Photographing Animals: 10 Essential Tips for Pet Photography

Marianne Stenger
27th April 2021

Animals are a joy to work with and photograph, and there’s just something rewarding about being able to capture your pet’s unique personality and charm in a photograph.

But, although most pet owners love taking photos of their pets, the fact remains that animals aren’t the easiest subjects to photograph. Most pets tend to have a short attention span, which means they aren’t usually interested in sitting still or holding a pose for very long, and some might even be frightened by the camera.

So what can you do to capture better photos of your beloved pet and include them in more of your family photos? Whether you’re the proud owner of a dog, cat, hamster, parrot or ferret, these pet photography tips will help you get better results every time.

1. Plan ahead

While some of your pet photography might be spontaneous, most of the time, you’ll get better results when you plan ahead. Start by identifying a few areas around the house with good natural light, such as near a large window, sky light or glass door. Then tidy up your shoot locations and remove any unnecessary distractions such as shoes, jackets or other household clutter.

2. Avoid using flash

Most animals have sensitive eyes and the camera flash can be quite startling for them. If their first experiences with the camera are unpleasant, they will come to view it as something scary or intrusive. On-camera flash is also quite harsh, so unless you’re experienced using strobes or flashguns, you’ll likely end up with red eyes and unflattering shadows or glare. So, with this in mind, it’s best to stick to using natural light as much as possible. 

3. Capture them in their element 

The best way to capture your pet’s unique character on camera is to photograph them when they are feeling relaxed in a familiar environment or while doing something they love. So, think about some of your pet’s favourite things and how you might capture these moments on camera. For instance, your budgie might love to look at its reflection in the mirror, or perhaps your cat is happiest when perched on the edge of the sofa in the sun, or maybe you could snap some action shots of your hamster enjoying it’s running wheel or tunnels.

4. Use food and toys

Since most animals have a short attention span, it can be difficult to get them to pose, sit still or even look in your direction. This is where their favourite treats and toys can come in handy. Find something your pet can’t resist, whether it’s your dog’s favourite squeaky toy, a freshly sliced apple for your parrot or a handful of sunflower seeds for your rabbit. You can then use these to get your pet’s attention, encourage them to perform a trick they know or even just snap some fun shots of them playing or munching away happily. If possible, ask a friend or family member to help you by standing behind or next to you and getting the animal’s attention.

5. Choose the right lens

Using the right type of lens can make your pet photoshoots a lot easier. Although there’s no one type of lens that will be right for every situation or animal, it helps to consider your pet’s size and also the sort of activities you intend to photograph. 

A smaller pet like a hamster, gerbil, tortoise or even snake might be easier to photograph with a longer lens, as you can capture close up shots of the animal without getting too close yourself. With larger animals like cats and dogs, you can often photograph them at closer range without frightening them, so a 50mm or 35mm prime lens could work just fine. On the other hand, if you want to capture action shots of your pet running or jumping, a zoom lens might be more convenient, as you’ll be able to zoom in or out without physically getting closer or moving back.

6. Shoot at eye level

There may be times when you see an opportunity to photograph your pet from above or below, and this can certainly make for some interesting and playful shots. However, as a general rule, it’s best to get down to your pet’s eye level and photograph them from there, as this is the most natural perspective and will help the viewer connect with your subjects.

7. Focus on the eyes

Any time you are shooting a portrait, whether it’s of your cat, budgie, rabbit or turtle, you’ll want to make the eyes your point of focus. This is because the eyes are the first thing we tend to look at in a photo, so it will be more visually appealing and make a more powerful impact if the eyes are sharply in focus. If you’re shooting with a shallow depth of field, it can be a bit more tricky to get both eyes in focus, so you may need to slightly move or tilt the camera to get both eyes on the same horizontal plane.

8. Fill the frame

There are many different compositional techniques you can employ to get more aesthetically pleasing photos of your pet, but one fairly simple technique is to fill the frame. This is a great way to ensure that your pet will be the main focus of the photo while also avoiding any distractions or clutter in the background. To do this, simply get as close as possible to your pet, either by zooming in or moving physically closer, and make sure that it occupies the largest portion of the shot as possible.

9. Try burst mode

If you want to capture action shots of your pet running, jumping or flying, burst mode is a good option. Unlike single shot mode, which requires you to press the button each time you want to take a photo, burst mode allows you to snap photos in bursts of anywhere from three to 20 photos per second, as long as you keep holding down the shutter button. Burst mode is a great way to ensure that you won’t miss any of the action, and can be combined with continuous autofocus mode to track moving animals and ensure well focused images.

10. Have fun with it

Last but not least, keep in mind that animals can sense any signs of stress, so above all, try to stay relaxed and have fun with your pet photography. Rather than trying to force your pet into specific poses, just set the tone with a fun atmosphere, good lighting and a few toys and snacks, and then capture the moments as they happen. Once you are ready to begin shooting, make a point of moving slowly and avoid any sudden movements or noises that might startle your pet or distract them from the activity they are engaged in.

Looking for more pet photography tips? Check out some of our previous interviews with pet photographers. Once you have a nice collection of pet photos to work with, you might want to turn some of them into a beautiful photo book, calendar or piece of wall art with Bob Books.