Capture Better Pet Photography: Top 23 Tips & Techniques to Improve Your Photos

Photography 27/04/2022 8 min read

Pet photography is a lot of fun, as well as a wonderful way to make memories of the animals in your life, but it can be a little tricky to get right. Animals, after all, can be independent creatures and more focused on what they want to do than you want them to. Don’t forget that the perfect natural shot can happen when you least expect it so make sure you are always ready and prepared. With these handy beginner pet photography tips, you should be able to capture some beautiful images in no time!

Part 1: Top Pet Photography Settings for Beginners

Knowing the right settings for pet photography will give you a hand when it comes to starting out. 

1. Use the Correct Aperture

Generally speaking, you want all of your pet’s head and face to be in focus, from the tip of the nose backward. If you’re shooting quite close or if you have a dog with a long nose, you’ll need a fairly small aperture to achieve this. Start at about ƒ/8 and work from there. 

2. Fast Shutter Speed

Pets don’t tend to be very good at sitting still, so be sure to use a fast shutter speed to prevent motion blur. You are basically trying to freeze the moment, as animals tend to be fast and clumsy. You can also boost your ISO to be able to use faster shutter speeds where there is less light or in a darker environment. 

3. Burst Mode & Continuous Focus

Setting your camera to take multiple shots is recommended if you’re trying to capture your pets in motion, for example, dogs playing or horses in a paddock, and even if they are posing for you, it can be a help.

4. Telephoto Lens 

Telephoto lenses produce more flattering portraits, but it also allows you to take photos from further away. This is very helpful for nervous animals, or when you want to take photos out and about. They are also a great option because of less distortion compared to wide-angle lenses. It is important to still consider having more than 1 lens option to have more flexibility with your pet photography.

5. Add Light 

You might find that using a smaller aperture and faster shutter speed requires some lighting help. An off-camera flash will not just provide help with the exposure but can create great texture and contouring, too. However, flash can upset more nervous animals, and you should avoid it around horses and young animals with delicate eyes.

6. Leave Negative Space

Negative space gives your subject room to breathe in an image, and pet photography can enhance movement in action shots. Always think about your composition and easily create movement using negative space. 

7. Manual or Autofocus? 

If your pet is sitting still enough and you can adjust your manual focus quickly, manual focus can yield the best results. But for on the go, or with pets that don’t settle well, use autofocus.

8. Use a Reflector

A reflector is a simple and cheap way to eliminate shadows or throw some light back onto a scene. If you don’t want to use a flash, definitely bring a reflector. If you’re using a flash, still bring a reflector as it will help to light your scene more evenly.

Part 2: 15 Tips & Techniques to Capture Perfect Pet Photos

Try these pet photography tips to help capture the best shots of your animals. As you learn to master your signature shot list, don’t forget to do some stretching first as your muscles will do a lot of work – from crawling to bending, you will have to do whatever it takes to get the perfect pose and shot.

1. Be Patient & Quiet

If you’re anxious or excitable, it will feed into your pet and it’ll be a little harder to get great photos. Be patient, wait quietly for the right moment, and then release that shutter button. Don’t rush the process and enjoy seeing them settle and be themselves around you. Be flexible with your shot list and capture the unexpected moments, such as they tilt their head for a certain sound and their ears pop or that perfect tongue photo to bring forward their full personality.

2. Declutter

Clutter in the background of your shots is terribly distracting. Make sure that you are working with clean backgrounds so that your post-edit work does not take forever. Make sure you either completely remove items or possibly move them to a better location. If you think some items might create a more aesthetically-pleasing scene in your photos, you can consider keeping them.

3. Move Slowly 

If you move quickly, you will arouse or alarm your pet, and either you’ll miss the shot you wanted, or it’ll take a while to calm them down again. Be gentle and always maintain an even energy – use your soft voice and move in a deliberate manner – so that your subject can easily chill and relax. As always, make sure only you, the photographer, give out the commands to the pet and work with what the dog or cat wants to do – go with the flow.

Move Slowly

4. Use Flash as a Treat Marker 

Try to add your flash to the mix once your pet is comfortable with the setting. Once you start using the flash, they might react negatively so dish out a treat every time that you need to trigger it. Once you do it a couple of times, your dog or cat will learn that flash equals treat!

5. Enhance Shots with Lighting 

Use lighting not just to nail the exposure, but to put catchlights in eyes, lift or create shadows and enhance textures in your pet’s coat. Basically, enhance your dog’s best features! Also, consider buying a collapsible reflector to remove unwanted shadows that might be around the neck or possibly around the ears.

6. Use Sound for Attention 

Sometimes your puppy might be distracted by something else in the room. Aside from using your voice to grab their attention, such as a whistle or turkey call, keep some portable items with you as well. Squeaky toys can be great for encouraging them to look in the direction you want. There might well be other sounds to which your pet reacts, such as clicking or rustling. Be sure to be the only person as the photographer to use these tools and do not overuse them either.

7. Watch Body Language

You know when your pet is getting bored, tired, or starting to lose interest. Watch their interactions so that you know when your time is up, and reschedule your session or stop to make sure they are relaxed again. It is all about your pet’s comfort level which makes for amazing photos that you can keep for years to come.

8. Rewards 

Make sure that you are well prepared with toys and treats to reward your pet. It won’t just help to keep them focused, but they deserve lots of attention for co-operating. Get them interested in the motivator of their liking, and have the burst mode ready for some cool shots as great images are captured in a fraction of a second.

9. Staircases for Family Portraits

When you’re aiming for a family portrait with a pet, try posing on the stairs to give yourself composition options and different layers in the image. Make sure to also capture how both your pets interact with each other and why not even invite your pet’s best friend to create cute family portraits to use in your next Christmas card!

10. Focus on the Eyes 

It doesn’t matter what type of portrait you’re shooting, human or animal, the eyes should always be in focus. But when it comes to your dog or cat, we recommend taking the emotive set of portraits towards the end of your shoot once their energy wore out. By focusing on the eyes, you can also create familiarity and a unique depth to your composition.

11. Capture the Owner-Pet Relationship 

Animals make great subjects by themselves, but there’s something very special about capturing the relationship between a human and their animal companion. Resting or playing gives you plenty of photo opportunities.

12. Try Pet Costumes 

If you’re up for it, and your pet is too, you can try dressing them up, perhaps for Halloween or the holidays. Not all animals react well to this, so do be careful. Alongside the cuteness level, sometimes props and costumes can make your pet more comfortable and actually feel safe. Give them some space to interact with the props and walk around in the costume, while also keeping their favorite toys at hand. In the end, each big or small incident makes for a great story!

13. Black Backgrounds

When you’re setting up dog photography poses, or any other animal, in fact, try a black background. You can consider creating different textured backgrounds by using black streamers or black paper plates, as well as black curtain cloth. The classic look using black paint and cardboard is also a great DIY project. It looks highly professional and really pulls the focus onto your animal; create your very own fine art print look. 

14. Try Panning

When you’re out and about, have a go at capturing your dog or horse with the panning technique. Especially toward the middle of the shoot, you can capture some natural movement and create cool texture in your compositions. Remember that you need to shoot them from side-on, tracking them with a slow shutter speed, to capture them sharply against a blurred background. Make sure you can always anticipate the direction your pet will be running to!

15. Natural Poses 

You don’t always have to set up your dog to pose for photography. Natural poses, for example basking in the sun or watching other dogs walk by, can be great. Why not capture a shot while playing tug of war or jumping to catch the ball? The same goes for cats when they are washing or are captivated by twinkling lights or even a running tap. Take time to notice and create scenes that match the pet’s personality which will go a long way for your dog or cat photography.

Being patient, and getting down to your pet’s level are perhaps the 2 most useful pet photography skills to know. With only about 2 hours available to you (anything longer would tire the pet out a lot) to capture the character of your dog or cat, make sure you give some time for breaks and playtime for both of you. By combining your photographic expertise with your basic knowledge of animals, plus these tips and techniques, you’ll set up faster photoshoots and produce impressive pet photos. Now all you need to do is have fun!