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12 pet photography tips: How to take great pictures of your cat or dog

(Image credit: Future)

People can't get enough of cute pet pictures on Instagram and Facebook. But what's the secret to taking a viral photo versus a forgettable one? Here are 12 pet photography tips to make your dog and cat photos truly awww-inspiring.

pet photography tips

Credit: Lacey Johnson

1. Get outside

Animals and the outdoors are a natural fit. Not only will the light be better, but pets also tend to perk up when they're outside. Try photographing your dog in the backyard, on a walk around the neighborhood or playing in a dog park. For the best results, shoot on an overcast day or when the sun is low in the sky to avoid harsh shadows. If you have an indoor cat, try venturing into the yard on a leash, or see tip No. 4.

pet photography tips

Credit: Colorful Life Studios

2. Use a low f-stop

When shooting portraits of pets, it's good to use a low f-stop. This will help blur the background and make your subject pop. An out-out-focus background is also useful for disguising any household clutter.  If you don't have a DSLR, you can get a similar effect using Portrait mode on the iPhone 12, which uses two lenses to create a blurred background. Other smartphone users can try downloading an app that lets you manually adjust your f-stop.

pet photography tips

Credit: Lacey Johnson

3. Use natural light

When photographing pets inside, try shooting near a large window. The diffused natural light will minimize harsh shadows and create a more flattering image (as long as the sun isn't shining directly in). Encourage your dog or cat to spend time in well-lit areas by placing its bed near a window.  

pet photography tips

Credit: Lacey Johnson

4. Take action shots

Images of dogs and cats lounging around the house are a dime a dozen, and they get old fast. Capture your pet's wild side by shooting them running, jumping, swimming, chasing after a toy or catching a treat in midair. Just remember to use a shutter speed of at least 1/500 to avoid motion blur. 

pet photography tips

Credit: Lacey Johnson

5. Go somewhere scenic

For a truly epic photo of your dog, take the pooch on an outing to someplace scenic. A mountain hike, boat ride or beach trip are perfect opportunities to capture your pup surrounded by the beauty of nature. For inspiration, check out amateur photographer Kelly Lund, who has amassed a cult Instagram following by shooting his dog in scenic locales.  

pet photography tips

Credit: Lacey Johnson

6. Get up close and personal

Experiment with ultra-tight portraits of your pet. Detail shots of wet noses and vibrant cat eyes are fun alternatives to the typical pet photo. If you have a DSLR, consider purchasing a macro lens that will let you focus at close range. Some of the best smartphones and point-and-shoot cameras also have built-in macro settings.

pet photography tips

Credit: Poon Watchara-Amphaiwan

7. Tire them out

Pets are more likely to hold still and tolerate a photo shoot when they're worn out (or more likely sleepy, if you're dealing with a cat). Before shooting posed portraits of your dog, be sure to take it on a long walk or run. If you have an especially hyper pup, look into canine-calming treats.

pet photography tips

Credit: Lacey Johnson

8. Use food and toys to your advantage

If you're photographing a pet that refuses to look at the camera, try using treats and toys to grab its attention. Dangling a feather toy next to the camera works well for cats, while a piece of meat should do the trick for a dog. We recommend recruiting a friend to help out, so you can stay focused on getting the shot.

pet photography tips

Credit: Lacey Johnson

9. Get on their level

It may require some rolling around on the floor, but it's best to position yourself about eye-level with your pet. This will give you the clearest shot of your cat or dog's face, making for a more intimate portrait.

pet photography tips

Credit: Colorful Life Studios

10. Be chill

When dogs and cats do something cute around the house, the simple act of reaching for your camera will often make them break the pose. As a general rule, try to move slowly when photographing pets and avoid making loud noises. Animals can sense a person's energy and are more likely to be mellow if you are.

Pet photography tips

Credit: Colorful Life Studios

11. Make them smile

When a dog breathes through its mouth, it usually resembles a big smile. Try turning up the heat or playing a quick game of fetch to make your dog start panting for its portrait. Getting a cat to smile is more challenging, but scratching their favorite spot may elicit a grin if you're lucky.

pet photography tips

Credit: Colorful Life Studios

12. Use props

Everything from a Christmas kitten wearing a Santa hat to a dog celebrating its birthday could be a cute concept for a do-it-yourself photo session. It may be cheesy, but staged photos of pets are undeniably cute, especially when holiday sweaters are involved. 

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