens to fill the frame. This allows you to photograph your bunny the way he really is and without distortion. It also makes it much easier to exclude distracting elements from the image. 

5) Focus on the eyes. If you’re using auto-focus, try to place the focusing-point on your rabbit’s eyes, because sharp, crisp eyes make the best photos.

Tips For Working With Your Bunny
Many rabbits tend to become tense and worried-looking when faced with new situations or environments. At times like these, timid rabbits essentially freeze up, with their ears laid back and their eyes wide. It isn’t exactly the look you’re after in a portrait. Instead, what you want is a nice photograph of a relaxed, cheerful bunny who is having a good time and has a good expression. Happy bunnies make good pictures. What can you do to help?

1) Wait It Out. Wait on your bunny to get comfortable. Be patient and place him in the right spot, then pick up your camera, get ready — and focused — and wait. Most rabbits will only stay in the "I’m scared” pose for a minute or two before they relax and begin to explore. Other rabbits may need more time. For very timid bunnies, it’s a good idea to introduce them to the shooting location a few times prior to the photo shoot. This gives them a chance to get used to the area so they won’t be scared when it comes time to actually take the pictures. If your bunny is already allowed to roam your home or a room in your home, he’ll already be very comfortable. 

2) Bunny Wrangling. Once your bunny decides that everything is OK, he’ll probably think that it’s playtime! Your rabbit won’t have any problem at all with getting up and leaving the set, off to explore new lands. What can you do?

Get an assistant, someone who is comfortable handling rabbits, to keep control of your bunny while you take photos. Each time the bunny tries to leave, which may be often, your assistant can bring him back and put him in place. This way you won’t have to keep getting up to pose your rabbit and then getting back down to shoot, only to have the bunny leave before you can even snap a single image. 

Another good idea is to use a cute prop of some sort, such as a basket, and place your bunny inside that. He’ll be interested enough for a while and he’ll be contained in one place long enough for you to get several good photos. I’ve found that willow baskets and resting mats are terrific for the bunny wanderer. Rabbits don’t seem to like slippery surfaces, so posing your rabbit on a rug or mat may be just what you need to encourage him to stay in one place.

Choose Your Setting
Resist the temptation to always leave your camera on the full "auto” setting. Most point-and-shoots and lower-level DSLRs have semi-automatic settings that can offer you more control over your photos. Check your camera’s manual to find out how to access these, there may be a dedicated button or dial, or you may have to dig into the camera’s menu. Two modes that you will find helpful when photographing your bunny are:
Sports Mode: This mode helps the camera to "freeze” the action and avoid streaky, blurry images of the moving object. On some cameras, it also increases the performance of your auto-focus. Use sports mode if you plan on photographing your bunny while he plays or runs.
Portrait Mode: Portrait mode encourages the camera to selectively blur out the background while keeping the subject — in this case, your rabbit — in sharp focus.

3) A Winning Pose. Try to get your rabbit’s attention so he will look up and bring his ears forward. Interesting noises from certain toys work for some rabbits, but not so well for others — many rabbits will simply ignore noises like those. I’ve had better luck with treats like banana slices. Your assistant can hold the treat in front of your bunny’s nose to let him catch the scent, and then pull it away, out of the picture. With luck, your bunny will continue to sniff and look around, trying to find the treat, and this is when you can make your move and click away. (Of course you’ll want to reward your bunny with the banana at some point!)

4) Vary your photographs! Don’t just take one or two photos and then think "OK, we got it!” Take your time and make sure you get something really nice. Take close-up head studies. Take full-body portraits. Photograph your bunny from the front, from the side and halfway in-between the two. You will be surprised how much the extra variety adds to the interest of your photos. You may also find that the first photos of a shoot usually aren’t the best. The best photos usually come later, once you’ve hit your stride as the photographer and your bunny is relaxed (be sure to take breaks as necessary for the rabbit’s sake — and keep the shoots brief). Be sure to watch for that always-cute pose, when bunny stands on his hind legs — it’s adorable!

So with a little planning and a little help, you’ll soon be sharing pictures of your bunny-buddy with friends everywhere. Have fun, and happy shooting! 

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And check out:
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Posted: July 11, 2014, 4 a.m. EDT


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