Shooting animals can be frustrating. We always want to capture that moment that makes us melt but it's easier said than done. Right when you're ready and they have their cutest expression ever, the auto-focus engages and they turn away or look down. It's so frustrating.
Here's what I try to do when I'm shooting Pumpkin, my favorite animal ever. Instead of just a straight portrait shot or doing something around the house (full disclosure, I still do that all the time) I will take her out and take my camera with no plan whatsoever. The first thing I look at is the light and is if worth shooting. Once you're out you need to look around and see what story you can tell.
I went out yesterday in a fresh snow which is a great backdrop for her because of her coloring. It was later in the afternoon and the light wasn't the best, so I I decided to see what I could do with her running. Using movement is a great way to make your photographs stand out from the crowd. This photograph is an example of movement. I was capturing her running down a sidewalk and instead of freezing her movement (using a fast shutter speed) I used a slow shutter speed and moved the camera (panning) with her movement. The panning creates the motion blur on the background while Pumpkin is in focus and her legs showing movement. My exposure settings were 1/40 sec, f/5.6, ISO 250 and I shot it with a 50mm f/1.4 lens.
The photograph below was completely unplanned. I was initially attracted to the red berries that had fallen from a tree onto the snowy sidewalk. When I was looking through the viewfinder I moved the camera and saw Pumpkin's paw in the frame. I loved the composition and immediately knew it was the shot I wanted. It is also shot at an angle, looking down. Despite the fact the photograph is minimalist, I still think it tells a story and will pique the viewers interest as to where the rest of the dog is, what the dog looks like and what the dog is doing. At any rate, it's different and how I saw my dog at that moment. My exposure settings on this shot were 1/60 sec, f/5.0, ISO 1000 and I shot it with a 50mm f/1.4 lens.
To summarize, experiment with light, shutter speeds and aperture. Try using movement - the higher the number of your shutter speed the motion freezes in time; the lower the shutter speed the more blur you'll get. On a slower shutter speed with a moving object, try panning do the object is more in focus and the background will be motion blurred. And play around with your angles and composition...experiment wildly!
Below are some other animal shots I like that I have taken.