15 top tips on how to take the best pet photographs!
Updated: May 14
Hiya! For those of you who don't know me, my name is Sian Pill of SianP Photography. I am a Buckinghamshire based photographer and I specialise in weddings, families, newborn and pets. Taking photographs of pets can be super hard, they're always moving, not looking at the camera or they're asleep. Which sometimes makes a beautiful shot, but 20 pictures of fido asleep on the sofa isn't something you necessarily wish to hang as wall art.. ( I know, I've been there, I have countless images of my dog asleep on our bed ) Here are some of my personal tips and tricks to help you capture those beautiful shots of your pets that you will want to keep and show off.
Step 1 is to introduce your pet to your photo taking technology whether it's a phone or camera. Pets won't be so inclined to hide away or be shy if they are familiar with what's in front of them, let them sniff it, see it, maybe not play with it though. You may be lucky enough to have a pet who is completely relaxed and at ease - In which case they may just be curious in what your holding and come and take a look, like this little guy did for me.
Planning when your going to take the photos is important, sometime they're doing something crazy and its a quick grab and snap opportunity, but if you are planning to take some photos, when you take them could make all the difference, waiting till after your 5 mile hike may seem like a good idea because they will be tired out and more co-operative, however fido then probably isn't going to want to sit there nicely for some photos and will be more interesting in falling asleep somewhere. For my pet photo sessions I have 3 stages,
To start with before we go any where once they are familiar with me and my camera we will take some static shots, sitting, laying ect, before they have their slobbery tongue hanging out the side of their mouth.
Next step is that we will go for a walk, thats why the dogs there, it puts them at ease - they're having fun, its great for action shots of them running around and playing and having a good time! On the walk we will also stop off in different areas for a variety of back grounds and different shots.
STATIC AND PLAYFUL PHOTOGRAPHS
Lastly once they've burn't of some of that pent up energy and I have got all the action shots I need with enough variety we will then do another few static and playful photographs. As you can see this picture on the left is after the walk where as the one a couple above was before - notice the tongue! Throwing treats is great for capturing some funny shots at this point, believe me they're going to want them.
Lighting is pretty important in photographs, it can almost make or break a good photograph. If you can avoid it, don't take the photographs in harsh sun, it can leave for ungodly shadows and are very hard to edit out. You want to aim for early morning or late evening - Golden hour is a beautiful time to shoot, but not always ideal for everyone. SO if you must take the shots in the middle of the day and its harsh sunlight, look for shade, trees, clouds, and once under the shade, have the pet facing towards the light. Now thats not always where the sun is - it could in fact be where the open bit of sky is through the trees rather than from the sun directly. below you can see the difference the lighting makes too your images. If you are doing your photographs inside, aim your pet towards and near a window so you have the natural light coming in through there.
Now the next thing to consider are your backgrounds - try and position your pet against a different coloured background to their own colour. Positioning a black dog against a black backround without the right lighting and editing is going to leave you with a photo of a pair of eyes. Next you want a non cluttered background - either the sky, a field, or woodland ect are all great. Too much of a cluttered background can cause a distraction from the main subject, unless you fancy a ton of editing post process. Lastly try to avoid horizon lines going through the pets head. As you can see from my photo in the middle above - I caught the horizon line going directly though the little terriers head, if you take a photo and notice this, just re adjust your positioning.
2 Meters Forwards
Once you have your background planned, set and ready, bring your pet two meters forwards from it ( if you can ) This will ensure that your pet the main subject stands out from the background - depending on whether you are using a phone or camera will be dependant on whether you can adjust the aperture or not to increase the background bokeh.
This image below is edited post process in Lightroom ( which is what I edit all my images in ) however you can see how much the cat stands out against the background that was behind him because he's that much further forwards from it.
Have you noticed one thing in common with all of my images above? I am at the animals height when taking the photograph. Getting down low to the same eye level brings a much more personal feel to the image rather than looking down on them. Below is a bee, admittedly not a pet but you can still see the difference that getting down to eye level can make.
Focus on the eyes
Whenever your taking photographes of pets (or humans for that matter) your focus point should always be the eyes. Sometimes this can take a little of adjustment with your phone or camera because automatically it will focus on the nearest object which will usually be the nose. Sometimes you can focus on other body parts for a slightly different effect however focusing on the eyes is strongly recommended. Below is an image where I actually missed focus and caught focus on the dogs nose - I actually love this picture due to the fact its different, however I certainly wouldn't want to take a whole clients shoot with the dogs snoz taking centre stage.
Does your dog start moving and suddenly your image is a blurred mess of dog? This is because shutter speed is super important for any photography action shots you are wanting to capture. Unfortunately if you are using a mobile you won't have the option to adjust this - but for cameras you will do. For any pet action shots my shutter speed is usually anywhere between 450 and 800. Having a higher shutter speed basically means that your camera will take the photo quicker meaning it captures less movement within the image - the higher the shutter speed the less movement it will capture. However by cranking up the shutter speed you will also need to look into your ISO and your aperture to ensure your shot isn't really dark.
Turn off the flash
I NEVER use the on camera flash - its not flattering, it will probably give you a red eye effect in camera making your pet slightly resemble a devil and nor will your pet appreciate it flashing in their eyes. Best bet is to keep the flash off - move your pet towards the window if indoors, if outdoors find a slightly lighter area or if using a camera - use an off camera flash or turn up your ISO a little to compensate the shutter speed.
Less can mean more
If you have a well behaved dog ( which we don't ) and they will listen to your commands ( which ours doesn't ) your best bet is to remove collars and leads for the photographs. Having a dog or cat with a collar and name tag or bell can be distracting from their beautiful face, you can edit them in post process but again it's not overly easy however if you have a pet that will run away from you - safety is more important than a collar being in a photograph.
In the photo below our collie was wearing her collar - I've edited it out after however she has a rather bright red collar which was very distracting in this image.
Toys and treats
Lets face it, they're going to have deserved one after all this photoshoot posing they're doing. It's great for encouragement, and if you are struggling to get them to look at you, hold the treat just above the lens and you should be able to grab their attention, or even better get someone else to hold the treat directly above the lens as close as possible whilst you focus on getting the shot. In the picture below of our own collie, you can see I haven't removed her collar when I took her out to capture some images the other day, nor did I remove it in post process - you can see how distracting it can be.
Be creative - different angles
Try different angles, different locations, close ups and far away shots - the more variety of images the more selection you are going to have. 100 images of your dog like a pinhead in the background is going to get a little dull.
Don't feel for every good photograph you have to include the whole pet. Some of my favourite holds are like the one below that is a detailed shot showing connection. A close up of a horses eye or a dogs paw or a cats nose can make fantastic photographs which will be personal to you.
You are going to need it, don't get disheartened if you try and your dog won't listen to you, or you cat walks off and isn't interested. Just try again at another time, maybe after they have had a nap, or after they've been fed. Or depending on the pet maybe before they've had dinner so they're more interested in the treats you have. Not every photograph you will take is going to be spot on, that's fine, not all of mine are keepers, just try again or play around with your camera settings until you're comfortable and it works for you and your pet.
I hope you've enjoyed reading this and I hope it helps you capture some stunning pet photographs. Most importantly, have fun taking the photographs, I love my pet photography sessions and I hope you enjoy yous to. Remember I am not just outdoor specialist for pet photography, I also specialise in Outdoor Family Photography, Newborn Photography and Wedding Photography If you would like to book yourself in right here in Buckinghamshire for a photoshoot just drop me a message and I would love to speak to you. Just head over to my website and see my portfolios.