Golden Retriever poses in front of beautiful landscape

Pet Photography Tips: How to Get the Perfect Shot

From playful pups to distracted cats, trying to take a picture of your pet can be a frustrating experience. As a pet parent, you’ve probably tried and failed to capture an image that is worthy of social media, but you don’t have to be a professional to get a great shot. We asked Nate Wyeth, one of Nulo’s resident photographers, for tips and tricks on how he snaps such beautiful photos of his golden retriever, Ranger.

Train Your Pets Early

Start training your puppy, kitten, or newly adopted friend as soon as possible once they are in your care. Well-behaved and well-trained animals are much easier to capture on camera, and those who know tricks are often better at holding poses. Two of the easier commands to use in pet photography are ‘sit’ and ‘stay,’ and even cats can learn these tricks with enough repetition (and motivation).

If possible, make your pets comfortable in front of the camera from a young age. Get them accustomed to you pulling out a camera and give them time to check it out or give it a good sniff.

“Dogs can be frightened by objects they’re not familiar with – especially something like a camera stuck in their face that makes weird noises,” Nate says. “Taking the time to allow them to get comfortable in front of the lens and your phone pays off in the long run, especially when combined with treats.”

Prepare to Take Portraits Like a Pro

You really don’t need much more than your furry friend and a camera, but considering some of these standard photography tips can elevate the final product that much more.

Figure out what camera you want to use, whether that’s your smartphone, a point-and-shoot camera, or a DSLR. Once you’ve decided, check your settings.

Always make sure you’re shooting in a high resolution and focusing on your subject(s) before snapping the picture. If you’re using a phone, you might want to try portrait mode to blur out the background. A low f-stop can achieve this effect with a DSLR. Other settings to consider include burst mode or a higher shutter speed (at least 1/500) for action shots.

For the location, consider something familiar, like your own home or your dog’s favorite park. Make sure you think about what’s in the background and try to remove mess, clutter, or distractions. If you’re at home, try for a neutral background, or something you can edit out later.

Another thing to think about is lighting. Natural lighting is best, but you also want to avoid placing your subject with the light directly behind them. Depending on your pet, you also might want to avoid super bright lighting or using the flash as it can be startling to the animal and give them devilish red eyes.

Finally, grab any props you might want to include in your photos. If using costumes, be sure it’s something your pet is comfortable wearing first.

Tire Pets Out Before Photoshoots

Taking your dog for a walk or getting your cat to chase a toy before attempting to shoot posed photos can be an enormous help.

“We like to make sure that when we go anywhere outside for photos, the pups have had time to run off a lot of their pent-up energy from being in the vehicle so they’re better listeners and more obedient when it comes time to grab some photos,” Nate says. “There’s an old saying that a tired dog is a good dog, and that’s especially true for photos because when dogs receive a healthy balance of physical and mental stimulation, they’re more happy and well-adjusted.” 

Obviously, you don’t want them to be falling asleep, but pets are more likely to stay still longer if they’re worn out or tired. (Then again, cats look pretty cute while napping!) Of course, action shots can make for good photos but these definitely require more specific camera settings as mentioned above.

Alternatively, you can try calming treats if you have a hyperactive pup, or catnip for your kitties as long as it doesn’t have the opposite effect.

Capture Your Subject’s Attention

It’s important to always use a calm and friendly tone of voice when going through the process of taking pet pictures. Our pets are very sensitive to human voices and can be reactive to yelling, increased energy levels, and negative emotions.

To steer their attention toward the camera lens, you can try whistling, making a funny noise, and calling their name. Holding a squeaky or crinkly toy above your head or the camera can help your cat or dog focus on the camera as well, and might even trigger the classic head tilt from them.

“This one may seem obvious, but treats are super effective,” Nate says. “If I’m trying to get Ranger to look right at the camera, I’ll hold a small piece of Nulo’s Jerky Strips, then reward him after I get the shot. One strip can be broken up into several smaller pieces and used throughout a quick photoshoot to get some great shots.”

It’s also a good idea to involve a friend for another set of hands, as they can hold the animal on a leash, or even become a subject in the shot. This tip is especially true if you are dealing with multiple pets. (Nate often includes his wife, Dani, in his pet photos, and they recently adopted another golden retriever named Lemon.)

Nate holds a treat near the camera to hold Ranger’s attention.
Nate says Ranger loves Nulo FreeStyle Jerky Strips Salmon & Strawberries recipe.

Get the Best Shot Possible

The best pictures will probably come when you least expect them, but if you’re determined to capture something on the spot, here are a few extra pet photography tips for good composition of your shots:

  • Get on their level
  • Focus on the eyes
  • Take closeups of their whiskers, noses, and paws
  • Highlight their personality
  • Have them play with their toys

Final Thoughts

The most important thing you can do as a pet parent trying to capture photos of your dog or cat is to be patient! It takes time and practice to learn how to take good pictures, and it takes time for your pet to become comfortable in front of the camera. Don’t forget to pay your models with belly rubs, back scratches, and head pats. And as always, reward good behavior with nutritious treats and love.

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