Remember when you were in elementary school, and it was school photo day? The whole class would line up in the auditorium. One by one, you and your classmates would get a turn with the photographer. There would be a stool situated in front of a nondescript blue backdrop and several lights aimed at it. You’d climb onto the stool, sit still with your eyes open wide, smile, and say "cheese". The photographer’s big fancy camera would make a few quick clicking sounds, and it would be over. 

I cringe thinking back to how awkward most of my school photos turned out; I was such a nerd! Still, this is a great example of the main features of portrait photography - lighting, pose, and backdrop. If you apply these concepts to your pet photography, you can greatly improve the quality of your photos.

Lighting

Take photos outdoors or in front of a large open window. Natural lighting is the easiest to work with and will make your cat or dog look great. Sometimes indoor lighting can be problematic because it may give your photos a slight yellow or green tone.

Take photos in well lit environments. This will give your images a sharper focus, and they won’t be grainy. Going outdoors in the daylight is a great option. Taking photos on a sunny day will create cast shadows that give a pleasing contrast to the shape of your pet. If you want a photo with fewer shadows, try taking photos on a cloudy day. If you’d rather take photos indoors, turn on as many lights in your house as possible. Alternately, place your pet in front of a large window with sun coming in.

  • Bonus tip: If you’re pet is black, you will get a better photo with more light - usually the more light the better.

Photo Example:

This photo of my cat Mr. Samadhi is blurry, grainy, and has a yellow tint because of poor lighting.

Photo Example:

This photo is another example of poor lighting. Although bright light is coming in from the window, the lines from the blinds make it difficult to see Mr. Samadhi's face.

Your Pet’s Pose

Get down to your pet’s eye level. Sit on the floor or squat down beside your pet to take the photo rather than standing above and pointing the camera down. This will create a more flattering pose. Another option is to bring your pet up to your eye level by placing him or her on a table.

Use toys to get your pet to look at the camera. All pets love to play, so hold your pet’s favorite toy next to your smart phone while you snap the photo. This will help keep your pet alert and looking at the camera.

  • Bonus tip: Cats love sparkly teaser toys. Using one of these is nearly guaranteed to keep your cat’s interest while to snap a few photos.

Take the photo when your pet is being as still as possible. Less movement will result in a photo with sharper focus. That said, this is one of the most difficult aspects of getting your pet to pose for a photo. Sometimes they are just all over the place with energy, and you can't get them to hold still for even a second. In this case, play with them and let them get a little tired. Then try the photoshoot again. Also, take as many photos as possible - this is especially important if your pet is moving around a lot. This way you will have more chances of one of your photos turning out.

  • Bonus tip: If you have a smartphone that supports action photography, it is fun to experiment with taking photos of your pet while they are doing things like fetching toys or playing with catnip. Action shots can be hilarious and really capture your dog or cat’s personality. Use "Burst" mode to take action shots with your iPhone.

Photo Example:

Mr. Samadhi loves to attack teasers. You can see the intensity in his face in this action shot.

The Backdrop

Use your smartphone's camera to take portraits with blurred backgrounds. In photography terms this is effect is called bokeh, and it looks awesome. Most dual lens smart phones have the ability to take this type of photo without the assistance of an app. Use “Portrait Mode” for this feature with your iPhone. Alternatively, you can also use an app like AfterFocus ( Android | iPhone) to add blur to your backgrounds after you’ve taken the photo.

Take photographs on location. If you like to travel with your pet to fun places, these locations make great backdrops for pet photography. Many large Instagram accounts are based around this concept.

Photo Example:

This photo is a great example of bokeh. You don't notice the cluttered walls in my house in the background because it is all blurred! Follow this link to see the painting I made based on this image.

In Summary

The most important thing about pet photography is having fun and a little patience. Our pets are not as cooperative as we all were when we were children taking school photos. They do not hold still and say "cheese". But they do love to play and spend time with you. So if you make it fun, you can get that amazing photo you've always wanted of your furry best friend.