All About Pet Photos


Rule #1 -- hire a makeup artist for your photo shoot. See more pet pictures.
Rainer Elstermann/Stone/Getty Images

­Like any beloved member of a family, pets often grace the walls of family homes. But taking a decent photo of your pet presents its own set of ch­allenges. Pets aren't always known for staying put when asked. Flashes and lights unsettle them. What you know about taking a picture of a person might not always apply with animals.

Luckily, there a few things you can do to make sure you get the best photo possible. One of the first things you'll want to do is round up the appropriate equipment. Obviously you'll need a camera. If you're aiming for an outdoor portrait, pick an appropriate location and then get your pet and camera safely there. Depending on where you're going, this may take some planning. Indoor shots have thei­r inconveniences as well. For indoor pet portraits you'll need a place for your pet to sit or lie, a backdrop and some lighting.

­Once you know where and when you want to take the frames, you'll need to enlist the cooperation of your pet. There are a lot of techniques for getting even the most rambunc­tious pet to hold still long enough for a memorable photo. For dogs, consider taking the dog out for a walk beforehand. You can burn off extra energy without tiring the dog to the point of panting. For any animal, leave it in another room or outside while you set up the equipment. This will keep the pet from growing restless while you get things ready.

In the end, taking a great photo of your pet can be as simple or involved as you like. With the right preparation and a few readily available tools, this project should be fun from planning to printing.

Pet Photo Equipment

When taking any kind of photo, the most important piece of equipment (and the most obvious) is the camera. Digital cameras offer the ability to see the results immediately and allow you to take dozens, even hundreds, of photos without increasing the cost of your pet photo shoot.

You'll also want to consider the lighting for your photo. Lighting can be as simple as going outside, or it can involve multiple pieces of lighting equipment. With pet photos, it's best to avoid using a flash because this may startle the pet and produce the reflective red-eye effect [source: Pets in Pastel]. This is why it's easiest to take photos outside. Many photographers prefer the soft even light of an overcast day. Light on an overcast day hits subjects evenly and casts minimal shadows.

You can take great pet photos indoors with the help of a lighting setup. A basic setup might include a lamp with the shade removed, or multiple household or desk lamps. If you want a slightly more professional lighting kit, but don't have the money for one, florescent shop lights and clamp lights are available for under $10 each at hardware stores. A basic professional portrait lighting setup would include a key light, a fill light and a back light. The key light, or brightest light, should be placed in front of and slightly to one side of the subject, pointed directly at them. The fill light should be less bright than the key light and set to the front of the subject on the other side. Finally, set a back light behind the subject pointed towards the subject off to one side, usually on the side the key light is on. This gives your subject depth and separates him or her from the background [source: MediaCollege.com]. Such lights should generally come from above, creating the same shadows the sun would, in order to look natural.

Lastly, if your photo is going to be inside, you'll probably want a backdrop and place for your pet to sit or lie. For smaller dogs and cats, a few pillows is a perfect spot for your pet to pose, but bigger animals might need a couch or some other natural looking place to be photographed. A background can be as simple as a sheet or large piece of paper. The room you photograph your pet in might be a perfectly suitable background, but solid colors that don't clutter up the photo are usually best. Try lighter backgrounds for darker animals and darker background for lighter animals [source: DIY Network].

Pet Photo Opportunities

Since your pet has no interest in photography, it may be hard to find a good time to take its picture. But there are plenty of methods you can use to get your pet to cooperate.

If you're going to shoot your animal inside, you'll need to set up the lighting ahead of time. Try leaving the pet in another room until the last possible minute. This way the animal won't grow restless while you set up lighting and will be uncooperative by the time you're ready to shoot.

You may also consider tiring your pet out a little. Exercise it a bit. Just don't completely exhaust your pet so that it's panting, or cranky and uncooperative [source: DIY Network]. Perhaps a short walk around the block, depending on the size of your dog, is just enough to rid it of any excess energy. Cats are slightly more difficult to deal with. Try to watch your cat and find a time when it's most cooperative -- perhaps soon after a meal or later in the evening. Also consider taking the picture in your pet's favorite part of the house. This will allow you to set up lighting then wait for your pet to go back to its usual spot where you can snap a great candid shot. And lastly, make sure you have plenty of treats to give away [source: Pets in Pastel].

A good pet photo can be a close-up portrait of the pet's face or a full-body shot. The framing of the photo is completely up to the photographer. No matter how much of your pet you want in the photo, make sure to take the picture from your pet's eye level [source: Pets in Pastel]. This helps convey its natural presence. You don't want the photo to make your pet look unnaturally small [source: DIY Network].

If you take the time to set it up correctly and make an effort to keep your pet calm and relaxed, you should be able to snap plenty of great photos. For more information, visit the links on the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

Sources

  • DIY Networks. "Pet Portraiture: Planning, set-up and Lighting." Scripps Networks, LLC. (Jan. 19, 2009) http://www.diynetwork.com/diy/hp_digital_photography/article/0,2033,DIY_13956_4201175,00.html
  • Theophilus, Sarah. "Pet Photography Tips." Pets in Pastel. (Jan. 19, 2009) http://www.petsinpastel.com/photo.htm
  • MediaCollege.com. "The Standard 3-Point Lighting Technique." Wavelength Media. (Jan. 19, 2009)http://www.mediacollege.com/lighting/three-point/
  • Cheek, Darlene. "How to Take Great Cat Pictures." Suite101.com. (Jan. 19, 2009)http://cats.suite101.com/article.cfm/how_to_take_great_cat_pictures