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How to Photograph Pets: Tips and Tricks

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pet sitter taking a photo with her smartphone of three dogs by a couch

Looking to snap an adorable photo of your pet to share on social media, create a holiday card, hang on your wall, or just for fun? These pet photography tips and tricks can help you take great shots.

What You’ll Need

There’s not much you need other than your pet and a camera, but you might want to put some thought into things like your choice of camera and lighting.

Camera

As far as a camera, the one on your phone might do the trick. Lots of today’s smartphones have solid cameras that are perfect for grabbing great shots. You can take high-resolution photos and even edit your pictures right on your phone, making things even easier.

Plus, using your phone makes it simple to post your photos online using social media apps. If you use apps like Snapchat and Instagram, you can add fun effects or filters before you post. Wouldn’t your cat look amazing with a flower crown or your dog with a colorful virtual swirl in the background?

Point-and-shoot cameras are another strong option for amateur photographers. These fixed lens cameras are usually relatively inexpensive and easy to use. As the name suggests, you just point and shoot.

If you’d like the ability to change lenses and adjust the settings manually, a DSLR camera might be the right choice. DSLR stands for digital single-lens reflex. These cameras are typically more expensive than point-and-shoot models, but you can find some affordable ones depending on the kinds of features you want in a camera.

Lighting

Natural light is best for pets, which means you don’t necessarily need lighting accessories. You should also take it easy on the flash. Those bursts of light can scare your pet. Plus, they can make your pet’s eyes look red and devilish. If you decide to use a flash, never point it directly at your pet’s face.

Costumes and Props

Costumes and props are totally optional, of course, but they can add interest to your photos. Remember never to dress your pet up in anything that might be unsafe or make them feel uncomfortable. If they don’t mind donning a hat, scarf, or Hawaiian shirt, then go for it.

Props can be all sorts of things. For instance, you might use a frisbee to catch an action shot of your dog jumping high in the air to grab it. Or maybe you’d like a photo of your cat snuggled up with a favorite stuffed animal.

Again, your pet’s safety should come first. Don’t use any kind of prop that could possibly harm them, supervise them while the prop is in play, and put it away when you’re done.

Treats and Toys

You may want to have some treats and maybe a few toys on hand to get your pet’s attention, particularly if you’re taking portraits. You can use a toy or the promise of a treat to encourage your pet to look your way as you take several shots. Be sure to reward your pet for a job well done with some quality time afterward.

An Assistant

An extra set of hands can be invaluable when taking photos of your pet. Your assistant can help in all sorts of ways. They can get your pet to look your way by squeaking a toy behind your head or holding out a treat. If you’re looking for an action shot, they can throw the ball, toss the frisbee, or run alongside your pet. This leaves you free to focus on composing your photo.

An assistant can also help gently hold your pet in place if they keep roaming away. You can always crop out their hand with a photo editor later. Keep in mind gentle is the key word here.

Don’t force your pet to sit for a photo if they’re not feeling it. If your pet seems anxious, take a break and try again later.

tabby cat biting a camera

Pet Photography Tips and Tricks

Great pet photography is about volume. You’ll need to take lots of pictures, and there will be plenty of duds, but among all those pics will be some gems. Here are more professional pet photography tips:

  • Get down to your pet’s level. Crouch down or lie on the floor rather than taking the photo from high overhead. And try a few shots where you get in close. If your pet is apt to back away, move in gradually with a treat ready or use a telephoto lens.
  • Focus on the eyes. The eyes are the window to the soul. Sounds corny but focusing on your pet’s eyes can help create an emotional connection with your viewer.
  • Avoid busy backgrounds. Be thoughtful about what’s behind and around your pet. You want your pet to be the center of attention. Plain white walls, a large patch of green grass, or a light or dark solid carpet to contrast your pet’s coat are all great options.
  • Use natural light. Use natural light. Lots of natural light is best for pets who may get skittish around a flash. You can take photos of your dog outside or of your cat near a big sunny window.
  • Help your pet look their best. For instance, make sure your dog is well-groomed. Give them a good brushing and gently wipe away any goo from around the eyes.
  • Talk to your pet during the shoot. Research shows that dogs understand our words and emotions better than you may have thought. Use this to your advantage as you try to get interesting photos.
  • Highlight your pet’s personality. Is your pet a real goofball? Then grab some shots of their silly antics. Are they more of a couch potato? Catch them snoozing in a ray of light. Or are they super energetic? Then get action photos of them running and jumping.
  • Frame your shot in different ways. Take photos in tight on your pet, further out, a little to one side or the other, etc. Play with angles to add interest to your photos. Don’t be afraid to experiment. You can always delete the shots that don’t work out.
  • Use a fast shutter speed for action shots. This can help freeze the action and create an exciting effect. Your camera might have a “Sports” setting that automatically selects the fastest shutter speed possible for your situation.
  • Anticipate the action. If your pet is in motion, it can help to aim your camera ahead of them to catch them in action. You can also use burst or continuous mode to take a quick series of photos.
  • Have your camera ready. You never know when your four-legged friend will do something photo-worthy. If you have your phone or camera nearby, you can capture these special moments.

young woman working at her computer with a puppy

Pet Photography Editing Tips

Consider downloading a highly-rated photo editing app to adjust your photos. While you can do some minor editing using your built-in camera app, a third-party app dedicated solely to editing can offer more features and flexibility. Use the app to crop your photos and eliminate distractions in the background. You can also adjust the lighting or contrast. Good editing can turn a mediocre picture into a great one.

Pet Video Tips

Many of the same pet photography tips and tricks apply to video. For instance, natural light works best, and you may want to enlist the help of an assistant for the shoot. With video, it’s helpful to have a concept or story in mind. This can be as simple as your dog meeting a new four-legged friend at the park or learning a cool trick in several short clips.

Keep your videos short, so you don’t lose the interest of your audience. Under two minutes is a good rule of thumb for social media. You can take longer videos and use a video editing app to cut it down to the right segment.

In addition, pay attention to sound. If there’s unwanted background noise like people talking or cars driving by, consider muting the video and adding music as a backdrop.

Most of all, have fun and let yourself loose creatively. Check out our Instagram page for some inspiration!

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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