Do you want to get artistic shots of the animals in your life? Do you wonder how fellow photographers manage to get captivating shots of their favorite critters? Pet photography can be daunting, but with a few handy tricks and a little bit of thoughtfulness, you can master it too and capture the perfect pet photo!
We’ve got a few pointers to get you started making pet photography of your own. Plus, we’ve broken down a few fantastic photographs we’ve found. Read on to see what strategies work, whether you’re working with a parrot or a Pekingese.
Pet Photography 101
First, we’ll start with the basics. Here are a few tips to take into consideration for your first shoot:
- DO get down to your pet’s eye level, if possible.
- DON’T use direct flash, as this can startle animals. DO utilize natural lighting whenever possible.
- DO have some treats or toys on hand to grab your pet’s attention
- DON’T use slow shutter speeds – you’ll struggle with motion blurs
- DO use continuous shooting modes to capture the best possible moments
- DON’T get too dead set on a concept. Be willing to change plans to accommodate, as your animal has a mind of its own and may not cooperate.
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Keep in mind that no two creatures are exactly the same.
Believe it or not, compositional and stylistic elements can be used to your advantage to best capture your pet in its element. Paired with a bribe and a little common sense, you can grab something truly spectacular.
Breaking Down Great Pet Photos
Often, the best way to learn how to do something is to observe others. Pet photography is no different in this respect. It takes a certain level of animal savvy, technical know-how, and common sense to pull off successfully. And those skill sets don’t necessarily develop spontaneously overnight.
So, to help you better understand the topic, we’ve sourced a few stunning pet photos from Unsplash. Examining each of the individual components from our selections, we pinpointed the features that make each image work.
Sample 1: Black Cat in its Element
No matter how you slice it, cats can be difficult to photograph. At times, they’re aloof and unpredictable. To say the least, they get through life playing by their own rules.
That said, it’s far from impossible to get stunning photos of your favorite feline.
This photographer’s willingness to get down and dirty absolutely pays off. With the camera at the cat’s level, we’re provided a direct view into its attentive, expressive eyes. Thanks to a quick trigger finger, they capture an authentic, inquisitive pose that speaks volumes about the subject.
Though the background of this shot is simple, it really ties everything together and provides more information on the cat. From an aesthetic standpoint, the grey concrete and rusted stains contrast with the cat’s black fur. But, more importantly, the environment begins to tell a story. With just a glance, you know that this isn’t a kitty that naps on a windowsill all day long – it prowls around forgotten places, always in search of prey.
Sample 2: Black and White Dog Silhouette
Dogs are my favorite animal to photograph, but not because of my own personal affinity for them. Out of every animal I’ve worked with, they’re by far the most capable of sitting still for a camera. Take advantage of their patience – their tolerance will allow you the opportunity to get creative.
This portrait isn’t too complicated, but sometimes simple minimalism is effective. In this case, the photographer took note of the dog’s prominent black spots and amplified them. By removing color from the equation, the picture transforms from a simple shot of a dog to a captivating study in positive/negative space.
One thing to love about this photograph? It’s proof that you don’t necessarily NEED direct eye contact from an animal to get a great picture. The truth is, some animals get uncomfortable when you stare them down or get too close. Here, the dog’s boundaries are being respected, but the end results are still visually striking.
Sample 3: Two Guinea Pigs in Red
Unfortunately, not all animals are going to offer the same degree of personality or expression that a cat or dog might. Sometimes, getting an interesting picture of your pet may involve a little bit of creativity to prop them up.
Here, a bright red background immediately grabs the viewer’s attention. This helps the guinea pigs stand out (despite the fact that they’re not doing much of anything). Some leafy greens contrast against the backdrop, adding an extra dimension to the photograph. What’s more, they double as a distraction for the guineas – especially valuable with an intimidating camera nearby.
Rather than sticking to a single animal, this photographer brings in a buddy. Aside from doubling the cute factor, this creates a sort of book end effect that’s a bit more engaging.
Sure, getting this shot likely took a little bit of work. But looking at how fun the end result turned out, it’s proof that a little bit of effort will take you a long way.
Sample 4: Playing with a Lizard
A lizard or reptile is a perfect example of a pet that may not emote all that much. But, if the staged setups and props shown in the previous example aren’t really your thing, don’t fret. Here, you can see how effective simply interacting with a pet can be.
Especially with non-traditional pets, inserting yourself helps establish a relationship. The fact that this lizard is perched in its owner’s hand implies that it is, in fact, a pet, rather than a creature quickly snatched from someone’s garden. This automatically makes us a little more invested in the scene.
On a compositional level, the hands in this shot also block out potentially distracting details and help the pet stand out naturally. Paired with a narrow depth-of-field, we’re forced to really hone in on the textures and details of the lizards. Finally, on a practical note, having the lizard in hand keeps the animal from squirming around to some degree. This, in turn, allows for slower shutter speeds and some flexibility with settings.
Sample 5: One Comfortable Kitten
One of the keys to getting a great image of your pet is to make sure that they’re comfortable. When an animal is at ease, they’re infinitely more likely to cooperate and allow you to take your time shooting. When they aren’t, they’ll try to get out and away from the situation ASAP.
Clearly, this sleepy specimen is comfortable with its surroundings as it lays belly up. Because of this, the photographer was offered a bit of flexibility in crafting a better composition.
For instance, the fabrics seen here likely weren’t initially positioned in a way that they perfectly frame this feline’s face. However, because it is already in a cozy position, the person behind the camera was able to build around its subject. As a result, the soft textures and muted colors work to emphasize the cat’s best features.
Sample 6: A Very Good Boy
A dog’s willingness to please makes it a relatively easy subject to work with. If you don’t have a ton of experience working with animals, they’re more forgiving. Because you can work slower without the fear of losing their attention, you can create more complex, thoughtful images.
Part of the reason dogs make for great models is because they can be easily bribed with treats and toys. Depending on how well behaved your dog is, you may even be able to branch out with creative props.
Another quality to embrace? Dogs are generally game to go on adventures outside the confines of your home. This allows you to experiment with dynamic environments and surroundings when capturing your perfect pet photo.
Here, this owner-turned-photographer paired their golden retriever’s beautiful fur with changing fall leaves. They then convinced this well-behaved pup to balance a perfectly pink flower in its mouth. That’s a feat you’ll have a hard time replicating with a cat, hamster, or turtle.
Sample 7: Two Close Friends
Anytime animals peacefully interact with one another, you’ve got great material to work with. If you’re lucky enough to witness an interesting interspecies relationship, even better.
Stereotypically, dogs and cats do not make great bedfellows. When we see something that contradicts our expectations, we’re drawn in. The friendly body language shared by this unlikely pair instantly shows a clear bond and melts our hearts. Tucked underneath his larger buddy’s watchful eye, this cat has no qualms about dozing off. This adds an air of authenticity to the scene, especially when paired with natural light and a convincing environment.
Obviously, you can’t force these kinds of moments. Certain animals are easier to work with than others– how compatible your pets happen to be is partially a matter of luck. But, with observation and a little bit of practice, you’ll learn to recognize the opportune moments that make for memorable photos.
Sample 8: Bird in a Cage
In itself, capturing an animal’s personality on camera isn’t easy. On top of that, and some pets aren’t always eager to cooperate. Perhaps the most challenging pet photo of all is when there needs to be a barrier between you and your subject, as with this caged bird.
Of course, the bird doesn’t need to be caged. However, working without one can be tricky, as they’re liable to fly away. But even the least social specimens can look great with a little bit of creativity. Here, the photographer employs a few different stylistic techniques to help this little budgie stand out.
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First, positioning the camera below the bird accomplishes a few things. Firstly, it masks the undesirable and distracting details one might find at the bottom of a birdcage. Instead, we’re given a bright monochrome environment. This helps the blues of the bird really shine.
Aside from that, the camera aiming up creates an interesting and dynamic angle. It creates the impression that this bird is “above” us, even when trapped in a cage. The photographer then takes care to fill his entire composition with vertical bars. Rather than viewing the cage as a disadvantage, he treats the structure as an engaging visual element.
Start Snapping Pet Photography of Your Own!
Even if your cat or dog is your best friend in the world, taking pictures of them can be a challenge. But, when you take into consideration the behaviors and mannerisms that make your pet yours, the process becomes a little bit easier.
Without a doubt, you’ll have to overcome obstacles. But finding the best way to capture your pet boils down to trial and error. Maybe getting the right shot is a matter of a high value treat on hand. Perhaps you just have to catch them at the right moment and make sure that they’re comfortable.
Whatever the case may be, mastering pet photography is far from impossible. Let us know how our tips with your favorite four-legged friend!
Meghan is an artist and writer based out of Boston, MA. With an interest in everything from instant film to experimental videography, her work has been featured internationally in a variety of photographic exhibitions and publications. As a regular contributor, she uses her broad background in fine art and varied professional experiences to inform her articles.