How to Photograph Pets

How to Photograph Pets


Grant (a reader) sent me an email this week asking for a some tips on Pet Photography.

Here’s my top ten tips on taking great photographs of your pet:

1. Start with Your Pet’s Personality

Before you start photographing your pet ask yourself ‘what sets it apart from other animals?’ Think about what type of personality it has and then attempt to capture some of that in your shots. For example if everyone knows your pet as a sleepy, lazy or placid little thing set up your photo shoot around it’s bed or where it goes after a meal to lie in the sun and you’ll have every chance of capturing a shot that sums your pet right up. Alternatively if your pet is hyperactive, inquisitive and always on the move it might be better to do your shoot at a local park where it’s racing around, jumping for balls or playing with other animals.

2. Think about Context

In choosing the location to photograph your pet you might want to consider a variety of other factors also. For starters choose a place where your pet will be comfortable and at ease. Also consider the familiarity of the location and the emotions that it will evoke in you as the pets owner. For example you might have a place that you and your pet have had some special moments together that will mean a lot in the future as you look back over your shots. Lastly consider the background of your shots. Ultimately you don’t want your backgrounds to be distracting from your photo – sometimes the best locations are the plainest ones – a large patch of green grass, a well lit room with white walls and plain carpet etc can be ideal. Of course this can also be tool plain and sterile – my motto is that if the different elements in the background of the shot don’t add to it avoid them.

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3. Get in Close

Pets come in all shapes and sizes but in most cases they are smaller than a human and as a result they tend to end up getting a little lost in photos unless you make an effort to get up close to them. Of course getting close is not always easy, especially if you have a pet that likes to move around, but it’s worth making the effort as the detail that can be gained and the personality that can be captured by an up close and personal photo shoot with a pet can really lift a photo to a new level. If you can’t physically get close to your pet get your camera equipped with a zoom lens. The added benefit of a long focal length is that it will help with isolating your pet in terms of depth of field (ie give you a nice blurry background so that your pet is center of attention with no distractions).

4. Get On Their Level

Get down on your pets level where you can look upon them eye to eye. Images taken by a photographer standing up and looking down on their level not only leave you too far away from your subject but they also mean the shots end up having a very ‘human perspective’. Getting down on your pets level means you enter their world and get a glimpse of what life looks like from their angle – you’ll be impressed by the results as they are more personal and have a real element of intimacy.

5. Mix Up Your Framing

Pets, like human subjects’ look different from different angles and framing them in a variety of ways can bring out different perspectives to your shots. In your photo shoot take some tightly cropped facial shots (even focussing right in on single features like eyes, noses, ears, whiskers etc) but also make sure you take three quarter body shots as well as full body shots. In this way you end up with a series of shots that give viewers of your photos a full perspective on who your pet is.

6. Lighting

Light makes any photograph what it is and when it comes to pets it’s especially important. In general I wouldn’t recommend using a flash as they tend to distract pets and in some cases will even frighten them. The other issue with flashes is that they can create spooky red-eye problems with some animals (in the same way they do with humans). Natural light is a much better option than using a flash and so where possible outside photo shoots tend to work best (or at least in a well lit window inside). The only exception I would give for using a flash is when your pet has very dark (or black) fur as it tends to absorb light and a flash can add detail. With dark fury pets you might want to slightly over expose your images for this same reason. Alternatively with white pets you run the risk of over exposing shots so try to find a location out of direct sunlight and definitely avoid a flash.

7. Include People

One of the best things you can do to add context to a shot is to include the special people in the life of your pet in the image. Shots with the owner or other family members interacting with your pet can make the images incredibly special for years to come. You might like to try posed shots but sometimes it’s the candid shots of owner and pet at play (or snoozing together in front of a fire) that really capture the character of the pet and evoke emotion.

8. Freeze the Action

Many pets present a challenge to photographers because they are active and always on the move. The key with any subject that’s on the move is to freeze their action by using a fast shutter speed. Most digital cameras these days will allow you to shoot in full manual mode if you feel confident to get the mix between shutter and aperture right – alternatively you can work in shutter priority mode where you set the shutter speed and the camera automatically does the rest by picking a good aperture to work with your shutter speed. The last alternative is to use ‘sports’ mode which will mean the camera will select the fastest shutter speed possible for your situation. Once you’ve got your shutter speed nice and fast make sure your camera is always at the ready so you can anticipate the actions of your pet. If they are a fast mover you might also want to consider shooting in continuous mode (burst mode) to take a quick series of shots in a row. This can also lead to a wonderful sequence of shots that work well together.

9. Be Playful

Pets can be playful little critters and rather than attempting to contain this to get them posed for that special shot it’s often very effective to go with their playfulness and make it a central feature of your image. Include their toys, stimulate them to look longingly into your camera by holding a special treat above your head or take a picture with them sitting on top of you mid wrestle etc. Make your photo shoot a fun experience for both you and your pet and your shots are likely to reflect it.

10. Catch them Unawares

Posed shots can be fun and effective but one thing I love to do (whether it be with animals or people) is to photograph them candidly paparazzi style. I have very fond memories of stalking a friend’s dog as he played in a back yard one day. I took shots while he dug up flowers, as he buried a bone, as he fell chased a bee around and ask he sat contentedly with his head sticking out of his dog house. The whole time I photographed him he was barely aware of my presence so the shots were very natural without me distracting the dog from his ‘business’.

Update – 11. Try a Wide Angle Lens

One of the techniques I’ve experimented with lately is using a wider angle lens. This allows you to get in close (point 3) but also fit in a lot of the pet. The other benefit of it is that using a wider angle lens will often give your image a little distortion that will give your image a new creative and fun perspective. Read more on Using Wide Angle Lens Distortion Creatively.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Shane McDonald May 12, 2013 11:16 am

    I love taking photos of pets, and I like to use props that the pet can engage with.
    Have a look at as my example

  • Hansi Trompka January 14, 2012 09:13 am

  • Margie November 11, 2011 07:23 am

    @Sharon, I am assuming you have a Nikon from your use of the word Speedlight. Nikon makes an accessory that essentially covers the camera flash from creating those green eyes, but still allows the Speedlight to fire. Here is the part number: Nikon SG-31R. Good luck.

  • sharon November 3, 2011 04:33 am

    I am starting to photography animals at my local Humane's Society to help increase the adoption with better photographs. But when I have to shoot indoors, I get the ugly "Green eye" effect. I am using a light box with my speedlite inside, which fires wirelessly by reading the infrared light from my built-in flash on my camera. I believe my camera's flash is what causing the green eye, not the light box, but even when I've tried diffusing it with tissue and a transluscent card in front, it still doesn't prevent the green eye effect. And my built-in flash has to be up in order for the speed lite to go off. Any suggestions anyone?

  • Danka August 1, 2011 11:44 pm

    :)Thanks for the tips Darren:) I find it really hard to do good quality shots of my black Belgian shepherd. The dog is immensely active and shooting him is like shooting the lightning:) If I don't have enough time to set my camera well, the majority of shots are overexposed:( The dog is really beautiful and I would love to do good images of him. Maybe you could give some tips for this case:) I would be grateful:) Greetings, Danka

  • Jassmine April 11, 2011 05:48 am

    I came here to get some tips on taking pictures of my ferrets. These will be very helpful! The best shots I have of them currently, is when they are either sleeping or have just woke up. The rest of the time they are little blurs:) Here is a picture of my ferret Morgana. This is one of my favorites.....[eimg url='!/photo.php?fbid=1555153325454&set=a.1448221572227.2065883.1433828086&theater' title='photo.php?fbid=1555153325454&set=a.1448221572227.2065883.1433828086&theater']

  • Nathalie March 31, 2011 12:01 am!/photo.php?fbid=10150419314030386&set=a.226738295385.278628.525780385&theater

  • Eva December 20, 2010 12:25 pm

    This is an untried thought... but if your pet is camera shy, why not try clicker training it to the sound of the camera click? I.e., have a session with your pet where every time you snap a photo, it will make a click and then you give your pet a treat. In under 5 minutes, your dog is going to think your camera is the bee's knees! I've done similar things to condition my dog to other things that made him uncomfortable, I don't see why it wouldn't work just as well with the camera!

  • Susan November 17, 2010 08:36 am

    I'm on a mission to get a good photo of my black cat. Handsome in real life...hilarilously awful in pictures. Thanks for the tips. Hopefully with these, I can get a few pics of him good enough to post.

  • Danielle Steele May 21, 2010 06:50 am

    This is something I love the most taking shoots of my darlings. I have a series of shots on my facebook account that I've wanted feedback on for a while.
    Out of everything I take the most pictures of my dogs or my aunts dogs.
    It's always been the easiest for me to do because I have a huge yard where I can run ahead of them and bend for them to come after me.
    If not they're just too lazy to get when I'm standing hahaha

  • Monika March 25, 2010 12:23 pm

    [eimg link='' title='IMG_0174_2' url=''][eimg link='' title='IMG_0161' url='']

  • Vincent Sandoval March 12, 2010 04:40 am

    I photograph animals for a living - I love reading someone else point of view and suggestions. Thanks!

  • Elevated Images Photography February 7, 2010 07:22 pm

    Those are great tips, I've also had good luck with photographing my dog while he is in the back of my pickup. It keeps him from getting out and helps me get below his level. Also gives some good backgrounds.

  • Richard January 25, 2010 08:26 am

    Would I use AI Servo when shooting pets indoors and out doors?

  • Steven Clay November 13, 2009 04:04 am

    I take pictures of my dogs for both fun and business, The fun times allow me a calmness in my pictures I cant capture without playing with them 1st. Check out my shots taken last week at
    I know its the business Im in but this weeks class is all about pet photography.

  • Amir Iqbal November 13, 2009 03:47 am

    Usually pet dont like the camera. These tips will help us alot to solve many problem in pet photography. In Pakistan people focus more on birds rather then dogs or cats. I will try to follow these basic steps and hope this will work well.

  • Kevin C November 2, 2009 01:19 pm

    Thanks for tips. My dog hates the camera, so I will have to sneak up on her! Unlike the cat, who totally hams it up...

  • MeiTeng August 20, 2009 03:11 pm

    Excellent tips! Now, I have to find some people's pets to try it out. I don't own a pet :)

  • Ame Marie R August 7, 2009 09:38 am

    Normally I take my pictures with natural light, because whenever I try to photograph anything furry inside. [such as my brat pets lol] I get the crummiest shots. I can't remember if I read it, but I don't think so.

    How would I be able to take shots inside without using natural light, and still getting a good shot?
    You can't put up big lamps and stuff for unexpected photoshoots. And even with lamps it's terrible.


  • Vic Morphy February 4, 2009 06:47 am

    Josh, Try giving him a bone or something chewy. That might keep his focus off you long enough to get some good shots.

  • Vic Morphy February 4, 2009 06:40 am

    Terrific article with some great pointers . Thanks. Vic.

  • Josh January 20, 2009 04:22 pm

    I've had a dog for a few months now, but whenever I get out the camera, all he wants to do is lick the lens.

  • Robert September 12, 2008 02:34 am

    Good photos but I'm surprised you didn't touch on the importance of background though...

  • Kiki May 26, 2008 09:56 am

    I love those pics...... soo cute i especily love the hamster i am gettin one soon so i thought ya know why don't I look at some cute pics of um....!! ;) Xo haha

  • Maru May 3, 2008 09:08 am

    Beautiful pictures! i love the cat

  • mik April 5, 2008 01:37 am

    OK, I have forgotten how to post a picture.
    Please help.
    Thank you

  • Someone December 5, 2007 08:11 pm

    I tried to photograph my kitty, but BOY- was it hard!

  • Someone December 5, 2007 08:08 pm

    I love the examples, they're great photos. Thanks for the tips! :)

  • Lucyy. October 14, 2007 09:58 pm

    What a cool website, i always do try and take good photos of my pet but it never works, i should try this. (: Great website thanksss!

  • josecunha July 24, 2007 12:11 pm

    Very funy

  • Geoff Fox July 20, 2007 04:00 am

    Shoot low and shoot wide. That's all you need to know.

  • Anonymous July 20, 2007 01:45 am

    I've noticed that cat's can blink faster than the flash sync, so their eyes are partially squinted in each picture when using a flash. It's amazing how fast cats can react!

  • Christopher July 19, 2007 11:49 am

    I have a bit of a zoo at home. Great suggestions, and I will steal them now.

  • Joel July 19, 2007 06:01 am

    For your dog, I might suggest, if he isn't wont to pick it up and chew it, leaving it out where he can see it and smell it. I wouldn't pick it up or pay attention to it, try to make him walk up to it, etc. The more matter-of-fact and calm you are, the more he'll relax. The more you try to make a big deal aobut it by talking a lot, trying toys, drawing attention it it, the more he'll resist! Once he's not bother by its presence, you can pick it up, and he'll be a bit nervous again, but then you might just hold onto it for a while, without taking pictures. Eventually, with any luck, you can try taking a candid shot (don't try to make him look at you or anything), and he'll get over the shutter. Finally, you can start calling his attention to get those shots of him looking into the camera.

  • Phil July 19, 2007 02:03 am

    I once had the mistake of photographing my dog with the flash. This scared him and everytime I whip out my camera, he starts to run and hide!

    What can I do? Even holding treats or his favorite ball wouldn't help. I want to take a photo of him up close.

  • sonet July 18, 2007 03:07 pm

    all the pictures are really really nice. as u use those tips, i think this will also help me to improve my skill. but its tough to get the action in time.thanks

  • TV Online July 18, 2007 08:23 am

    Did you use those tips to take those photos? because those are some of the best photographs I've ever seen of animal subjects, especially the first two (dog in action, mouse with cherry).

  • Gregory July 18, 2007 01:17 am

    The main issue I have with my cat is the opposite of others. She LOVES my camera, to the point that she runs right up and kisses the lens. Must try this sometime with a macro tube on said lens.

    Excellent article

  • Anamika July 18, 2007 12:39 am

    Another great set of tips and really wonderful pictures. As a side-note, these tips also apply to taking pictures of children, especially toddlers :)

  • sinergy July 17, 2007 08:31 pm

    nice pics donncha, and cute dog too! :D

  • Donncha O Caoimh July 17, 2007 07:21 pm

    Michele - I think it's the noisy click of the mirror flip. As soon as they hear it they're on high alert!

  • Donncha O Caoimh July 17, 2007 06:50 pm

    My dog Oscar doesn't like the camera, but bring a ball into the picture and he's happy as larry to pose. If only I could get the hair out of his eyes as he's a shih tzu :)

  • Michelle July 17, 2007 03:02 pm

    Ever since I got my DSLR my dog won't let me take pictures of her (I think she is afraid of the camera). Though hopefully she will come around soon.

  • aczafra July 17, 2007 12:13 pm

    Very timely tips, as I was practicing photographing my friend's pet yesterday.

  • Char July 17, 2007 09:15 am

    These are great tips for me as we just got a new black lab and she is so cute. These photos are great but I really like the cat next to #4 best.

  • sinergy July 17, 2007 08:07 am

    I have a black cat who runs away everytime I bring the camera out. I swear he's camera shy and knows what I'm doing. Also, being black, he can be very difficult to photograph.

  • Adrienne Brand July 17, 2007 07:53 am

    It's so difficult to photograph animals. I agree with AC, the shots here definitely help!

  • AC July 17, 2007 07:17 am

    Good tips - but the example photos really sell this post. Superb snaps.