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How to photograph your animal like a pro

My friend Lexie Boezeman Cataldo of In Joy Photography takes the most beautiful pictures. Though photography had always been a hobby of hers since her 20s, it wasn’t until five years ago that she decided to combine her passions for photography and animals and pursue photography professionally. (Check out her beautiful photos here.) She shares her smartest photo tips below, but first, here’s a little more about Lexie …

Lexie spent 25 of her younger years growing up in different countries in Asia (18 of them in Japan). “Having spent time in countries that are considered ‘third world,’ I saw some horrific treatment to animals of all species—including to my pets,” she says. “Never thinking that these cultures would ever change and feeling very alone in my love for animals, I endured with a heavy heart, but did what I could for animals when I could. Not until the internet became widespread did I see that I was not alone in my love for animals, and I became more courageous of getting ‘louder’ [in wanting to help animals in need].”

Lexie, who now volunteers to help animals in her spare time, says the best part about working with animals is, “It allows me to contribute to bringing awareness of animals to the world through my passion of photography—whether it is through documenting disasters, photographing animals at the shelters, or in showing the world the incredible amount of compassion, love and understanding that they possess.”

She recently did a photo shoot of a very special dog, Cadence, a pit bull used as a bait dog found struggling to survive on the streets. He was rescued by Hope for Paws and fostered for three months. Here’s a video of the rescue, which has had more than 7 million views:

“Not only did I get a chance to meet this incredible dog who had undergone such horrific abuse,” says Lexie, “but to meet these incredible people who have been my heroes for so long was a dream come true. The photos I took of her, her family and her rescuers are images as she is one year later. What a thrill!”

I asked Lexie to share her top tips for taking awesome animal photos like a pro (even when you’re not). Here’s what she had to say …

1. Get down to their level. Many people take photos standing, but only seem to get angles from above them. Get on your knees, lay on your stomach and take photos from eye level. This presents them on a more personal level.

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2. Keep your arms tucked in tight to your sides. This helps to keep your camera steady and ensures sharper photos. Of course, this is true for any type of photography—not just pets. When I’m lower to the ground, I like to squat and tuck my arms between my knees for stability—not the prettiest look, but my focus is in getting the “shot.”

3. A trick for using squeaky toys: Since animals don’t follow directions very well in front of the camera, you’ll need something to bring their focus to you. Squeaky toys are great for getting them to face you (and your camera)—and even that special “head tilt” that looks so cute in photos! As for my trick: Take the small squeaky part that’s usually inside the stuffed toy and put it in your mouth. That frees up both hands to hold the camera! Keep in mind their curiosity and interest are easily lost, so make sure you have them in focus before you “squeak”! If squeaky toys lose their effectiveness, you can always make your own animal noises or try treats. (But watch out if they’re a heavy drooler!)

4. Aim to get their eyes in focus. As they say, the eyes are the windows to the soul! If you’re using a DSLR camera, the focus can change easily from their nose to the eyes depending on your camera settings. Some photos are great with their nose in focus instead, but I like to aim for sharp eyes to bring a stronger connection with the viewer.

5. Knee pads! If you plan on taking lots of photos of your animal, I definitely recommend it. Although they don’t make such a fashion statement, they’ve saved my knees!

{Lexie Cataldo, whose work I’ve admired for years, is an advertiser on this site. Photos © In Joy Photography}

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