Pets, Places, & Things, Points on Pets

Worth a Thousand Words: Tips for Photographing Your Pet!

The popularity of dog and cat photos on the internet is a testament to how much we humans love our pets, and how priceless –and timeless—a great photo can be.  Whether they’re funny or sweet, spontaneous or artistic, photos of animals speak to something deep within us.  So why not try photographing your own beloved pet?  There are so many wonderful, easy-to-use cameras out there right now, and so many computer programs to help you edit, share, print, and create with the photos you take.  Phone apps like Instagram have made it easy to turn a smartphone snapshot into a work of art, and then print it out in various forms, from magnets to postcards to canvases.

But there’s more to taking a great pet photo than clicking a button.  If you want to get the best possible shot of your dog or cat, here are some tips to guide you along. (A lot of these tips apply to photographing humans, too!)

Natural light is best.  Using a flash will not only frighten your pet, but it creates harsh shadows that detract from the beauty of your subject.  Cloudy days are ideal because the light is soft; you can also find great light early or late in the day, when the sun isn’t high in the sky creating strong shadows.  If you have no choice but to use a flash, consider covering it with wax paper; you can also use a light separate from your camera, but point it upward – not directly at your pet.

Make sure to keep the environment calm and relaxed.  Don’t hype your dog up or say “Smile!!!” unless you want an action shot, ’cause if you get excited, your dog will too!  Choose a time when your pet is tired or resting.

Allow your pet to sniff the camera and get used to it first.  Then, photograph everything but your pet so he can get used to the sound and movement – this will help him basically be able to ignore the camera when you’re photographing him, giving you the most natural shot.

Focus the camera on the eyes; this will keep them looking sharp and clear in the photo.  Your camera may want to focus on whatever is closest to the lens, so read the instructions in the manual on how to manually change the focus—it makes a huge difference.

Think outside the box.  For more interesting pictures, try photographing your pet from different angles, instead of the usual full-body, straight-on angle.  Also, consider photographing just parts of your pet, close up: paws, tail, fur, nose – whatever you love most about your pet.

Consider his personality: to capture him in his essence, take photographs of him doing things he loves.  Maybe an action shot of your dog catching the Frisbee.  Perhaps a photo of your fastidious cat washing her face.  Or a photo of your bird preening, or your shy puppy on his back with his paws up in the air.

Get on her level, or shoot from beneath her, rather than the usual top-down viewpoint.  Or consider taking a photo of her favorite things – her toys, her bed – from her point of view.

Be aware of the background.  Simple backgrounds often make the best shots:  green grass, brown hardwood floors, white sand, blue water.  Make sure there’s contrast between the color of your pet’s fur and the background.

When your pet is in a calm state, have someone get his attention quickly—say, by squeaking a toy or offering a treat—but make sure you are poised and ready to shoot immediately, in those first 1 or 2 seconds where your pet has perked up and is alert.

If you like a photo but don’t love it, consider changing it to sepia tone or black and white, or cropping it.  Zooming in on one part of it may render a great image, and changing the color settings or contrast can rescue a great photo.

If your pet is very active, choose the “sport” or motion setting on your camera, or adjust to a fast shutter speed so that there’s little to no lag time between when you press the shutter and when the image is captured.  That way you won’t miss great action shots.

If you have a point-and-shoot camera, in addition to turning off the flash, consider putting it in “burst” mode so that you take a bunch of photos back to back when you press the shutter.  This may help you capture a great image even of a stationary pet.

Be prepared to take lots of photos—you can worry about deleting the rejects later.  But if you keep your camera around and photograph all the time, you’re bound to get a great shot sooner or later.  This will also make your pet more comfortable around the camera, even those who initially might be camera-shy.

Be patient!  It may take hundreds of photos and hundreds of different attempts to capture that one image that you’ll treasure forever.

Good luck and get snapping!  If you take a photograph you love, send it to us!  We’d love to see it!  Email it to

Written by: Ashley Denham Busse

Ashley Denham Busse has worked part-time for since 2006. is a professional pet-sitting company located in Old Town Alexandria, celebrating more than 13 years of providing daily walks and customized in-home pet care. Visit or email 

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