Professional Pet Photography Tips

Though most people have at least one beloved pet at home, pet photography is a niche that many photographers haven’t explored. Perhaps it’s the challenge of working with unpredictable animals or just not realizing that pet photography can be a lucrative genre that keeps photographers at bay. Gaining experience and skill with pets can expand your professional photography options.


Before you dive into pet photography, keep in mind that you should be comfortable around pets of all different temperaments. Talk with pet owners before approaching pets to make sure you don’t startle an animal or put yourself in a dangerous position. That said, most pets are quick to warm up to new faces if you give them space.



kali by Nicoal Price

Just as with children’s photography, pet photography requires some waiting time to allow your subject to get comfortable with being photographed. Spend some time petting a cat or dog and watching how they respond to you before you get your camera out.

Once you get started with photographing, watch the animal’s behavior patterns. Lure them into good light, and try to predict their next actions. Wait for just the right moments, and start shooting.

Shutter Speed


hopeful rhoda by Nicoal Price

For pet photography, you’ll generally use a fast shutter speed to freeze actions. Few pets sit still for long stretches of time, and a quick shutter speed of 1/125 of a second or faster will eliminate the inevitable blur that a slower exposure time would yield with quick-moving critters. Try a slightly slower shutter speed and panning with dogs to get photos of them running as they chase a ball. Use very fast shutter speeds to freeze a cat in midair as he jumps.


Animals are unlikely to strike a pose and look directly into the lens. Use caregivers, treats, sounds, and toys to draw the pet’s attention to your camera. Ask the pet’s caregiver what gets the pet’s attention or have him or her stand behind the camera and talk to their pet when you’re ready to take a photo. Sometimes a simple whistle or kissing sound is all that’s needed to get a cat or dog to look your way.

Be careful not to overuse your attention-getting tactics, though. Pets will quickly stop reacting to your antics if you’re too repetitive. Have lots of ideas on hand so you can keep trying something new when the animal starts ignoring you.



maizy by Nicoal Price

In the excitement of following a pet around as he or she plays and makes mischief, don’t forget to keep artistic composition in mind. Bring elements of the photo together with color. Add points of interest and context. Look for curves and leading lines. Follow the rule of thirds when it enhances your image. Slow down and plan out your photos whenever possible.

Eye Contact

Focus on the eyes just as you would with a portrait of a person. Using a shallow depth of field enhances the prominence of the pet’s eyes and gives the photo emotional appeal. Wait until a dog, cat, or other pet is relaxing, and then quietly talk to them when you’re ready to take the photo. They’ll usually look up at you and give you that sought-after eye contact.



linus by Nicoal Price

Good lighting is essential for pet photography. Photograph outdoors whenever possible, and follow the same guidelines that you would for other subjects by choosing a time of day when the sun is low in the sky. If you must photography indoors, make use of large windows for natural light that puts catchlights in the pet’s eyes and produces soft, beautiful shadows that add a sense of dimension to the photographs. Flash is not an option with most pets, as it can make them scared or anxious.



put a bird on it by Nicoal Price

Take some shots that include the pet’s caregiver. Look for ways of demonstrating the bond between your client and his or her pet. Wait for a moment when they’re cuddling, looking at one another, or playing together. These opportunities often occur between your shots, when the pet owner is comforting or directing his or her pet.



lindy sings by Nicoal Price

Creating artistic posed pet portraits is an important part of a photo session, but it’s also a great idea to capture your client’s pet in action. Pet owners love to see their dogs, cats, and other animals being themselves. Take a few shots of the pet while he or she is playing, howling, doing a trick, or just being silly.

Photographing pets requires patience and quick thinking. But don’t rule the genre out. Many clients will pay for high-quality photos of their pets, and you’ll get plenty of referrals and return customers if you’re skilled and experienced. Practice on your own pets or ask your friends if you can schedule a practice photo session with their pets.

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Profile photo of Nicoal Price About Nicoal Price

​Nicoal is a New England photographer with a penchant for learning. Her work ranges from nature-inspired portraiture to outdoor product photography. Visit for more info.

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