7 Tips for Photographing Pets

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I'm a professional landscape photographer living on the coast of Maine. Through my work, I like to show a vantage point that is rarely seen in reality; a show of beauty, emotion, and serenity. Feel free to visit my website.

Photographing your pet can be a fun experience for the both of you as there are so many unique ways to capture them. However, it takes a bit more than random snapshots to encapsulate the true nature of your pet and create a worthy portrait. With this in mind, here are some simple guidelines to help you photograph some stunning moments of your pet.

1. Know Their Personality

The personality and attitude of your pet should be the driving force of your photo shoot. While a simple portrait of them sitting happily in your hallway might be cute, it’s certainly not representative of who they are (unless, of course, they sit in the hallway and smile all day).

Instead, plan your session rather than jumping into it. What does your pet like to do? Are they the playful, energetic type or do they snooze on the couch all day? If your dog loves to run, bring them to the park and ask someone to play Frisbee with them while you snap away some great action shots (make sure to use a fast shutter speed if you want to freeze that action).

Alternatively, if you have a rather lazy pet that spends their day lounging around the house, incorporate that personality trait into your image.

Furry Dreams
Photo by fofurasfelinas

2. Change Your Perspective

Your pet is (typically) not at the same eye level as you, so why would you shoot from your perspective? Sure, you may get some interesting shots of them looking up, but these images get old rather quickly. Get down on the ground and capture your pet head-on. Not only will this capture a more interesting background for your image, but it can create some great pet-owner interaction moments.

3. Get Environmental

If you want to create truly unique portrait of your pet, consider placing them in an environment where they can interact. Bring them to the beach and have your dog run around and chase the waves. Or perhaps you’ll be having a house party soon – grab your wide angle lens and capture some moments with your pet interacting with the guests. Placing your pet in the right environment creates more opportunity for candid images, which works fantastically if you’re looking for photos that go beyond a staged portrait.

My dog can fly
Photo by J. Star

4. Extreme Focal Lengths

Once you’ve got your pet in place, think about your surroundings and how you can benefit from the extreme focal lengths.

If you’re doing an outdoor photo shoot where you have plenty of room, you might like to use a zoom lens as it has the ability to compact your environment. Those trees in the background that seem to get lost with your regular focal lengths can be brought into your frame and make fantastic bokeh.

Justin
Photo by Christopher O’Donnell

Alternatively, an extreme wide angle lens can give you a unique perspective and exaggerate your distances rather than compact them. This type of shot can create a fun and interesting image of your pet, while allowing you to pin-point your focus.

wide-boy
Photo by obo-bobolina

When using wide angle lenses at such a close distance, make sure to watch your f/stop and see if your image is too shallow for your taste. If you want to create a pet portrait where the entire face is in perfect focus, you’ll need to increase your f/stop as wide apertures can be very sensitive in tight quarters.

5. Consider Your Background

This tip probably applies more towards those who want to take staged images, but it’s still something to consider. Like with most photographs, your background is an important, but often overlooked, part of your image. Taking a pet portrait with dirty dishes and other clutter in the background is not going to create the best scenery for your photograph. If you can’t find a background that compliments your image, place your pet in front of a solid color wall for a minimalistic image that throws the attention on them rather than what’s going on in the background.

6. Change Your Framing

Don’t be afraid to get close to your pet – extremely close. A tightly cropped image (even with your macro lens) using a wide aperture can create some stunning shots. Consider filling the entire frame with just the face of your pet, or perhaps even just a whisker or a snout. It’s a great way to create some artful images.

Chameleon's eye
Photo by kaibara87

7. Self Portrait With Your Pet

Finally, have some fun with your images and jump in on the action. It’s your pet after all so why leave yourself out – capture a great moment between you and your pet with a new self portrait.
You can also take it a step further and set the stage for an interesting environmental portrait that you’re a part of. If you enjoy story-telling with your images, this is a great way to include both you and your pet in a special image.

Poker Face (Explored fp)
Photo by Lawrence Chua

Read more great articles by Christopher O’Donnell at his blog or follow him on Facebook.

3 thoughts on “7 Tips for Photographing Pets

  1. jay

    My cat hates camera’s. Doesn’t matter what size.
    The moment a camera shows up. She’s gone. Must have a flash trauma.
    Distance also doesn’t matter. She always knows.

  2. Daniel

    I have the exact opposite problem, my cat is a camera ham. I try to catch him in a natural pose or “cat” posture but as soon as he sees the camera he is up and posing!

    Even when I’m trying to get a picture of our other animals he just tries to but in and get his taken.

  3. Avatar of ChristopherChristopher Post author

    I used to have the same problem as Jay with my older labrabor (pictured in the article) when he was a puppy. Distractions work great to catch them in a natural pose, and the biggest distraction for pets is a pile of treats. I would wait patiently until he was done eating to capture him in those 2 seconds until he realized I had a camera and ran off.

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