How to Take Pictures of Rats

Rats, like most small wiggly animals, are notoriously difficult to photograph well. Many a rat owner has snapped what should have been the perfect shot– until the rat moved at the last second, and it ended up just another blurry photo of a tail and a hind foot! However, taking great photos of pet rats is entirely possible, and you don’t have to be a professional photographer or buy an expensive camera to do so.

My photo of SGR Sleeping Oberon
My photo of SGR Sleeping Oberon

What You Need

  • A digital camera with a macro mode. It doesn’t need to be expensive; I use a Canon Powershot camera that I bought on Ebay for around $100.00. The macro mode is usually represented by a little flower. Consult your camera’s manual to find out how to set it to macro.
  • Fabric, preferably a large piece of fleece of a solid color or muted pattern. Loud patterns distract from the subject of the photo.
  • A clean, relaxed rat who has had some exercise.
  • Bright, preferably natural, light. A bulb that mimics sunlight will do.
  • You might want a helper, if one is available; however, I take most of my photos without assistance.

How to Get Good Photos

Put the large piece of fabric on a comfy armchair or couch, so that it covers the area where your rat will stand and also rises up behind him as a backdrop. See the photo above for an example.

Next, get your camera turned on and set to macro mode, and find a comfortable way to get down to what will be your rat’s eye level once you place him on the chair or couch where you’ve draped your fabric. Take a couple practice shots to make sure the light in the room isn’t washing out the backdrop color, casting harsh shadows, or forcing your camera to use a flash. In order to avoid color distortion and glowing eyes in your photos, it’s best to use bright ambient light rather than a flash.

Once you have your shot set up, put the rat down, and start snapping away immediately. He should sit for a moment sniffing the air to see where he is. If you position yourself well, you may be able to get some great photos during this initial “freeze frame” before he starts exploring.

If your rat immediately starts busily scurrying around the photo area, give her a few minutes to calm down. You can take some cute photos if she stops to groom herself, which most rats will do if allowed to play for a few minutes.

If after several minutes the rat is just as wiggly as ever, try the “grab and go” method used by many rat owners: Hold the rat gently, tap the shutter button to focus your camera, then simultaneously release the rat and click the shutter as soon as your hand is out of the shot. With a little practice, you should be able to get some good snapshots with this method. Alternately, if your camera has a continuous shoot option, try holding down the shutter and following the rat with your camera. 

Probability dictates that if you take a few hundred photos, there’ll be several really good ones– and the beauty of digital cameras is, you’re not wasting any film!

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