Top 10 Pet Photography Tips and Techniques

Top 10 Pet Photography Tips and Techniques

Fergie bathroom copyright cowbelly pet photography

Top 10 Pet Photography Tips and Techniques

The pros make it look easy, but anyone who has ever tried to photograph an unpredictable creature like a cat or a dog knows it is anything but. Here are some pet photography tips that the pros use to help you ‘get the perfect shot’.

1. Relax

Animals are like little emotional sponges, and if you are stressed and anxious, they will sense it and become stressed and anxious too. A stressed animal will give you ‘ears flattened’, ‘concerned eyes’ looks, which don’t translate well ‘on film’. Take a deep breath and remember to have fun with it!

2. Focus on eyes and expressions

Ozzie copyright jamie pflughoeft

The eyes are the most expressive part of an animal’s face, so if you want to create really engaging portraits, focus on the eyes and facial expressions. A well-timed puppy whine (from you) can reel in focus in a puppy or curious dog, and have them staring straight at the camera faster than you can say “woof”.

3. Get rid of clutter first

Before you even pull your camera out of your bag, take a look around at your shooting location and get rid of clutter and distracting objects first. Do you really want to see that empty Starbucks cup on your coffee table in the photos of your cat? Is the garden hose snaking through the grass where you are photographing your dog, adding an aesthetically-pleasing element to your photos?

If an element in your background doesn’t serve to enhance your images in some way, either remove it first or move to a different location. An uncluttered environment produces more aesthetically pleasing images, and reduces post-processing work. Nobody needs to see photos of your puppy with an overflowing garbage can in the background.

Seamus copyright jamie pflughoeft

4. Shoot in their world

While a few shots looking down at your pet, while you are standing can be cute – to create the really engaging portraits the pros make, shoot down at their level, ‘in their world’. For a Great Dane their world may be the height of your hips; for a Chihuahua it may be all the way down at the level of your ankles. For a cat lounging on a cat tree, you may need to pull out a step stool to get on their level. Practice ‘shooting from the hip’ to place the camera in their world without having to crouch or kneel if they are on the ground.

Miles copyright jamie pflughoeft

5. Be flexible and do some stretching first

If you have ever watched a professional pet photographer in action, you will notice that they bend and twist and turn and crouch and crawl – whatever it takes to get the shot. Be prepared to get those muscles working in order to get the perfect composition. Sometimes all it takes for a dog to break their sit-stay is for you to go from sitting to standing, and it’s better to reach and lean, than make a large movement that will cause the pet to move from their perfect pose.

6. Go where the light is best

Good light is everything in photography, especially in pet photography, where it’s critical to be able to see the catchlights in the pet’s eyes (the white reflective parts). Avoid photographing in dark rooms or under heavily overcast days. Bright yet diffused light is the easiest to create flattering pet portraits under, so before you even start shooting, take a look around your subject’s environment and determine where the best bright, yet diffused light is; then move to that location.

Abbey copyright jamie pflughoeft

7. Pay your model

Every animal needs to have some sort of motivation to pay attention to you during the shoot; otherwise they will wander off and become disinterested. Determine what they are motivated by (i.e. their ‘payment’), and provide it to them throughout your shoot. For dogs it may be treats or toys, or simply getting love and affection. For cats it may be a feather toy, a paper bag, tuna fish, catnip or even their favourite blanket. For horses it may be their favourite food such as carrots or apples.

The biggest ‘trick’ in pet photography is to fool the animal into thinking that they are making the decisions, when it’s really you that is motivating them to do what you want, without telling them so outright . The ‘getting them to do what you want’ comes in the model payment. Get creative when it comes to ‘rewarding’ your models, and they will reward you with great shots and be more cooperative too. Plus the shoot will be more fun, and pet photography is supposed to be fun!

Penny copyright jamie pflughoeft

8. Create a concept and a shot list

The most engaging animal imagery shows them in context. It may be a cat looking up at an owner opening a bag of food in the kitchen (concept: desire), a dog looking longingly through a front door waiting for his or her buddy to come home (longing), a horse owner with her arms wrapped around her equine’s neck (connection). If you can say something with your images, they will speak to your viewers on a deeper emotional level.

Charlie doughnuts copyright jamie pflughoeft

9. Be quiet

There is no quicker way to confuse a dog, or freak out a cat than to bark commands at them repeatedly. Cats will disengage or even leave the room, and dogs will become confused and concerned.

Try communicating with the pets the way they do each other- nonverbally. Use hand signals or point to invite them ‘over here’. Use the sit hand signal for dogs that understand it. If you do need to say ’sit’, say it quietly and calmly, only once or twice. Avoid saying the pet’s name, because the more times they hear it during a photo shoot, the more inclined they are to tune out.

In my opinion, there’s nothing worse than a photographer (and an owner), hovering over a little dog and saying “sit Charlie,… no- SIT. I said Charlie sit. Sit. Down! Sit Charlie. Charlie- sit. Siiiit. SIT”. Poor Charlie! No wonder he’s confused. The less talking and ‘commanding’ you do, the better the shoot will be, and the more little Charlie will pay attention and ‘listen’.

Sid copyright jamie pflughoeft

10. Move slowly

Unless you are adept at documentary, on-the-fly, photography where the animal is moving a lot and you capture the perfect moment of them walking, sniffing, jumping, hunting, etc., learn to move slowly around them while taking their pictures. This is especially important with cats, who are prone to either radically change the expression on their face (and ears) at your slight movements, or split the scene altogether. This is also true of dogs that are in a sit or lay-stay position.

When you shift position they sense you are off on a new adventure and want to follow you. If you need to move, and you don’t want your model to move, do so very slowly without making any eye contact. And remember to reach, bend, and lean. You’ll not only have a comical pet photography session, you’ll get a workout too!

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like...

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Jamie Pflughoeft is a full time professional pet photographer, owner of  Cowbelly Pet Photography in Seattle, Washington, and author of the premium Pet Photography Marketing, Pricing & Sales PDF guides, currently 65% off for a limited time. Get more pet photography tips on the Beautiful Beasties blog a resource dedicated to pet photographers of all skill levels and companion to Jamie's book of the same name.

  • Pixily Frame

    These are some great tips, pets are often hard to shoot!

  • raghavendra

    Shoot at their level is an excellent tip.
    i have taken a Picture of a new born puppy.

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.com/2011/11/new-born-puppy.html

  • Marijke van Endhoven

    My dog is almost a professional model. But today the poor girl was extremely bored as I sat on the grass and wouldn’t move. Well, my index finger moved.

  • Frej Halvorsen

    Very nice tips. I find animals quite hard to shoot, but also really interesting. Took this of the old family cat Mahlburg:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/halvorsenphoto/10693472513/

  • Amaryllis

    Great tips! Though, for this shot, I had the worst possible light… it was very dark with very dim light, and that old cat was just staring at me until she relaxed, noticing I wouldn’t move from where I was, and I got the shot.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/furytigresse/11536588153/

  • Jared Lawson

    Excellent tips! Love the shoot in their world, these are all great tips and excellent examples of pet photography. Photography Tips / Gallery

  • Bernard

    Surprisingly, my small dog has the ability to jump. He doesn’t jump on much of anything, so a top entry
    box would probably work with him in the home. Every strategy depends on
    the dog as well. Great post!

    http://petfoodia.com/

  • Catalin Mihai

    I have also trouble to shoot my black cat but I manage to get some decent shots

  • Angela W

    My cat concentrating on something out the window

  • Angela W

    My cat concentrating on something out the window.

  • michael

    I use these…they are the squeaker from a dog toy…I hold it between my teeth, ready my camara and blow on it…Will get the attention of a dog every time and give you a great head on shot..really works when you are working with multiple dogs…You can pull one from a cheap dog toy or buy some on etsy…

    http://www.etsy.com/listing/155255818/3-squeaker-voice-inserts-replacement?ref=market

  • Brett Ossman

    Awesome expression :-)

  • Brett Ossman

    Great tips. Entering a cat photo contest soon. These tips will definitely help.

  • awesome sauce

    I LOVE this picture!! So cute!!!! :)

  • Kathleen Mekailek

    i volunteer at a local animal shelter, taking pictures in hopes of finding some forever homes. Sometimes the sad faces work, while other times it is the joy and playfulness they show. Since I see most of the animals immediately after being left, they are often scared, nervous and frightened. I will spend extra time playing with them and loving, hugging and petting them. here are a few of my favorites. Sorry there are so many, but shelter pets are hard to chose between!

  • Marijke van Endhoven

    Thanks. I took a similar picture yesterday and I like this one better.

  • Marijke van Endhoven

    Two of my cats after being payed for their modeling work.

  • Marijke van Endhoven

    You can’t ever have too many lovely pet pictures. You do wonderful work, hope it finds these babies new homes soon.

  • Kathleen Mekailek

    thanks! only 3dogs that i have photographed have NOT found homes! It is some of the most rewarding, heart-warming and heart-breaking work I have done, but worth every minute of it!

  • http://500px.com/tissonktom Tom
  • http://500px.com/tissonktom Tom
  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/phil-greaves/ Phil Greaves.

    This is one I done Yesterday (27/02/2014) when a couple passed me by taking the pet Husky for a walk.

  • https://www.facebook.com/AlluraPhotographyHV Al Schoessow

    great tips! I also find myself using multi-shot a lot. You never know when they will move (good or bad). Somehow I always end up with a great shot. Patients!!

  • lexplex

    That’s an awesome tip. I’m going to try it the next time I do a family portrait.. for comedy expression value…

  • Richard Crowe

    A colored fleece thrown over an armchair makes a nice background for a small dog. My wife controls the dog with a thin show lead, which I crop out. I sit in a roll-around office chair which places me at the dogs level. I bounce a flash off the ceiling using a Demb Flash Diffuser Pro to modify the flash. I will often use a fluorescent softbox and an Ott Light for fill – so much for worrying about incompatible light sources. I will use a WhiBal card to adjust the color balance…

  • Christina

    Looks like “What on earth are you doing?” :D

  • http://www.herviewphotography.com/ Darlene Hildebrandt

    well done!

  • Kathleen Mekailek

    thank you

  • Jamie Pflughoeft

    Those are great! Hard to get good shots of black cats in indoor light.

  • Jamie Pflughoeft

    Love the tongues! :-)

  • Jamie Pflughoeft

    This is really cool! Love the blue sky!

  • Jamie Pflughoeft

    Great idea! I use the whole squeakers themselves, the tiny ones, because cupped in my hand, the dog doesn’t even see it. (I shoot with one hand and use the other hand to hold the reward/motivator/treat’.)

  • Jamie Pflughoeft

    Gorgeous dog and very dramatic shot!

  • Jamie Pflughoeft

    Beautiful kitty! Love the close up on the eye.

  • Jamie Pflughoeft

    I want the smiling white dog! :-)

  • Kathleen Mekailek

    That is Marshmallow and I am pleased to say that all the animals I posted have been adopted and have new forever homes! I am glad to have played a small part in that :)

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/phil-greaves/ Phil Greaves.

    Thanks Jamie.

  • Debbie Ellers

    My dog Mack knows the camera well. If he doesn’t want his picture taken, he turns his head. After a busy day, I was able to snap this one. He was too tired – stared right at me.

  • Katielee4211

    Nice shot of him. Mine used to be excited to have the camera aimed at him. 4000 (maybe exaggerated slightly) later, not so much. He turns his back to me.

  • Debbie Ellers

    Thanks- sounds very familiar.

  • Guna Andersone

    Dickie canon 60d 18-55mm

Some older comments

Receive a FREE SAMPLE of our Portrait Photography Ebook

  • Guaranteed for 2 full months
  • Pay by PayPal or CreditCard
  • Instant Digital Download

Receive a FREE SAMPLE of our Portrait Photography Ebook

  • Guaranteed for 2 full months
  • Pay by PayPal or CreditCard
  • Instant Digital Download

Receive a FREE SAMPLE of our Portrait Photography Ebook

  • Guaranteed for 2 full months
  • Pay by PayPal or CreditCard
  • Instant Digital Download

Sign up to the free DPS PHOTOGRAPHY COURSE

  • Guaranteed for 2 full months
  • Pay by PayPal or CreditCard
  • Instant Digital Download

GET DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS Feed

Sign up to the free

DPS PHOTOGRAPHY COURSE

  • Guaranteed for 2 full months
  • Pay by PayPal or CreditCard
  • Instant Digital Download

GET DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS Feed

Sign up to the free

DPS PHOTOGRAPHY COURSE

  • Guaranteed for 2 full months
  • Pay by PayPal or CreditCard
  • Instant Digital Download
DPS NEWSLETTER
DPS NEWSLETTER
DPS NEWSLETTER

DPS offers a free weekly newsletter with: 
1. new photography tutorials and tips
2. latest photography assignments
3. photo competitions and prizes

Enter your email below to subscribe.
Email:
 
 
Get DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS feed