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Tips & Tricks

7 Photography Tips to Take Perfect Pet Portraits

2nd February 2022

As anyone with a pet will tell you, animals really are our best friends. However, as pet owners who have tried to take portraits of their furry friends will know, they’re not always the easiest to photograph! Snapping pics of your pets can leave you with a camera roll full of blurry images and a lot of frustration, which is why we thought we’d lend a hand. We’ve chatted to experts, including pet photographers and animal behaviour specialists, to help you capture the perfect professional-level pet portraits.

a sharply focused picture of a grey cat with large, striking golden eyes

Keep the eyes sharp

Think of the best portraits you’ve ever seen – the eyes are all telling a story. Focusing on the eyes can help bring emotion and expression to your pictures, as professional photographer Kevin Mercier tells us;

“As a photographer, it's crucial to remember that sharp eyes are always important in portrait photography, and photographing pets or animals are no different. As the saying goes "Eyes are the windows to the soul", and an animal's eyes can be very expressive. So, make sure you focus on your pet's eyes and keep them sharp. There are certain cameras that offer eye autofocus for photographing animals. I activate this feature when I'm photographing animals which allows my camera to identify the animal's eyes – and nails focus consistently. If your camera offers this feature, then I highly recommend you try it out.”

Make sure your lighting is spot on

As with any photography tips, lighting is an important consideration when capturing pictures of pets. Make sure you have a good light source – natural light is always best – and position your pets so they’re facing towards the light rather than away from it. Tori Mistick, from Wear Wag Repeat, advises;

“When it comes to lighting, take photos during the day with your pet facing the light source. Indoors, position your pet so they’re facing a window and you’re crouched down in front. For outdoor photos, shoot when the sun is low in the sky, such as in the morning or evening. Bright, diffused light will help us see the details on your pet and brighten up their eyes.”

a close up portrait of a cute pug dog on a solid pink background

Treats are key

Most pets will do anything for a treat or two! For a pet photography session, we’d advise coming armed with their favourite treats and making sure they’ve not just had a big meal. Daniel Caughill, co-founder of The Dog Tale, explains;

“If the pet just ate, then whatever treats you bring to try to get them to cooperate might not be as attractive. The most obedient pets are pets who want the treat you’re holding, and photographing them when they’re hungry is a simple way to make sure they’re interested.”

Treats can also work well for less conventional pets, such as farm animals. Neil Armitage, from Cluckin, recommends hiding treats below a layer of soil when photographing poultry, to ensure they’re distracted while you capture your shots;

“The best results I get are outdoors when the light is behind me and I catch my chickens indulging in their natural behaviours. You will need endless patience and a pocket full of treats. With poultry in particular, it can help to cover the treats with a layer of soil so they are otherwise occupied scratching about while you are busy with the camera.”

Check your camera settings

You may be great at human portraits, but capturing pet portraits is very different – mainly because pets don’t understand the need to stay still while they’re being photographed. To get the clearest shots, you’ll need to adapt your camera settings to allow for movement. Mario Pérez, from Blog del Fotografo, recommends;

“In terms of exposure configuration, I recommend shooting in Aperture priority mode (A or Av if you´re using a manual mode camera) and selecting the widest possible aperture (lowest f/ value you can get). This will result in a very shallow depth of field, with the pet extremely in focus, and the background beautifully blurred out.

If you´re shooting a rather active animal, you may want to switch to Shutter priority mode (S or Tv in your camera dial), and select a high shutter speed, to make sure you get sharp pictures.”

a chocolate brown labrador sitting on the floor with his head cocked to one side

Prepare to get dirty

The best portraits are straight on, so if you’re shooting photos of a smaller pet like a dog or cat, you’ll need to go low-angle. This means getting down on their level – and not being scared of a little dirt! Sarah-Jane White, Animal Behaviourist and Professional Photographer at Ruffle Snuffle®, has the following advice for taking portraits of dogs;

“Don't be surprised if your phone or camera gets booped, and remember to keep a handkerchief in your pocket so you can wipe the lens clean. For the best results, take a low-angle shot that captures your dog in its natural habitat. Depending on what breed of dog you have, you may need to crouch or lie on the ground to get an eye-to-eye shot. I have spent a lot of time laying in the snow and mud to get shots – but it's worth it. Get down on your belly and let the dog crawl over you, then take a picture from below to create an adorable point of view shot.”

Use burst mode

No matter how many photography tips you follow, pictures of animals are rarely going to be perfect first time. Pets are unpredictable, so you need to be able to capture split seconds in time to find that one great shot or expression. Marjorie Dawson, of DashKitten, always recommends burst mode or continuous shooting for pets. She tells us;

“Switch to continuous shooting mode then let fly with the shutter button and fill your memory card with lively and engaging images. Set your camera to capture high-quality images but avoid the RAW setting if you can, as your camera might not process the images fast enough to keep up with a speeding puppy or kitten.”

a photo book lying open on a sofa, showing several photos of a girl and her dog cuddling

It’s all about the personality

Finally, remember the most essential part of pet photography is capturing their unique personality. It can be tempting to bring in props or costumes, but the best way to capture great pictures is to keep the animal comfortable, natural, and at ease. If they’re uncomfortable, the photo will reflect that. Tori Mistick tells us;

“Probably the most important element to better photos is capturing your pet’s unique personality! The most technically perfect photo won’t be better than one showing your pet being themselves. To achieve this, take your time during photo sessions. Bring along their favourite toys and treats and stage the photos in an area where your pet is comfortable. Be patient and allow your pet to work their magic.”

Showcase Your Masterpiece

Taking photographs of pets isn’t always the most straightforward task, but with these tips, a little patience (and a lot of treats!), you’ll soon be capturing pet photos to rival the professionals. Once you’ve finished your pet photoshoot, why not create a CEWE PHOTOBOOK or wall art to showcase your masterpiece?

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