Pet Photography

Tricks of the trade . . . one frame at a time


Whether it’s an expression that tugs at our hearts, an endearing moment or just some fun thing they do, there’s so much about our furry friends we’d like to capture in our photographs.

But getting shots that really capture those moments and communicate how they make us feel can be surprisingly difficult. The ads say “just point and shoot,” making us feel like it should be easy to freeze those moments into photographs. Yet no matter how skilled, all of us know the disappointment of photos that fail to meet the promise we felt when we made them. 

It’s natural to think “better gear” would solve our problems, or to sadly believe we are just not creative enough to take great shots. But I think this is akin to how I felt the first time I was on a ski lift. Looking down at all those skiers gracefully carving turns made it look so effortless. But moments later, when the lift stopped, I realized it wasn’t going to be as easy as it looked. It was tempting to blame my skis or the sun in my eyes, but we all know it was me that needed the work, the practice, and perhaps a teacher.  

This Month's Focus

In this column we’ll explore various tips and concepts that can help make your photos more powerful and communicate what you want them to. And since the key to success is practice, I’ll offer a related “assignment” each month that I hope will encourage you to practice. 

This time I’m excited to discuss Kathy Lillis’s wonderful success in the OHS Photo Contest.  Entering for the first time, she won the grand prize for her soulful photo of her dog Maggie, and won “Top Cat” for her amazing photo of her Flo. Kathy made both of these photos using available light and a point and shoot camera anyone might use at home.

Kathy was a student in one of my recent OHS photography classes. During class she made a huge leap forward when she turned off her flash and began really seeing existing light. We’ll discuss using existing light, and flash, in future columns. But what I hope to instill in you today is that, when it comes to equipment, less can be more! It’s easy for gear to get in our way and to block us from seeing the world.

Kathy’s winning photos convey moments that would have been lost had she been worrying about her gear. It takes great focus to capture the convergence of emotion, light, background and color that make her photos so powerful. Seeing all that requires a great awareness of the present moment; an awareness that can easily be lost if we get bogged down by our tools. 

Knowing how to use our gear is important, which we’ll discuss in future columns, and fancy gear is nice. But often when we are disappointed with our photos, it’s due to our own lack of being fully aware in the moment. A key challenge we face as photographers is to not let our gear distract us from our subjects or from the present moment.

Any of us can produce powerful, award-winning photos with the most basic gear — if we stay mindful of the world we are in. If you have any doubt that you can produce great images I hope you’ll take inspiration from Kathy’s success.


Class Recap

  1. Try the exercise
  2. Send your photos from the assignment to: Please put “Spot Photo Class” in the subject line
  3. Visit and click on “Photography 101” to see your photos and those of your fellow students
  4. Share your great work with your friends!
  5. Check out David’s tips and comments
  6. Meet David right here next month for the next session!

David Childs is a professional photographer, photo journalist, instructor, and animal advocate. You can see his work or contact him at

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