pet photography tips

As a pet owner, your phone’s probably full of photos of your furry friends, but have you ever thought of taking your pet photography to the next level? 

Unfortunately, pets are notoriously unpredictable photoshoot models. One wrong move or camera flash could result in your pet darting off, preventing you from capturing that perfect shot. Or you may be struggling to choose the right lighting or theme that’ll take your pet photography from amateur to professional. High-quality photos are a fantastic way to remember your pets for many years to come, and they can also be printed on personalised gifts to be treasured forever.

If you’re hoping to elevate your pet photography, here are 12 simple pet photography tips to improve your skills and create engaging photos of your pets. Learn how to choose the right camera and settings, create an intriguing concept, stage your photograph and get your pets to do what you want (most of the time).

1. Pick the right camera lens

pet photography camera lenspet photography camera lens

The first step in capturing amazing pet photos is choosing the best camera lens for the types of pictures you want to create. Here’s a quick description of different types of lenses you could use for perfect pet photography:

Wide-angle lens

If you want to create an impressive amount of space in your photo and offer a broader perspective, you should choose a wide-angle lens. These lenses are commonly used for landscape photos, making them a great choice for those who want to show their pets against a stunning natural backdrop, such as a forest or mountains. However, be aware that these lenses can cause distortions.

Telephoto lens

Struggling to get up close to your pets without distracting them? A telephoto lens may be perfect for you. Telephoto lenses make subjects appear closer than they are, which means you can stand further away from your pets to avoid distracting them. If you’re hoping to get a more candid, natural-looking photo, this is probably the best option.

Macro lens

For capturing tiny details or photographing small pets like hamsters, rats, snakes (or even bugs!), you should try a macro lens. This type of lens works with very short focusing distances, allowing you to take sharp, detailed images of smaller subjects.

Prime lens

A prime lens has a fixed focal length, which means you can’t zoom in or out. To change the framing of your photos, you’ll have to move closer or further away from your subject. The main benefits of this type of lens are superior optical quality and a shallower depth of field - this means that very little of the image is in focus, so your subject is in sharp detail while the background is blurred.

Zoom lens

Unlike a prime lens, a zoom lens can be adjusted to achieve different focal lengths. This will give you more choice and flexibility during the photoshoot, but since these lenses are larger, they could be too cumbersome if you’re taking photos on the go.

If you don't want to spend lots of money on a professional camera and lenses, disposable cameras are still extremely popular in 2023. These cameras are easy to carry around and can add a vintage feel to your photos.

2. Adjust your settings

taking pet photography on a phonetaking pet photography on a phone

Once you’ve chosen a camera lens, you’ll still need to adjust your settings to get the best pet photos.

For example, you’ll need to adjust the exposure to control the amount of light that reaches your camera’s sensor. Overexposure can create faded-looking images, whereas underexposure can leave your photos looking too dark. Exposure can be adjusted by changing the shutter speed (faster speeds let in less light), changing the width of the aperture (a wider aperture lets in more light) and changing the ISO setting, which affects your camera’s sensitivity to light. 

3. Fix the lighting

pets posing for a photo in front of lightingpets posing for a photo in front of lighting

Lighting can make or break your pet photos. As mentioned above, too much light can make your images look faded and too little can make them dark and hard to see.

With indoor pet photography, you can control how much light is in the room. To get bright, diffused light for your photos, you should set up softboxes to light up your subjects without creating harsh shadows. When photographing pets, strobe effects and camera flashes should be avoided as they can be distracting or even distressing.

Want to avoid all of this fuss? You could always do your photoshoot outdoors to take advantage of natural lighting. Of course, the weather won’t always cooperate (especially in the UK), but natural lighting can create the best effects when it’s bright outside. Take your photos in the early morning or early evening (golden hour) to benefit from bright, warm lighting without harsh shadows.

4. Remove clutter

Picture this: you’ve finally set up your lighting, adjusted your camera settings, directed your pet to where you want them to be and taken a seemingly perfect photo. But in the background there’s an overflowing bin, empty mugs on the coffee table and a chocolate bar wrapper on the floor.

Don’t let background clutter ruin your photos. Before getting started, it’s important to pay attention to your background and remove any rubbish or distracting items. Dynamic, interesting backgrounds can enhance certain photos, but if you’re in doubt, keep things simple and clean so that all of the focus is on your pet.

5. Focus on their eyes

photo of a cat staring into the cameraphoto of a cat staring into the camera

The most interesting and engaging pet photos focus on the eyes of a dog, cat or any other animal. The eyes are the most expressive part of the face, so make sure they’re directed towards the camera before pressing the shutter button.

To get your pet to look towards you, you need to capture their attention. This could be as simple as calling their name, but if they’re being stubborn, a toy or well-deserved treat should do the trick.

6. Get on their level

photo of a mouse taken at floor levelphoto of a mouse taken at floor level

To make it easier to capture their eyes and facial expressions, you need to get on your pet’s level. Help people see the world from your pet’s perspective by lowering your camera to their eye level.

This won’t be too difficult for larger pets, but for cats, smaller dogs or hamsters, you may need to move around and get into some uncomfortable positions. Stretching beforehand can be a huge help, or you could pack things like knee pads in your photography kit to help you stay low to the ground without hurting yourself. 

Another option is to bring your pets higher. For cat owners, a cat tree is a great photography tool when you want to shoot from your height. Smaller pets like hamsters and rats could be placed on furniture so you can avoid lying on the floor to get the perfect shot.

7. Relax

cat and a dog relaxing together at homecat and a dog relaxing together at home

Your pets are incredibly perceptive. If you’re nervous about how the photoshoot is going to go, they’ll feel this nervous energy and copy your behaviour. A nervous or stressed pet will be much harder to direct than a happy, calm one.

Therefore, you need to display the kind of behaviour that you want your pet to emulate. If you need your pet to relax and calm down, it’s important to stay relaxed yourself and avoid fidgeting too much or shouting commands.

8. Be patient

Trying to get your pet to do what you want them to do can sometimes be impossible. Cats are known to be fiercely independent and hard to direct, but even well-trained dogs can resist your attempts to direct them if you keep trying to control them too much.

The key to good pet photography is patience. Pets rarely act as you expect, but this is all part of the magic. Stay patient and alert - this will help you capture natural, funny moments that wouldn’t be possible if you interfered too much.

9. Move slowly

When trying to get the perfect shot, it’s important to avoid sudden movements that can startle your pet. Cats are particularly skittish and could run off if you move quickly at the wrong moment, but dogs could also move around or become startled if you surprise them.

To improve your pet photography skills, you need to get better at moving slowly and smoothly to capture candid moments of your pet. Ideally, you should blend into the background and let your pet act naturally as much as possible

10. Be quiet

If you do need to direct your pet, it’s best to keep the volume down. Just like flash photography and sudden movements, loud noises can startle your pet and ruin your photos.

Giving too many commands or directing/moving your pet too much can create a lot of confusion, causing your pet to become stressed or walk away. Instead, you should use non-verbal commands where possible and speak softly if you need to give a verbal command. Avoid repeating commands over and over again or raising your voice - you’ll discover that this has the opposite effect to what you intended.

11. Provide rewards

dog enjoying a treatdog enjoying a treat

Dealing with an especially stubborn pet? Instead of giving repetitive commands, you should offer rewards to keep your pet interested and incentivise good behaviour. Each time your pet responds well to your direction, be sure to give them a well-earned treat to ensure that this cooperation continues.

To grab your pet’s attention, you could also use their favourite toys or catnip for cats. This is a great way to keep their eyes focused on the camera if you’re struggling to get pictures of their face. 

12. Create a concept

sausage dog posing in a winter costumesausage dog posing in a winter costume

All of the above tips will help you create well-lit, focused and professional-looking photos of your pets. But if you want to create more engaging pet photos and take your pet photography to the next level, you should try creating concepts for your pet photoshoots.

Your photos will be much more likely to capture people’s attention if they’re themed around a particular time of year (such as summer or Christmas) or a concept. This could be the idea of human-animal connections (shown through you interacting with or hugging your pet), mischievous pets (shown by a puppy surrounded by ripped-up cushions), or greedy pets (shown by a dog or cat looking longingly at your dinner). These pet photography ideas can make your photos more relatable, touching or funny.

You can try multiple concepts during one photoshoot. If you’d like to try multiple concepts, create a shot list to keep everything running smoothly and prevent the photoshoot from lasting too long, as your pet will eventually become tired and uninterested. Once the photoshoot is done, you can always manipulate and enhance your photos with a tool like Photoshop if you’d like to make your concept clearer. Then, all that’s left to do is print your photos and put them in a photo frame, or print them onto personalised gifts like photo calendars or photo books.

Creating the best pet photography ideas

Before you get started, you’ll need to brainstorm some ideas for your shot list. People love posting pictures of their pets on social media, so this is a great place to start if you want to gather ideas for concepts, framing, lighting and backgrounds.

Another way to get inspiration is to book a pet photoshoot and watch what the professional does. Ask questions to discover how they get the perfect pet photos.

Interested in a photoshoot for your pet? Visit your local Max Spielmann store to get professional photos of your furry friend. Or, if you’ve taken your own photos, you can get them printed on high-quality gifts such as blankets, photo slates, fridge magnets and more. Order now for next working day delivery or FREE click & collect in just one hour for selected items!