People & Pets

Photographing pets

Written by Gail Bjork

How to photograph your pet with a digital camera and capture its unique personality and facial expressions.

Girl and puppyPhotographing pets is fun and very rewarding. But getting a good shot can also be extremely challenging.

Like people, pets have their own unique personality, facial expressions and body language. One of the goals when photographing them should be to capture their actions and emotions, whether alone or with others.

Focus, lighting, exposure and backgrounds play important roles in obtaining a successful photo. And so does lots of patience on the part of the photographer.

Photograph pets in familiar surroundings

Nothing will make your pet more jittery than trying to photograph it in unfamiliar surroundings. Take pictures in a familiar spot so your pet is more at ease. Since pets are active, photograph them in restricted but comfortable areas so they don’t stray.tate-groomed

Use a Pet Handler

Professional photographers often use a “pet handler,” a second person who keeps a pet engaged while the photographer concentrates on taking the shots. For most of us, the handler will be another family member or a friend. They hold a treat or a small toy to keep the pets attention, and try to keep it looking in the desired direction. If no one is available to help, get down on the level of the pet and place one of it’s toys on your head.

Natural lighting

Proper lighting is necessary so make sure there is plenty of it. It’s preferable to use natural light rather than a flash, which can “spook” some animals.

Bright light is best because you can more easily capture the texture of an animals fur, feathers, etc. If you can’t go outside, draw back window coverings or open a door to let outside light into the room. You may have to augment natural light with fill-in flash, particularly when the light is coming from behind the animal.

Using a flash

Pet parrotIf your pet is not easily startled by a flash, use one when lighting is insufficient…even outside. To help prevent “white eye,” take the picture when the pet is not looking directly into the flash.

Exposure and focus

Dark and light colored animals can be difficult to photograph, so take test photos to check your exposure. Use exposure compensation and bracket when needed.

Sasha, copyright Darlene Goff

Sasha by Darlene Goff

Whether photographing birds or bunnies, it’s almost always best to lock focus on the eyes. That’s where people look first.

Stay at eye level

Avoid taking photos from above the pet. For more interesting looking pictures, shoot from eye-level even if it means getting down on the floor.

For peppy looking photos, take shots when your pets ears are up and it’s nose is moist.

Watch the background

If your pet is dark colored, choose an area to shoot that has a light colored background. For light colored pets, choose a dark background. Also avoid cluttered, busy looking backgrounds so the eye is not distracted from the pet when looking at the photo.

Keep the composition tightwhite-dog

While full and mid-length shots are fine, filling the frame with your pet can result in stunning photos. You don’t have to photograph the entire body to get a great shot. If you get a good shot, but there is a lot of extraneous background, consider cropping the photo.

Zoom in

You can capture wonderful candid shots when your pet is unaware that it is being photographed. Stand back and zoom in but just make sure the lighting is sufficient to prevent too low shutter-speeds. Another benefit of zooming in is that depth-of-field will be reduced so the pet will be in sharp focus and the background blurred.

For action shots, use burst mode

pet dogUnless your pet is sleeping, it will most likely be moving.

Use continuous mode if it is engaged in an activity such as running or playing. You can then select the best photos out of the series. DSRLS are best at capturing action but you can try “Kids and Pets” or “Sports Mode” if you only have a point-and-shoot camera.

Take plenty of shots

You increase the odds of getting some “keepers” when you take several shots.

About the author

Gail Bjork

Gail Bjork, who is passionate about digital photography, is the owner and editor of Digicamhelp.Gail is the author of three illustrated ebooks about digital photography. A number of her photos and digital photography related articles appear at other websites.In 2006, a series of her photos, People in the Louvre, were exhibited at the Underground Photo Gallery
in Iisalmi Finland. Eight of her photos taken in the Florida scrub are on permanent exhibition at Parrish Medical Center in Titusville, Florida.Gail served twelve years as an elected member of The School Board of Palm Beach County, Florida, one of the largest school districts in the U.S. She has also been the editor of a small town newspaper and a free-lance writer. Gail and her husband owned and ran several small businesses.


  • Great advice,

    Most important in my thinking…get at pets eye level, let pet give you the once over and get comfortable with you.   Move slow motion so your actions are not perceived as threating towards your subject.   Always shoot in burst mode to catch the unexpected pose.  Relax and have a great seassion!