All pet owners know their pet is more than just an animal. It’s a member of their family. That’s why pet photography is not the same as wildlife photography. The goal of pet photography is to capture the bond you have with your pet, and/or their character and personality, in an image.
Even if you don’t go to the length of setting up your own pet photography studio, there are some techniques you can use that will help you snap some amazing pet photos. Whether you’re embarking on a cat photoshoot for your Instagram feed, want to start your own professional dog photography business, or are simply looking for some general pet photography ideas and tips, we’ve included some great information below.
Getting Started with Pet Photography
Pet photography, particularly dog and cat photography, can be a challenge for those who are used to shooting people, places, or things. Places and objects are usually stationary, so you can take your time setting up the shot. And while people aren’t immobile, they’re usually willing to stand still if you’re taking their photograph.
Animals and pets are a different story. A dog photoshoot can quickly become chaotic if the subject (or subjects) are overly excited or scared. If you’re an animal lover, you don’t need to be told that giving your pet a treat or a toy can help. Getting a trained pet to pose for a photo is not all that different to a small child. It can take some time, effort, and persuasion, but it can certainly be done!
What Gear Should I Use?
A basic question that should be at the top of your mind is what camera and lens to use for pet photography. The short answer is to have a wide variety of options, so your vision is never limited by the gear you have.
You should certainly have a wide-angle lens for pet portraits, as this type of lens allows for a broader view of the scene. Meanwhile Telephoto lenses are ideal for capturing action from a distance. These photos will be less personal, but also allow you to worry less about getting your pet to sit still. Finally, if you’re looking for super-cute closeups of your dog’s droopy eyes, try a macro lens.
When it comes to the camera, try finding camera that is designed for sports or action photography. Like a forward kicking a ball down the field, pets in motion demand a camera that is capable of capturing fast-moving, unpredictable action without missing or blurring anything. While pet photography is not an unusual niche, sports photography is a little more common.
Importantly, your camera should be capable of reaching fast shutter speeds and support burst mode (continuous shooting). You’ll also probably want a camera with accurate and fast autofocus. Many of the latest mirrorless cameras from Sony, Canon, and Nikon offer impressive animal eye autofocus, which tracks the eyes of an animal to keep it in focus even if the animal is moving.
Pet Photography Tips
Prepare for the Shoot
Let’s say you’re preparing for a dog photoshoot. Think about what you’ll need and what your canine friend(s) will need for everything to go smoothly. Hint: location, location, location. You want to minimize distractions, at least the ones that aren’t part of the photo. Pick a dog-friendly area that is going to guide the shoot the way you want it to go. Make sure the lighting and background are ready before you begin shooting.
Get the Timing Right
Setting is about two things: place and time, and both are important for pet photography. Allow time to get familiar with your subject. Take practice shots. Even feeding or playing with your subject can make things go better. Just jumping right into the shoot in a hurry can be counterproductive, throwing the animals – who aren’t used to being professionally photographed – off-guard.
As we mentioned earlier, pet photography, particularly a dog or cat photoshoot, is liable to be unpredictable. An opportunity for the perfect shot can come and go in a fraction of a second, so it’s important to be ready when the moment presents itself. Make sure your gear is equipped to make capturing it easier; use burst mode and animal eye autofocus, and delete superfluous shots later. A high shutter speed and ISO can also help.
Use Natural Light
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t use your flash or lighting equipment if you’re in a pet photography studio. But the downside of using artificial lighting is that your subjects are often on the move in pet photography. Try shooting in the pet’s home environment, and with as much natural light as possible. This maximizes the pet’s comfort and your control over the situation.
Remember Your Audience (& Your Subject)
When you’re photographing a pet, it’s important not to forget principles that you would follow when photographing humans. After all, we tend to see ourselves in our pets. There’s a reason we anthropomorphize animal characters in movies and cartoons.
Just as you would for a person, keep the focus on and direct lighting towards the eyes in pet portraiture. Eyes are arguably the closest characteristic we have in common with dogs, cats, and other pets.
Photographing animals in unusual or human-centric situations is also likely to make your photograph more interesting. However, make sure you prioritize the health and wellbeing of your subject. Pets can’t voice complaints as easily as a human subject can, so it’s your responsibility as the photographer to consider their welfare.
Hone in on Your Subject’s Personality
In line with the last tip, it’s important, as we mentioned in the intro, to capture a pet’s personality and character. Just as people have differing traits, habits and inclinations, different pets have different personalities. Your shoot should draw out what makes your subject different, and it should evolve as you learn more about the pet.
If you notice your animal repeatedly making a playful gesture or tick, try to capture it. If your pet responds well to a ball or treat, you can use them to your advantage. Pet-loving audiences will respond well to these distinguishing features.
For any animal-loving photographer, a pet photoshoot can be incredibly fun and rewarding. Hopefully this post has provided you with some helpful pet photography ideas and tips. If you remember one thing, it should be that while your pet is not a person, they do have a personality. As a photographer, it’s your job to capture a glimpse of that personality so your audience can see not just what they are, but who they are.