The 7 Best Tips for Photographing Your Pets!

I know this site is largely devoted to coffee and travel (ummm, it’s in the name) but something I hear over and over from my portrait clients is that they avoid including their pets in family photos because they feel like they can’t get a good shot. As a professional photographer (part-time now), I know that’s just not the case. It’s true, many people struggle to get crisp, well-lit images of their beloved pets. While it can be challenging to get a good shot of your dog or cat (or ferret or lizard), there are a few things you can do to stack the deck in your favor. Here are my tried and true tips to getting a great shot of your pet! You can use any camera, even your phone.

  1. Be ready – Having a camera with you at all times gives you a chance to capture your pet being cute or funny. My experience has been that when your pet is relaxed and unaware of a camera, they act the most adorable or do the craziest things!
  2. Creative focus – While the face is almost always the most interesting part of the pet, consider photographing just the parts. Think about the newborn baby photos you’ve no doubt seen where the photographer isolate the ten little piggies with shallow depth of field. Your dog is no different. A shot of a Papillion’s fluffy ear or the munchy flews of a Mastiff can make for a creative and fun shot.
  3. Consider your background – The number one mistake people make when shooting anything is not considering your background. Trees or light posts growing out of the pets head, a television screen playing a sports match, or a cluttered living room floor all take focus away from your pet. If you are going to plan a photograph, do yourself (and everyone viewing the image) a favor, pay attention to the background.
  4. Use angles/perspective – Your photo doesn’t have to be a straight-on shot. It can be an aerial view of your dog, or a ground level angle shooting up at your cat to give him Godzilla-like proportions.
  5. Make it fun – Pets have short attention spans unless they’ve been specially trained. Add to that, a weird contraption shoved in their face and the rising frustration they feel coming off their human and you have a recipe for never getting a good shot. Have treats or toys that your pet finds super compelling and use a high happy voice at all times. Don’t use trigger words like “go for a ride” or “wanna eat?” as that confuses the pet when you don’t follow through. When your tone drops from high and happy……
  6. Know when to stop – As mentioned above, your pet will lose focus quickly and just like dog training, it is best to photograph in short bursts and if you don’t get “the” shot, stop and try again another time.
  7. Find the light – The MOST important element of a good photograph is light. In fact photography means light writing (loosely). Find the light. Open your drapes/blinds, shoot outside (in open shade), or turn on all the lights (except overhead – that just makes it look like you are interrogating the poor dog for a crime he didn’t commit). You have to have light for a good photograph, even a casual shot.

Here are some images to illustrate how I use these tips in action. These were taken with a full-frame 35mm DSLR, a micro 4/3rds DSLR and an iPhone (7plus and 11). All are SOC (straight out of camera) with no editing.

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I used a very high angle and shallow depth of field to take this photo with a light stucco wall behind me in order to get light into her dark eyes.
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With the light coming from camera right and the clear floor, the focus is solely on the cute underbite and pop eyes of Bella, the pug.
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Walking through the flat, I noticed Roman lounging on the loveseat and the morning light making a prism over his eye, so of course I had to snap it.
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Shooting under a copse of trees and using a relatively shallow depth of field (5.6 or less), I added a simple light bar off camera right to add a whisper of light to Hazel’s eyes as we shot close to dusk and it would have been too murky otherwise.
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On a grey, rainy day, the light was so dramatic and I caught Bella gaining out the window. I could have lightened the shot using an iPhone editing app, but the shadows add to the drama. I shot with a deeper aperture to allow for the raindrops on the window to be in focus, adding to the feeling of the image.  
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Not a technically perfect show, I kept it because it highlights one of Roman’s distinct features – his golden eyes. Focus is sharp on the eye and with light coming in from camera right and the tight in-camera crop it makes for an impactful shot.
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Another less-than-perfect shot but it fully captures Bella’s sweet personality and there is just enough light in her eyes to create a catchlight and give lift.

There you have it! If you aren’t ready to hire a professional photographer, give these tips a try. With a camera at the ready and some awareness of light and angles, you’ll be snapping insta favorites in no time!

If you are in the DC area and would like me to photograph your dog, check me out here to learn more or book your session. Thanks for stopping by!

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