WRITTEN BY JULIA HASS | EDITED BY JENNIFER PARLATI
Welcome back to the second installment of our three-part series regarding taking pictures of your gerbils! In the last article here we covered topics such as how to encourage gerbil behaviors, handling your subjects, and the rules of composition: when to use them and when to break them. In this article we will be exploring three topics for you to familiarize yourself with light sources, focusing your pictures, and the best angles I have found with which to get the best photos of your adorable models-in-training.
Get a Good Light Source
This is the part where people panic and think that gerbil photography is going to be prohibitively expensive and they’ll need all sorts of fancy equipment. I’m guessing there would be better results if you did, say, have a DSLR camera and professional lighting. Then again, this is my setup:
My gerbils live next to my bed. On my headboard I have a clip light with a regular old incandescent light bulb in it. I can swing the light to light the cage when I want to take photos there (or when the gerbils are cold in the winter and they like to nap under the heat), and I can swing it to my bed when I want pictures of the boys running around.
Natural sunlight is great, free source on good days, as evidenced to the right. Most gerbils aren’t morning people (me either), but if you can get them to cooperate, daylight works really well.
I believe that the most important thing to consider as a photographer—and particularly a natural light photographer—is the quality of the light you will be shooting in. Understanding how to use light and shadow to your advantage is critical. Finding soft, even light is what I always strive for when I want to create a flattering portrait, as it helps to avoid having my subjects squinting, and it avoids the issue of “contrast-y”, harsh shadows falling on their face.
Focus, Focus, Focus
The number one question I get is about how to get the camera to focus on a gerbil, which is both small (something cameras have problems with) and fast, which can be hard to capture clearly. Honestly, this is something I struggle with too, and a lot of my pictures come out blurry or grainy.
There are two ways to deal with this. One, take pictures using the burst setting. (On a cell phone that means holding down the shoot button). Two is to use the “macro” (that’s camera code for “taking pictures of small things”) setting, which a cell phone will do automatically but a digital camera will require being set to.
Cell phones have surprisingly good macro cameras. For example, I took the picture on the right with my cell phone.
It helped that Sasha was standing directly in the sunlight. The better the light, the more detailed your camera will be able to focus without going to the dreaded grainy place.
If you’re using a touch screen phone to take a picture, the easiest way to make it focus where you want to focus is to tap that part of the display. You should see a focusing box pop up. That means your camera is attempting to focus on that area and is calibrating properly. You may notice the light or colors change when you do that. This is because your camera is adjusting everything – not just the focus – to be balanced based on what’s in the focusing box.
The thing about shooting macro is it has what the photography trade refers to as a “shallow depth of field”. Depth of field is how much space there appears to be in your photo before it blurs. A photograph taken for the news will often have a really big depth of field so the viewer gets the full visual context of what’s happening. A portrait often has shallow depth of field because you only want to focus on the face of the subject you’re taking a picture of. You can also play with depth of field and focus to tell a story, the same as you do with composition.
In reality, the sunflower seeds were about two inches from him, max. But by playing with the composition and shallow depth of field, it makes the treats loom large, the way you would imagine they loom in Sasha’s brain.
Working with Angles: Shoot from Above, Not Below
If you’ve ever taken a selfie, you’ve either noticed or heard the advice that it is always more flattering to take a picture from a higher angle than a lower angle. Well, in gerbils, I’ve found that’s often the opposite. In fact, almost every picture I’ve used as an example so far I have shot at least slightly below the gerbils’ line of vision.
I’m not sure why exactly this is true, but it’s probably for similar reasons it’s not flattering to humans, namely, it makes them look more blobular (technical term). The other reason, if I had to guess, was that the gerbil mouth is hidden a little under their snout. If you shoot a gerbil a little bit from below, you can see all their features: eyes, snout, whiskers, mouth. If you shoot from above, it’s mostly eyes and the snout shape. This also may be my personal preference speaking, but I think one of the cutest things about gerbils is those tiny pink mouths they have with the wibbly (another technical term) lower lip. Kills me every time.
This has been part two of our series on how to take the perfect pictures of your gerbils! In our next and last installment we will cover using props for more interesting themed shots, and how to reward your gerbil for being a good model. Happy gerbil photo shooting!