Pets hold a special place in our hearts, and capturing their adorable antics and unique personalities through photography has become a popular and cherished pastime — and even a profession. However, photographing our animal companions can be quite challenging because of their unpredictable antics. Here are some tips to help you get great photos of your furry, feathery, and even scaly friend from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine's communications manager and photographer, Margie Christianson.

Grey and black cat sitting on a wooden fence.
Photo courtesy of Margie Christianson.

Patience is key

Your pets don’t understand the sentimental value of taking a photo and, depending on their experience with cameras and level of training, may not behave the way you hope during photography sessions. Animals have their own schedules and moods, so it's crucial to observe and understand their behaviors.

Allow your pet to get some energy out beforehand if needed, and keep photo sessions short, especially as you are starting out. Take the time to connect with your pet before picking up your camera. Bonding will not only help you capture your pet's true essence but also create a relaxed atmosphere for both of you. Remember, if you and your pet are not having fun, end the session and try again another day.

Golden retriever panting.
Photo courtesy of Margie Christianson.

Create a pet-friendly environment

Before you start snapping away, it's important to ensure that your pet feels comfortable and safe. Choose a familiar location where your pet feels at ease, such as a favorite room or a cozy corner in your backyard. 

If you’re taking photos outside the home, give pets time to acclimate to the environment and avoid any potential distractions or hazards that might startle or bother them during the photo session. It is also important to know and follow all local leash laws and regulations when out in public.

Brown horse standing in an autumn field.
Photo courtesy of Margie Christianson.

Lighting matters

Good lighting is essential for any photograph, and pet photography is no exception. Natural light works wonders, so opt for outdoor settings or well-lit areas in your home. Early morning or late afternoon when the sun is softer can create a warm and flattering glow for your pet's portrait.

Flash photography can startle or frighten some pets. Test your flash away from your pet and if you see signs of discomfort, work with a professional on how to acclimate your pet to the light. Avoid pointing an unfiltered flash directly in your pet’s face.

Dog laying in leaves.
Photo courtesy of Margie Christianson.

Focus on the eyes

The eyes are said to be the windows to the soul, and this rings true in pet photography. Ensure your pet's eyes are sharp and in focus, as they convey emotions and capture attention. Experiment with different focusing techniques, such as using a shallow depth of field (low f-stop value or portrait mode on your phone), to make the eyes stand out against a soft, blurred background.

Dog dressed as an insect, standing in a grass with fall leaves in the background.
Photo courtesy of Margie Christianson.

Capture the unique personality

Each pet has its own personality, quirks ,and traits. Be observant and patient, waiting for those moments when the pet’s individuality shines through. Whether it's a mischievous glance, a wagging tail or a boisterous bark, strive to capture your pet's unique characteristics.

Dog looking through a tire swing.
Photo courtesy of Margie Christianson.

Experiment with perspective and composition

Don't be afraid to experiment with different angles and compositions to add visual interest to your pet's photos. Close-ups of paws, snouts, or whiskers can create intriguing details, while wider shots showing the surroundings can provide context and tell a larger story.

To capture the essence of your pet's world, get down to eye level. By shooting from the pet’s perspective, you can create a more intimate connection in the photograph. Whether it's lying on the ground or crouching down, this approach adds depth and authenticity to the image.

Dog jumping to capture a disc.
Photo courtesy of Margie Christianson.

Treats and toys

Using treats or toys can be helpful in grabbing your pet's attention and keeping them engaged during the photo session. Use treats, toys, or familiar sounds to encourage playful behavior. Squeaky toys or treats held close to the camera lens can help direct your pet's gaze and create captivating expressions. Or you can incorporate your pet's favorite objects into the frame to create a sense of familiarity and capture its true character.

Corgi running through grass with their tongue out.
Photo courtesy of Margie Christianson.

Capture candid moments

While posed portraits can be lovely, candid shots often capture the true personality and charm of your pet. Keep your camera handy and be ready to snap those spontaneous moments of playfulness, curiosity, or contentment. These natural shots can evoke powerful emotions and tell a compelling story.

Two dogs standing on a rock with the river in the background.
Photo courtesy of Margie Christianson.


Editing can elevate your pet photos to the next level. Basic adjustments such as cropping, color correction, and exposure can enhance the overall look of your images. There are many free and subscription apps and programs that you can use to experiment with your photo editing.

Take lots of photos

Have you ever taken just a few photos and then regretted missing the perfect shot? It happens to the best of us. Even experienced photographers take multiple shots to make sure they capture the ideal moment. It's also a good idea to move around and try different angles to get the best shot. The great thing about digital photography is that you can easily delete unwanted photos and keep only the best ones.

Remember, practice makes perfect. Don't get discouraged if you don't achieve the desired results immediately. The more you photograph your pet, the better you'll become at capturing its essence in stunning images. So grab your camera, show your pet some love, and embark on an exciting photographic journey that will forever preserve precious moments.

We want to see your pet photos. Submit a picture of your pet for the 2024 Tracks Magazine Calendar. Submissions are being accepted through Aug. 31.


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