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An Animal Lover’s Guide to Photographing Pets

The aww inducing photographs of Berry Chia, who goes by her moniker ‘Berrythedogslover’, can put a smile on even the most bitter of days: corgis chasing a tennis ball on the lawn; beagles looking up with long ears in full swing; golden retrievers jumping at each other; and dachshunds bathing in the sunlight. Sweet sunshine, green grass and cute animals, are just some of the things that bring unfiltered joy in some of Berry’s pictures. As an animal lover herself, it is no wonder they are the shining stars of her work.

Based in Hong Kong, Berry started her journey of photography with her father’s Nikon D80 in 2015, but it was as early as three years old that she had been playing with cameras. Her mother bought a digital camera for her and her sister, and this early education laid a good foundation for her to find her bearings in photography and how to best approach cameras in future. Her sister’s interest in photography grew but eventually faded, while Berry has stuck by it throughout her lifetime. For her, the first time she took photos with the Nikon D80 at a flower show was the turning point in her life; it was when she realised how vivid of a moment she could capture.

Making a Connection

Having a bond with animals goes a long way, your connection with them can bring out a playful side or even a sweeter calming side to them. “For me, dogs are just like children. They are easily pleased. For example, when they have treats, they can be as happy as a lark.” Berry said. Unlike humans who often seek more material wealth, dogs are infectiously happy with their simple needs, requiring almost nothing in return, and this is what she appreciates about them.

She also loves dogs for their friendly demeanour, fascinated by their innocent eyes, wet nose and soft fur. It was not until she owned a dog herself did she realise that dogs have a range of emotions and they tell them through a great variety of facial expressions.

She also appreciates dogs’ kind hearts, comparing them to Mother Teresa. “They won’t care if you are pretty or not, rich or not, healthy or not… They will always love you if you love them. ” She tries to incorporate these elements in her work, as well as the fun and joyful side. In turn, spending so much time with dogs has become a great way for her to relieve stress.

Treats and toys should definitely be included in your camera gear, this is an easy way for Berry to get dogs to interact. “Dogs will show their smiley faces, shake the bodies and be much more obedient when they see food. Cats and dogs are gluttons!” Berry said. Although cats may not be as enthusiastic as dogs, treats can also lure them out from their hideouts, so that she can photograph them quickly when they are eating.

Toys are irresistible to playful dogs and puppies. She throws toys far away and takes burst shots to get the action of dogs running and fetching. She makes a point of never using flash, as she fears that it may hurt the animal’s eyes or scare them away.

Capturing Movement

Dogs aren’t the best at sitting still for a portrait, so use that to your advantage and let them run wild! These make for some energetic shots, but aren’t always the easiest to master. “If there is not enough sunlight, I have to increase the ISO within the camera. When it is bright enough, I use manual mode, and set the shutter speed as fast as possible, without affecting the exposure of the whole image.”

Cats and dogs look more natural when they can move freely, and shutter speed plays an important role in capturing their candid movements.  “The faster the movement is, the faster the shutter speed needed. This is really important.” If there is not enough light, she usually increases the ISO and reduces the aperture to accommodate the shutter speed, instead of using a flash light. However, nothing beats a sun filled day to capture these furry friends.

Many factors can make images unclear, such as bad weather for instance, unfocused shots or not having the right shutter speed setting. Using manual mode most of the time, Berry is able to try different settings to tackle different problems each time. Solutions may vary in different situations, but one thing she is certain of is that nothing beats practicing.  

“I think using manual mode can help you to capture a beautiful image. Although you may be frustrated when it comes to the settings on the camera, after using the camera for some time, you will find you can control it much more easily.”

Getting to their eye level is also beneficial, this allows you to get a natural angle of them head on, rather than always looking at them from above. You are also more likely to get a shot of them looking towards the camera when they are running towards you as  you photograph them from the ground level.

The Right Settings

Berry enjoys setting up everything by herself using manual mode, including the white balance. She usually has her aperture value at the smallest, for a shallow depth of field and lighter image. This also helps enable a faster shutter speed to capture the erratic movement of animals.

Berry prefers a prime lens over a zoom lens, when she is using a zoom lens, she always zooms in more to allow the background to blur. Lenses with apertures of f/1.4 can take a wide range of depth of fields, and focal lengths between 18mm to 70mm are what she uses to create her images.

“You do not need a long lens to capture the dogs and cats, as when you are taking photo of them you should be giving them treats and staying close to them. A long lens may be inconvenient as they can be bulky in these situations.”

When and Where

Berry takes photos of her dog and her dog’s friends near her home where she walks by every day. She also looks for other dog parks online to explore and possibly meet new models. If she wants to photograph cats, villages are her first choice, where many cats are kept by villagers and local stores. She also browses the internet to scout for places where lots of stray cats may appear in Hong Kong. It is good to note that many rescue or adoption centres welcome photographers to capture their animals in order to spread the word.

Sunny days are always welcome as it makes everything bright, breezy and easy. It is hard to take good photos on rainy days, for not only can raindrops cause damage to cameras, but all her animal friends remain indoors during this time.

Berry gave her top five tips when it comes to photographing animals:

1. Practice makes perfect. Please don't hesitate to bring a camera with you when you go to a new place. You may find many interesting things and you can capture them with your camera, and you can practice your skills from those experiences.

2. Please don't hurt the animal’s eyes. Please do not use flashlights when there is insufficient light.

3. Use fast shutter speeds so that you can catch the movement of animals easily!

4. Try to lead your dog when they are running. The most beautiful movement of dogs is when their fur flies and they are running towards you happily!

5. Don't forget to bring treats and toys!

About Berry

Berry Chia, who goes by her moniker “Berrythedogslover” is an 18-year-old secondary school student in Hong Kong. Entering an art school for further study soon, she is driven by her great loves of photography, music, art and animals. The subjects of her photographs are always the cute, the cuddly and the heart-warming.