Maria's Pet Photography Tips: Part 1

Ever looked at amazingly expressive pictures of pets and wondered how they did it? How did they manage to capture so much emotion and detail in one perfect photo? I know it happens to me a lot. Every now and then I come across mind blowing pictures of pets that surprise me with their originality and utter beauty. So I decided to take a closer look at the art of photographing pets and understand what it takes to capture the unique character of these charming companions. I'm going to share my findings with you through a series of articles that will hopefully inspire you too.

Halloween Dog Parade by Winnie Au

The Basics Of Pet Photography

Pet photography is a fun and rewarding job, but it can be quite a challenge at first. Let’s have a look at the basics of pet photography and discuss some tips that will help you become a better photographer.

Step 1 - Get To Know The Pet

Pets have very strong personalities and getting to know them is a very important first step. Unlike humans, however, pets will not be able to introduce themselves to you. So, before you start shooting, take a few minutes to know your subject.

An easy way to learn some general traits of pets is to do some reading at home. Research the most common species and breeds of pets and learn about their traits. The next step is talking to the owner. Ask them about their pet’s personality and favorite activities. Getting a brief history of the pet and their relationship with the owner will give you a better idea on how to approach your project.  Are they lazy or hyperactive? Are there any particular things they love to do? Do they have any favorite toys or can they do any special tricks? Try to capture those things that set the pet apart and you’ll get amazing results.

Pet Portraits by Stacey Ernst 

Step 2 - Pick The Right Location

Choosing the right location for the photoshoot is key to a good collaboration with the pet. If you’re dealing with an indoor pet, then you should probably photograph them at their home or at your studio. If the pet is already familiar with the outdoors, don’t be afraid to take them to a park or yard. What’s important here is that the environment is stress-free and not very distracting. If you’re shooting at your studio, make sure to have a stack of toys of all types and treats at hand in order to keep the pet active.


Untitled by Sarita Lolita

Step 3 - Choose Your Light

First, try to use as much natural light as possible. If you’re shooting at your studio, pick a spot near a large window, but avoid direct sunlight, as it might burn details and increase contrast. If your studio doesn’t get any natural light and your pet isn’t very outdoorsy, set the light so that you get enough detail on the fur and face. Using the flash isn’t a very good idea, as you might get an unpleasant reaction from the pet. If you’re dealing with a dark haired animal, feel free to add more light, even overexpose the photo, so you get as much detail as possible on the fur.

Millie In The Window by Suzi...Shmoo

Step 4 - Keep Up!

As pets are smaller than humans, you will have to photograph them on their level. Follow them around while they discover the surroundings looking for a safe spot or something to play with. You may have to lie on the floor or in the grass to capture their moves and expressions, but it will be totally worth it.

Pets may not be comfortable in strange environments, such as your studio, and might not feel like playing or sitting still. If the pet is not particularly cooperative, encourage the owner to step in and help you out. They can distract the pet’s attention or liven things up a bit as you take your shots.

Puppy Shake by Matt_Benson

Step 5 - Focus On The Details

Pet portraits aren’t that different from regular (human) portraits. Choose a background that doesn’t divert attention from your subject, but rather creates contrast, and make sure that the eyes stay focused and sharp in order to catch the pet’s emotions. If you're aiming for full body shots, a good idea is to switch to a wide angle lens.

Don’t be afraid to get closer. Get the pet to stand still and take some close-ups of their eyes, nose, ears or any parts of the body that are particularly expressive. Make sure your focus is sharp and pay attention to your aperture settings in order to get a beautiful DOF. It’s the little details such as the glimmer in their eyes or a tousled hank of hair that can completely change the mood of the photograph.

Cry Me A River by eva8

Step 6 - Have Some Fun

You’ve got your location right, set the camera and lights and you’re ready to shoot. But don’t take yourself too seriously. Try to have some fun, especially if you’re shooting with a playful pet. Join in. It might be exhausting to follow them around, but you’ll have tons of fun and dynamic shots that will clearly stand out.

DE-169952 by spinkymousi on Flickr, original by Cidney Conger

Stay tuned for the next article on pet photography! We’ll discuss more in depth about what it takes to be the best pet photographer you can be!