One of the most important compositional decisions to make when photographing pets is choosing a focal length. Due to perspective and lens distortion, ultra wide angles (generally considered to be less than 24mm on a full frame camera) can yield unflattering results when photographing humans. However, when photographing pets, shooting with an ultra-wide angle lens can do wonders in making your photos stand out.
There are three main reasons why I often shoot exclusively at an ultra-wide angle when I’m photographing dogs outdoors.
1. It Facilitates Interaction With Your Subject
My go-to setup for photographing dogs is my Canon EF 17-40 f/4L USM lens on a full-frame Canon 6D body. The lens never sees anything higher than 17mm, and at this focal length, the dogs are only couple feet from the camera. Keeping the dogs this close makes it easy to give them treats, talk to them, and tempt them with toys. Getting them to look at the camera is simply a matter of holding a treat or toy either just above or just below the lens. Just make sure you throw a clear filter on that lens and bring a few lens wipes with you, because it’s bound to get a few licks now and then.
2. The Perspective Distortion At Ultra-Wide Angles Can Yield Intriguing Compositions
Photographing dogs with an ultra-wide angle lens exaggerates the relative size and distance between the near and far objects in the field of view. Small objects that are placed in the foreground will appear much larger relative to the size of the dog. When placed correctly, even a small grouping of blades of grass or flowers can take up a sizeable chunk of the frame, adding a level of depth and interest to the photograph. Conversely, elements that are behind the dog will appear to be very distant. I always seek very simple and minimalistic backgrounds when photographing dogs, and having the elements behind the dog appear very small is one way to achieve an uncluttered background, that is filled largely by the sky.
3. Most Other Photographers Do Not Shoot At An Ultra-Wide Angle
Because an ultra-wide angle lies outside of the range of a typical kit lens focal length, your photos will stand out simply because the “look” will be one that our eyes are not accustomed to seeing. The focal length of cell phone cameras generally lies in the 30mm (full frame equivalent) range, making it all that much easier to stand out from your friend’s “awesome” cell phone photos.
Differentiating yourself as a photographer requires doing things that not many other photographers are doing. Photographing dogs at an ultra-wide angle makes it easy to interact with your subject, and the perspective distortion will lend a unique feel to your photographs. It is important to make the distinction that while I love the look created by rectilinear ultra wide angle lenses, I personally find the barrel distortion of fisheyes to be distracting and too unrealistic for pet portraits.
Have you experimented with different focal lengths for photographing pets? I would love to see any pet photos you’ve taken using an ultra wide focal length.