Top Ten Pet Photography Tips & Techniques, from the book Beautiful Beasties, A Creative Guide to Modern Pet Photography, by Jamie Pflughoeft, published by Wiley Publishing. (Please contact Wiley Publishing for re-publishing rights to the text and photos):
1. Have fun with it!
Make it a game. Be upbeat. Bring out the toys, participate in an activity your pet finds fun. For cats this may be a game involving tinfoil balls or a feather toy, for dogs this may be a squeaky toy. For horses, rodents and other pets, this is whatever puts them in the best mood–whatever their ‘favorite’ thing is.
2. Get on their level
Scoot, crouch, bend, scuffle, lay, twist, roll- whatever you need to to do get down and create photographs on the pet’s level. Wear dirty clothes. No pet photographer ever worse expensive jeans and sneakers to a photo shoot.
Animals experience the world on a different plane than we do, and being able to create photographs captured on their level makes them more emotional, more engaging, and more connected, to the person that views the images.
3. Pay your model
You wouldn’t expect a human model to work for you without payment right? So why should you expect an animal to work without getting paid? Figure out what’s the most appreciate item for payment. A toy, a treat, an old rag, a carrot- whatever it takes to keep them engaged and motivated.
4. Pay attention to backgrounds
Nothing can ruin a perfectly good photo better than ugly, cluttered backgrounds. Nobody needs to see that old garden hose, or your dirty sock on the floor, in an otherwise beautiful photo of Rupert the cat.
Spend a few minutes before your photo session eyeballing the scene behind the animal. A few quick pickups of distracting ‘junk’ can mean you never having to say “Oh man, I wish that ____ wasn’t in the photo” again, or spending unnecessary time in Photoshop or Lightroom. (Unless of course the offending object is something like a house or someone else’s car, in which case–just move the animal).
5. Focus on expressions
Forget technical skill. Any pet owner will respond to an expressive, ‘aww-inducing,’ ‘laugh-inspiring’ photo over a technically perfect yet emotionally lacking photo any day of the week.
Capture a pet in the moment where it is expressing the essence of its personality, showing you it’s true colors (whatever those may happen to be!), and the owner of the pet will forgive all manner of exposure, composition and other issues. All they really want is to say “You got him, you really got him!”.
If you hear “squeals”, “oohs,” or “ohhhs” coming from the pet’s owner upon seeing your images, you know you’ve done something right.