ACC Pet Photography Tips

Here's some tips for photographing pets, in particular dogs. If you've got more we can add, please contact the webmaster.

Pet photography

  • Talk to the owner: Find out as much as you can about what they expect and what the pet is like, including their likely reaction to you (from fear to aggression). Also take time to set expectations for the owner of what to expect.
  • Plan the shoot: Where will it be? At home in garden gives nice neutral grass background. On walk gives interesting alternatives. In studio may need other preparations. When is best? Early on they may be active, later more sleepy. Before food they will be active, but distracted. After food they may want to sleep (or poop!).
  • Go prepared: take toys and treats (or arrange for these with the owner). Take wellies and waterproofs if wetness is likely (eg. dog shaking after going in water).
  • Lens: A basic prime (50mm) or portrait lens (80-100mm) will keep the shape of the pet. A longer lens will let you get close-ups without affecting them. Wide-angle can create immediacy.
  • Auto mode: If in doubt, use auto. It can be easier when your attention is on the animal.
  • Aperture priority: Set a lower aperture for blurred background (f5.6 is often good and may well be the sharpest setting for your lens).
  • Manual: Set aperture and speed (eg. 1/500s for movement) and let the camera figure ISO (if your camera is ok at higher ISO settings).
  • Eyes before tail: As always, eye sharpness is critical. The tail end may be a bit out. Blurred background is good.
  • Make friends: Don't just dive into photographing. Spend time saying hello. Let them sniff you first. Then gently tough the side of the head or underneath. Only later move towards the head and back (some animals see a high hand as a possible threat).
  • Pet before owner: Owners don't like their pets being ignored. Pets don't like it either. Say hello to the pet early and show you like it. The owner will like you more. The pet will pick up on this and like you more too.
  • Think like the pet: Try to see yourself as they see you. Friend or foe? Fun or boring? Food source or not?
  • Get them used to the camera: When you're friends, hold the camera near them. When they're used to the camera, click the shutter and give them treats at the same time. This will help make them like being photographed!
  • Limited attention: Pets often get bored easily and don't do as they are told. Don't spend too long on the hellos. Use the 'interest timezone' for active shooting.
  • Use interest object: A ball, toy, owner or treat can be used to direct the pet's attention. One trick is to hold the object above the camera (but not the owner, of course).
  • Trial shots: Take some photos and see how the pet reacts. After a while, they may ignore the camera and react naturally.
  • Classic shots: Classic pet shots include sitting, lying down, playing, running, splashing/messing, holding toy, working, and interacting with owner. In these the pet may be looking at you, looking past you, looking at an object, or just looking where they are going.
  • Start static: Start with the pet sitting, lying down. These are easier than moving shots.
  • Get down: Get down to their level for eye-level shots. Be careful with aggressive animals who may think they can now dominate you.
  • Look for unusual angles: From very high (eg. upstairs window) to very low, right on the ground looking up at the pet.
  • Try a reversal: From behind pet, looking up at owner.
  • Continous mode: When the pet is moving, set the camera for continous focusing and shooting. Make sure the pet is used to the sound of this first. Try prefocusing on a spot then continuous shooting as the pet runs through it.
  • Panning shots: Can be good. 1/100s. Get them running past you and either prefocus or use follow-focus.
  • Be careful with flash: Flash can spook an animal, making them run away or get aggressive. Avoid it if you can. If you must use it, get them used to it first (flash, treat, flash, treat). Use off-camera flash to avoid red-eye.
  • Close with explanation: Tell the owner what happens next, like editing, review, printing, etc.
  • Go back: Sometimes it's a bust, maybe because of weather, but often because the pet is just not cooperating. So be prepared to go back another time.

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