How to photograph your pets

When you start out with photography, you’ll take photographs of anything you can point your camera at. A pair of shoes, a bunch of flowers, the building across the street. You start branching out, taking your camera out and about with you – photographing scenes of nature, street scenes of sorts, as brave as you can be without getting overly noticed. Eventually, though, you’re wanting a bigger challenge. Photographs of moving targets, for example!

But maybe you’re not ready for people just yet. Your skills might not feel quite good enough and, ultimately, people tell you when they don’t like something or argue back when they don’t want to do what you ask them. You know what works really well though? Animals! So, it’s time to reach for your pets and turn them into your models! Here’s how to photograph your pets effectively.

Malamute sits on grass looking at camera

Think about the light

Think for a moment about the nature of your pets. They move, right? And usually pretty fast – unless you have a cat like mine who spends half his life fast asleep on my spot on the sofa. Which means you’re likely to need a faster shutter speed to avoid too much blurriness. So light is everything here – and you need as much of it as possible. Shoot during the day or find a way to create lots of light after dark, the choice is yours. But make sure you have access to plenty of light!

Be patient

Animals are not like people – you can’t order them about, tell them to sit where you want in whatever position you want. They will do their own thing. They also might not be too happy about your camera at first! So be patient. Sit on the floor, lay next to them on the bed, or simply wait for them to come to you. Don’t be surprised if they run off after a few clicks of your camera either. But wait and they will likely come back. The more they get used to your camera, the easier it will become. But a few treats can’t hurt either.

Cat sits on windowsill

Where to focus

Here’s the key – when focussing on your pet, aim for the eyes. A classic mistake is to focus on the end of the nose which does look sweet because pets have awesome noses! But remember pets faces are a little different from humans – there’s generally a greater distance between the end of the nose or snout and the plane of the face than there is with a person so by focusing on the nose, the eyes will be blurred if you’re shooting at wider apertures (which you likely will be to get as much light as possible to keep your images sharp!). So, yep, focus on the eyes for a better connection with your subject.

Cat sits next to woman in her underwear

Fill the frame and eliminate distractions

What I mean here is, either shoot against a fairly plain background or shoot at a wide aperture in order to blur the background significantly. Also, make your pet the whole subject of the image. Fill the frame or get in close and shoot a part of them. Keep things really simple and you’ll create a great image.

Show their personality

This is the bit that will elevate your photographs from being mere pictures to something with far more depth. Because anyone can take a technically good photograph with a little practise. It takes a whole lot more to inject life and soul into your work. Here’s where the fun begins. Utilise things like favourite toys and treats to get a reaction out of your furry friend – maybe a face they pull when they get excited, or something they do that’s typically them. Try to show what you see on a day-to-day basis, so that we are looking at an image of something more than “just a pet”. Have fun with it!

Dog sits cuddled close to owners

Try multiple angles

Finally, don’t just take one shot and walk away. As with any kind of photography, try a variety of compositions, angles and ideas. I find, with pets, getting down low to the ground is always a great angle. But you can do some really fun things shooting straight down at them too. Play, experiment and keep on trying. Practise makes perfect, after all.