12 Steps For Perfect Pet Pictures

Learn the secrets to taking beautiful pictures of your furry family members.


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Digital photography and cell phone cameras make it easy to photograph your pet and post it on social media. The problem is that a lot of the photos are out of focus, improperly lit, and shot so the pet is almost lost in the background. If you want to take perfect photos of your cat or dog, follow these basic guidelines and wow your friends with your pet portraits skills.

  1. Use natural light. Avoid a flash so your pet doesn't look like a red-eye demon. Also, camera flashes can scare your pet and send it scurrying for cover. Instead, use natural light by taking your pet outdoors or by positioning it near a bright window indoors. If your pet has a favorite perch or bed it sleeps on, move it closer to the window before the photo session.
  2. Don't shoot at high noon. Outdoors, take your pet's picture when the sun is rising or setting. If you photograph your pet when the sun is directly overhead, the resulting portrait will have too much contrast between light and dark areas. The best time to photograph is when the sun is coming in at an angle or when there is a slightly overcast sky.
  3. Aim for the eyes. Photographing pets isn't much different than photographing people. You want your photograph to capture the subjects' personality, whether they are human or animal. That's why you should always focus on your pet's eyes to reflect the true nature of your pet.
  4. Get down to pet level. One of the most common mistakes people make when they photograph their pets is to point the camera from their level. Inevitably, the animal ends up looking like a furry blob lost in the background. Instead, get down to your pet's eye level and photograph it as another dog or cat might see it.
  5. Timing is everything. Sometimes the best way to get a great pet portrait is when the animal is just waking up or going to sleep. A tired pet makes a great model. Certainly if you want to catch your pet in action (running, swimming, jumping), you'll need to get it a bit excited. But, for most pet portraits, you'll have better luck if your cat or dog is tuckered out and calm.
  6. Go to your pet. When you are ready to photograph your pet, don't drag it across the room by its collar and start snapping photographs. That will put your pet on high alert and make it nervous. Dogs can be difficult to pose. Instead, approach your dog where it is so that it is relaxed and calm.
  7. Use the element of surprise. If your pet isn't posed exactly the way you want it, try surprising it with a squeaky toy or high-pitched noise. Hold the toy directly over your head to encourage your pet to look directly at you. Or, have an assistant stand behind you to get the animal's attention.
  8. Try a long lens. If your camera has a zoom function or if you own a telephoto lens, it can be a very effective tool for pet photography. With a telephoto lens, you can get a great photo of your pet in a natural setting without your pet even realizing that you are stalking it. A telephoto or zoom lens will also allow you to experiment a little by zeroing in on your pet's face, fur, or body.
  9. Change the venue. Active pets can be a challenge to photograph. If your pet won't sit still, try moving it to a spot it is familiar with to slow it up a bit. For example, if your dog loves to ride in the car, let Fido hop into the passenger seat, roll down the window, and capture the image that way. For cats, try putting them on a safe shelf or the back of a chair so that they have to think for a minute or two about where to go next. Never put your pet in danger, but sometimes by moving your hyperactive animal to a different location, it will slow it down just long enough for you to squeeze the shutter.
  10. Watch the background. When you are trying to focus on an active animal, you don't always pay attention to the background. A messy living room or a cluttered backyard will ruin even the best photo, so think about the environment before you break out the camera. Indoors, pick up the kid's toys, scattered newspapers, or stray coffee cups. Outdoors, put away garden hoses, garbage cans, or bicycles.
  11. Mix angles. Vary the framing of your photos by including tight closeups, full body shots, and three-quarter images. That way, you'll have a lot to choose from and you might even capture physical features of your pet that you never noticed before. For example, by focusing on just your cat's tail, you might notice stripes, spots, or bits of color that didn't stand out previously.
  12. Be patient. Never turn a photo session into a wrestling match. If your pet won't pose exactly the way you want, stop the photo session and try again another day. The great thing about digital photography is that you can shoot endless exposures and easily destroy all the bad shots.
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