Pets are a part of our everyday lives and considered a part of our families. Whether your pet has a wagging tail, long whiskers, puppy-dog eyes, scales, likes to get in trouble, stuck in small places, or enjoys a rub under the chin, it is likely that your pet is considered a best friend and has also been the subject of many a pet photoshoots.
With most of our phone camera rolls full of pet photographs and failed pet photoshoots, you are probably no stranger to the challenges which come with taking the perfect pet shot.
What Is Pet Photography?
Pet photography is simply defined as portraits of animals, which are pets. Pet photography is often compared to shooting photographs of small children or sports photography, both equally testing and unpredictable. But, with the right technique, composition, focus, exposure and arguably most importantly, connecting with your subject you will be able to turn your blurry pet photographs into professional pet photographs in no time.
Our top tips to shoot the perfect pet photography shots are on hand to guide you in the right direction.
Consider Contrast and don’t forget the photography basics
The first step and key to all great photography is nailing exposure. This stands for great pet photography too. Sometimes, the automatic settings can make black or white fur appear dull in colour, and as pets are generally low to the ground, their fur or skin often picks up colour casts from their environment, making it difficult to capture their true colourings. Aperture, ISO and Shutter Speed makes up Exposure and can all be altered from your camera settings. Take the time to alter and experiment with your shot, taking advantage of these settings and find the right contrast and exposure for your pet photographs.
Tip: Take your shots using a small aperture, with a focus on your pets eyes for attention-grabbing shots. Mastering portrait photos is achieved by capturing a subject's eyes, so lock your shot in your pet’s eyes. Don’t forget to alter the aperture depending on the shape and size of your pet and its features. A dog with a long snout, will need a different depth of field to a dog with a squished nose.
Background. Background. Background.
Not only could your pet get distracted by a messy background, it doesn’t create composed professional pet photography. Be aware of your background and environment that you are photographing.
This isn’t disregarding a detailed background as both a detailed and neutral background can look equally as good as each other. But, avoid distracting things such as litter, lampposts, cars and general clutter. Pets are also fast and clumsy, so leave empty, negative space to allow for movement.
Beware The Green-Eyed Monster - No, Not Jealousy!
It isn’t just humans who are subject to devilish looking, red eyes when flash is used in photographs. Animal eyes reflect flash badly and appear red and even bright green. Flash can also affect the colourings of your pets fur and skin because it is so harsh, it can wash out white coloured furs, and you can even lose the detailings of feathers.
Not only is flash a cause of red eyes and weird colourings, flash can also scare animals, in particular smaller animals. Using a flash can be unnerving for animals and cause them to hide or become nervous.
Avoid using flash when taking photographs of animals in tanks too, as the flash will reflect off of the glass, creating a white hotspot. Similarly, with metal cages, avoid using flash as the flash will reflect here too.
When All Else Fails Try Treats & Toys
The biggest challenge of pet photography is that pets don’t understand posing instructions like humans do. Arguably, a dog who is trained to ‘sit’ or ‘stay’ is more likely to understand simple instructions, however it is still an animal. When in doubt, a few treats or an animal’s favourite toy can help in getting a pet to stay in a certain position or look in a specific direction. Rewards are the key to motivating a pet to do what you want without you telling them straight. Plus, all great models deserve rewards!
Food bribes can work with all kinds of animals to look in certain directions as even untrained pets will look towards the smell of a treat. Using squeaky toys will also help grab a pet's attention, especially useful to place behind the camera if you are wanting a straight on image. If you are working with treats and toys though, expect the pet to become distracted, and their focus to now be on chewing or playing, making them unlikely to look at you or a camera!
Get creative with your treats and toys, pet photoshoots are supposed to be fun and interesting and can really help you get those signature shots.
Befriend Your Fluffy Friend - Know The Pet’s Personality
You know your pet better than anyone else and pets are like humans, all come with unique personalities and quirks. A successful photography is one which portrays and captures the character of it’s subject.
So, put some thinking time into your photoshoot. What is your pet most interested in? Treats? Favourite teddy? Cuddles? Is your pet lazy or playful? What will make them sit still or grab their attention? What is special about your pet? Use this knowledge to capture their character on camera and plan accordingly.
If you’re photographing someone else’s pet, take them time to ask the owner questions about their pet. What is it they want to portray and capture? What makes their pet happy or obedient? Knowing how to bond with a pet will make a pet photoshoot much easier.
You Don’t Need Studio Lighting - Try Natural Light
What is the best lighting for a pet photoshoot? Well, good lighting is everything in all types of photography. Like flash, avoid excessively bright backgrounds that could affect the subject. Similarly, avoid photographing in dark lighting such as dark rooms or on heavily overcast days.
Natural light is the easiest to work with when it comes to pet photography. Bright but diffused lighting is the best at creating flattering images under. So venture outside on a sunny day but opt for the shade to avoid shadows. Or if you’re shooting indoors, look at taking pictures near a window that isn’t facing the sun will work best for natural light. Discover lighting which helps a pet's eyes catch light.
Shoot From Eye Level
Getting down to your pets height and shooting from their level will not only make them feel more comfortable but will also help you capture more natural and personal photographs.
Shoot from their level to create engaging portraits and see things from a more unique angle and from their world. This will also help you capture their eyes more straight on and close up. Shooting from their level will make it easier to get those action shots and allows them to work their magic around you.
As we’ve already noted, pets don’t speak our language and there is no quicker way to confuse or scare an animal by shouting repeated commands and instructions at them. This can confuse dogs, cause cats to disengage and leave or scare any animal.
Opt for a quiet, nonverbal approach, using hand signals to point or grab their attention, or toys and treats. If you are shooting a trained dog, remember to keep calm and say instructions once or twice. Or, if you’re shooting someone else’s pet, ask them to instruct them if you feel more comfortable. Similarly, try to not repeatedly use a pets name as the more times they hear it, then less likely they are to engage. The less talking done, the better the shoot will be and the pet will pay more attention to the noises they do hear.
Use a fast shutter speed
Unless you’ve caught your pet in a sleepy, lazy mood, or your pet is a tortoise, most pets have a hard time sitting still. This is where sports photography comes to play. Ensure to use a fast shutter speed, and set your camera to shutter priority or manual mode. Even faster shutter speeds may be needed if you are taking action shots of a pet running or chasing something.
Photographing your pet playing, and in action is the perfect way to take some interesting shots at their level and with personality in them. Use burst mode to take a sequence of fast shots to increase your chances of the ‘perfect’ shot.
Tips for photographing aquatic pets
To avoid using flash, which will reflect on a glass tank, move up close to the tank to make the most of natural light and avoid reflections of your camera or other objects. Using a macro filter of lens will also help you capture fish detailing like beautiful scales.
Using a polarizing filter can help reduce reflections on the glass and can also be useful if you are partaking in pond photography. You can add a polarizing filter onto your camera and rotate it until reflections are minimised.
Tip: if you are taking photographs of fish in a pond, you’ll want them when they are close to the surface therefore feeding time is best.
Tips for photographing smaller pets
Let’s not forget, the smaller, but no less important, friends such as hamsters, guinea pigs and mice. These smaller pets are cage based and usually pretty eager to bury themselves in straw.
The main challenges when it comes to photographing smaller pets, is getting close enough to take the photos and also getting a photograph without the bars from the cage in it.
Try a macro lens, or a more affordable option is a macro filter, to get closer to smaller animals. You could also take the creature out of the cage and place it into someone's hand or let it out in a spacious but enclosed area.
Tip: experiment with slow shutter speeds on a small animal, like a hamster, running on a wheel. You may be able to get the legs blurred and head sharp which would give a great sense of movement.
We hope you find our guide to taking pet photoshoots, but if you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
We look forward to seeing all your stunning pet photographs!