We all love to photograph our cute, furry, fuzzy, adorable animals, but while pet photography is oodles of fun, it’s not always easy to capture amazing shots.
After all, pets, unlike humans, don’t understand the purpose of photography. They won’t just pose for the camera – and even when they do sit still, you still need to carefully choose a composition, adjust your settings, and more. (By the time you’ve managed to get everything looking good, your pet will likely have moved out of position!)
In this article, I share my best tips for top-notch pet images, including:
So if you’re ready to start capturing some amazing shots of your furry friends, then let’s dive right in, starting with:
Some pet photographers rely chiefly on artificial lighting, such as on-camera flashes, speedlights, or strobes, but I’d really recommend using natural lighting instead.
For one, unless you can manage flash with real expertise, your images will likely turn out with a very deer-in-the-headlights look. (You also risk causing the red-eye effect.)
Second, the types of complex lighting setups that look great in portrait photography are tough to pull off with animals, simply because you can’t get a dog or a cat to pose in the right place at the right time.
Third, flash bursts can scare animals.
That’s why I encourage you to work with natural light – either by shooting outside or in a well-lit room. Soft, diffused light is generally best, so if you decide to head outside, try to do it on a cloudy day (or in the early morning or late afternoon, when the sun casts a golden glow over the landscape).
If the sun is visible, make sure you pay attention to its angle relative to your pet. Frontlight and sidelight are great for bringing out details, but backlight is perfect for dramatic silhouettes!
Technically, you can do pet photography with any equipment, but if you’re looking to create high-quality files that are perfect for sharing and printing, you’ll want to deliberately select your gear.
I’d recommend picking a camera with a high-speed continuous shooting mode (so you can capture split-second moments as needed), as well as decent autofocusing capabilities. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on an action camera, but the more advanced the AF, the better. I’d also encourage you to grab a camera with a viewfinder (either optical or electronic is fine) to help you track your subject as they move about the scene.
As for lenses: A nice kit zoom (e.g., 18-55mm) will do a solid job, though you might also consider purchasing a telephoto lens – such as a 70-200mm f/4 or even f/2.8 – or a standard prime, such as an 85mm f/1.4 lens. Just make sure they all feature solid autofocusing capabilities; otherwise, you’ll end up very frustrated.
A lens that stretches to 18mm (or wider) on the short end will allow you to capture environmental-style images, while a telephoto lens will help you shoot close-ups from a distance (and also add lots of gorgeous bokeh). Both can work; at the end of the day, it’s all about your budget and your interests.
If you’re a veteran photographer, then you can always use your camera’s Manual mode to set up your images. That way, you have complete control over the exposure and can directly adjust the aperture, the shutter speed, and the ISO.
However, if you’re a beginner or you’re used to always working on Auto, I’d urge you to test out Aperture Priority mode, which allows you to select an aperture and an ISO, while your camera selects a shutter speed (based purely on exposure considerations). Therefore, you don’t get quite as much control as Manual mode, but it’s a lot more convenient because you don’t need to constantly monitor your settings.
Once you have your camera set to Aperture Priority, take a few test shots and see what you think. You can always use exposure compensation to boost or lower the exposure as needed, and that’s completely okay!
Sharp eyes are always important in portrait photography – and pet photography is no different!
They say that the eyes are the window to the soul, and in my experience, a pet’s eyes can be very expressive. So make sure the eyes stay tack-sharp!
(If you’re working with a shallow depth of field and can only get one eye in focus, make sure it’s the one closer to the camera!)
These days, some cameras offer eye AF for animals. With eye AF activated, your camera will identify your pet’s eyes – and nail focus consistently! So if your camera does offer this feature, I highly recommend you try it out.
And if your camera doesn’t offer eye AF, you can always use a single-point AF area mode; that way, you can keep the point of focus over the subject’s eye at all times!
One tip: If you’re struggling to keep the eyes in focus, try narrowing the lens aperture. This will increase the depth of field, giving you a greater margin for error, and ensuring that the eyes are crisp even if you miss focus slightly.
Certain pets are extraordinarily quick – and even the pets that are on the slow side can still move fast. If the shutter speed is too low then you’ll end up with unpleasant motion blur, which is why it pays to use a sufficiently fast shutter.
How fast should it be? That depends on your lens, the lens magnification, and your subject, but 1/200s or so is a good estimate for most slower scenarios. If your dog is jumping around and barking, however, you’ll often need to boost the shutter to 1/1000s or higher.
Photography can be stressful for your pet, especially if they’re on the shy side. Not only is this harmful to your pet’s well-being, but it can also result in uncomfortable- or stiff-looking shots. Therefore, it’s very important that your pet feels comfortable and at ease.
One way to do that? Instead of forcing your pet to come to you, make sure you go to them. Let them choose the location, whether it’s in their favorite bed, on their favorite carpet spot, or outside by their favorite toy. Of course, you can encourage them and make adjustments to the space, but I’d really recommend – especially if your pet has never experienced a photoshoot before – working on their terms.
I’d also encourage you to get down on your pet’s level. Sit on the floor or lie on your belly and remember to shoot from your pet’s eye level or below. It’ll help your furry friend feel more at ease – and while we all know how a dog looks when viewed from above, a low angle will show us how your pet sees the world!
You know your pet better than anyone else, and a successful picture is one that conveys the character of its subject. So try to display your pet’s character in your photos.
If you have a lazy cat, show them yawning. If your animal is of the playful type, show them in action performing their favorite trick.
Really, the opportunities are endless. Just ask yourself: What is special about my pet? And then try to communicate that in your next photoshoot!
Of course, it might require a dash of patience, but if you take the time, you’re bound to capture some personality-filled images.
Macro pet photography is intimate and often stunning. You can use it to highlight plenty of little details, such as your pet’s eyes, fur, and cute nose.
Macro photography isn’t hard to do, either; all you need is a macro lens, a telephoto lens, or some type of close-focusing camera.
Then fill the frame with your pet’s face and fur! Have fun testing out different compositions and focusing on different details. A good way to start is by photographing your pet’s face, and you’ll soon find that close-up shots make some of the best pet portraits.
One of the most difficult aspects of pet photography is keeping your pet still, especially if they’re pretty energetic.
So here’s an easy trick:
First, let your pet play quietly. As they play, consider potential compositions and dial in your settings. Then, once you have your camera set up and ready, give a quick whistle.
The sound will surprise your pet. With luck, you’ll have a few seconds to capture them in a nice, alert posture, so make the most of it.
If you want to capture some formal-looking pet photography, then “schedule” your photoshoot when your animal is somewhat sleepy.
You might shoot after your pet has woken up from a nap. Or you might shoot late in the day when your pet is tired and lacks energy. (You might even do your photoshoot after playing a lengthy, tiring game of fetch.)
That way, it will be easier to capture a sharp shot. You won’t be stuck waiting for your subject to stop moving, and you’ll have a far more pleasant time
Of course, if you want a more dynamic series of images, then you’ll need to grab your camera at a time when your pet is especially active!
Pet photography requires a lot of patience. Dogs, cats, and other pets can be pretty excitable – but if you wait long enough, your furry friend will end up relaxing. It might take a few seconds, a few minutes, or even an hour, but thanks to the power of patience, you’ll be able to capture beautiful pet images.
In fact, you might consider starting your photoshoot with action images. Then, as your pet calms down, you can capture intimate close-ups, headshots, cute poses, and more.
Here’s your final pet photography tip:
Experiment with your pet photos as much as possible. Because while the advice in this article will certainly get you some great shots, there’s always room to try new things!
Test out different settings. Try different light sources and lighting scenarios. See if you can improve your compositions. Practice capturing action shots. And so much more!
So take your time and enjoy the session. Don’t be afraid to test different approaches. Shoot a lot; you can worry about the results later!