Pet Project: Photographing Our Furry Friends

As supporting characters in our life’s story, pets deserve their moment in the spotlight. But while the pros make it look easy, anyone who’s ever tried to photograph an unpredictable creature like a cat or a dog knows it’s anything but. First, pets tend to be the most adorably photogenic when you least expect it, so you must have a camera at the ready at all times. And because they’re easily distracted, it’s essential to snap fast or you’ll have nothing to show for your efforts but a blur of fur.

That said, there are things you can do to perfect that shot of your four-legged friend. Use these eight expert strategies to take those pet portraits up a notch.

Get their attention. Communicate through words, sounds, or signals that the pet tends to respond to. To make a pup look at you, for example, you might make a high-pitched squeaking noise or dangle a toy or treat in front of him. If it’s a quiet moment you’re documenting (and eye contact isn’t required), be as calm as possible and your pet is more likely to follow your lead.

Light ‘em right. Most pet photographers do best with warm, natural sunlight. To avoid washed-out pictures, shoot in the morning or late in the afternoon or on slightly overcast days. For indoor shots where you may need a flash, use an off-camera one and swivel it upward so the light bounces off the ceiling

Don’t be afraid to shoot on slightly overcast days. The clouds act as a natural light filter.

Shoot at eye level. Capturing Fido or Fluffy just as they see you can make for some expressive and intimate shots. For shallow depth-of-field portraits, set your camera to aperture priority and open up the lens as wide as possible.

Shooting at eye level doesn’t always mean you have to shoot straight on. Try profile shots for an interesting vantage point.

Maintain context. Photograph pets in a way that feels authentic or familiar. (And yes, that means no silly costumes or props.) Your cat may be most comfortable lying in her usual patch of afternoon sun, while a frisky pooch may consider a nearby dog park to be an extension of home. No matter where you do your shooting, remember to de-clutter the surrounding area so the pet takes center stage.

Showcase personality. Ask yourself what’s unique about your pet — be it his mischievous side or soulful nature — and try to capture that on camera.

Include people where appropriate. You might do this for the purpose of scale (placing a small child next to a big mastiff, for example) or simply to illustrate a deep emotional connection between man or woman and beast.

Catch the animal in the act. Trying to snap your frisky or wriggly pal in motion? Freeze the action by using a fast shutter speed — even up to 1/3200 if necessary.

Shoot with a fast shutter speed to catch them in the act.

We’re suckers for unique pet portraits. Post your favorite on our Facebook page with the hashtag #petproject.

Originally published at on August 17, 2015.