smart phone taking pictures of dog
We can’t get enough of cute pet videos, especially when the pet is our Oscar-worthy dog or cat.

But getting a furball to perform on cue isn’t easy. So we asked Jenna von Elling, a video producer and photographer who has coaxed performances from dozens of animals for Vetstreet videos, to share her secrets.

Here are von Elling’s tips and tricks for making pet videos so outstanding, even strangers will retweet them:

1. Know Your Actors

Some animals adore getting ready for their close-up, while others prefer being left alone. “I’ve met some animals who love being on camera,” says von Elling. “But for others, it’s too out of the ordinary, too scary.”

The trick is to know your animal’s process. Dogs are natural pleasers, so they are more likely to perform on cue, if provided with the right motivation (aka treats). Von Elling’s secret weapon is cheese. “But don’t up the treat value so much that the animal is overexcited,” she said. “Then, all you’ll have on video is your pet mauling you for cheese. You have to work up to high-value treats.”

Most cats, on the other hand, rarely need to impress you. They’ll perform when they’re good and ready, so plan to camp out, camera cocked until kitty naturally does what you want to capture.

2. Practice Makes Perfect

Just as human actors need rehearsal, animal actors benefit from practice, too.

Before you start the camera rolling, drill your pet on the tricks or behaviors you want her to perform on cue. Then, shoot some throw-away footage before you record the good stuff. That will help your pet get comfortable with the camera and stay focused when it’s time to perform.

3. Choose the Right Camera

Smartphone cameras are perfect for taking most pet videos. They’re unobtrusive, probably familiar to your pet and have auto focusing that lets you chase animals around without the video becoming blurry.

A GoPro camera mounted on your head would be effective, too. GoPro allows for unencumbered chasing as your pet does something hilarious. Since GoPro is worn like a hat, it might look more natural and therefore be less distracting to your animal.

If you want a Hollywood look, in which you can blur and focus different elements of your shot, you’ll need a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera that shoots video. But, von Elling says, they’re bigger, and notoriously difficult to focus for video. A larger camera can also be more intimidating to your star.

4. Think About Lighting

Properly lighting your subject will make for improved pet videos. Mostly, natural light will do. So, whenever possible, shoot in daylight, making sure not to backlight your subjects, which makes them hard to see.

If you often shoot after dark, invest in camera lights: You can buy a three-light kit for about $150.

5. Frame the Shot

When your pet is ready for her close-up, let her beautiful self fill the frame; exclude furniture, other people or animals who aren’t interacting with your main character. You don’t have to get intensely close and fill the frame with just your pet’s head. Try to focus on both the face and body.

If you’re waiting for a puppy to do something interesting, give her some space and a wide angle. You can always zoom in when the good stuff starts happening. With some smartphones, zooming simply means slowly moving closer to your animal.

And if you want to get fancy, take some tight shots, like a paw when puppy is giving a shake, and edit them into the video.

6. Timing Sweet Spot

In professional circles, the ideal video length is between two and four minutes. But don’t be afraid to take shorter ones if you’re concentrating on one particularly cute antic. It’s hard not to keep filming forever if your pet is doing something really cute, but to make the video watchable to anyone but yourself, you need to make it short and sweet.

“Just be patient and have fun with it,” von Elling says. “Your pet will take their cues from your attitudes and actions, so if you get stressed out, your animal will, too.”

Plus, Top Mistakes Made by Amateur Pet Videographers

  1. Shooting vertical videos with your smartphone.
  2. Posting videos that are too long.
  3. Shaking the camera when shooting. A tripod or small stand will remedy an unsteady hand.
  4. Whipping around the camera when following a pet. Using a wide angle will capture your pet without moving the camera.
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