Digital Camera Tips > How to Take Pet Portraits

How to Take Pet Portraits

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Admit it. You're guilty of taking WAY too many photos of your favorite pet.

How do I know? Why else would you be reading this how-to tip?

Even if you have taken hundreds of photos of your furry family member, you may be able to improve the quality of the photos you take. The following tips will help you out.

Stoop to Their Level

pet portrait photo

Eye-level pet photography

Too many pet portrait photographs are taken from the human viewpoint. Even if you have a large dog, you still tend to photograph with the camera pointed down. Looking down on your pet when you photograph them diminishes their stature.

Instead of always standing, get down at the eye level of your pet. Even better, see if you can get below them and shoot up.

This approach to pet portrait photography has two positive effects: first, it allows you to clearly capture your pet's eyes. When you're taking a photo looking down, all you get is the top of their head (unless they look up). When you're at their eye level, they don't have to crane their neck to look straight at you.

You also eliminate cluttered backgrounds from your photos. Imagine that you take a photo of your pet standing on a linolium kitchen floor with a complicated pattern. There are two things vying for attention in this photo: the floor and the pet. Shoot at eye level, and distracting floor patterns go away: your pet becomes the focus of the portrait.

Use Natural Light

pet portrait photo

1/350s f6.7 ISO 200

Most human portrait subjects don't look very flattering when you take the photo with flash — why should pets be any different?

Try to take your pet portrait photographs with natural light as often as possible. This can be done even with indoor pets.

Don't take photos in dimly lit rooms. Wait until your pet decides to sit by a window with the sunlight streaming in. Now pick up your camera and take some photos.

Time of day is also important. It's best to shoot in the mornings and afternoons when the natural window light is coming in at an angle. In the middle of the day, when the sun is right over your home you have less window light to work with and it's hard to get a clear portrait.

Wide Apertures and Fast Shutter Speeds

Any portrait photograph will benefit from a wide aperture setting. This throws the background out of focus (due to a reduced depth of field) and keeps attention on your subject.

In pet portrait photography, this has an added benefit: you can use a faster shutter speed. Pets are not docile photographic subjects. They move constantly, just when you are taking a photo. The best way to capture them in clear detail is to use a fast shutter speed, typically equal to or faster than 1/500 of a second.

The wide aperture and fast shutter speed work together to capture a pet portait photograph that is properly exposed.

Focus on the Eyes

When you get your pet's eyes in focus, the portrait comes to life. This is harder than it sounds.

If you use your camera's autofocus, pay special attention to what it is focusing on. Many digital cameras today will show you a box or icon to illustrate where the camera has set the focus point.

This is most important when you photograph your pet from the front and they have a long nose. If you don't pay attention to the focal point, you will wind up with a photo where your pet's nose is in focus, but the eyes look blurry.

So long as the camera indicates the eyes are in focus, you should be just fine. Of course, if you have a camera with manual focus, then you can make adjustments yourself as you take the photo.