3 Simple Tips for Awesome Pet Pictures

Dogs are the best, right? They don’t talk back. They don’t complain (as much). And play! All the playing! And snuggles. They’re like nonverbal toddlers that shed a lot more. At least they don’t draw on walls in permanent markers.

Of course we all want to take great pictures of our loved ones. Taking pictures of pets is an exercise in patience. It’s more challenging than photographing kids because you can’t as easily direct them to turn their head or pick up a toy to use for prop. You’ll have a lot of misses, which is normal (I speak from experience). But when you nail that perfect shot…definitely makes it worth the effort.

Here are 3 tips for getting great pictures of your pets:

Get down low

This is my number 1 tip for pet photography: pop a squat or take a knee. If you have to, lie down. I know this is tough if you have a teeny ankle-biter dog. You picked that dog; deal with it. Get yo ass down.

Lay on the ground if you have to. If you can, get slightly below their eye level.

Don’t photograph standing up with the camera pointed down at your dog.

golden retriever standing in grassy field with frisbees
Don’t do this. This is bad. @jenphotographs

Do get down to the dog’s eye level. Or if you can, a hair below so that he’s looking down at you.

golden retriever lying in grassy field with frisbee
Disc Dog @jenphotographs

This totally changes the viewer’s perspective. Most people are used to seeing dogs from 5 feet or more above. By changing the height of the camera, it somehow becomes more intimate. You’re on the same level as the subject. You can make eye contact. You’re connected.

Eye contact

Tip #2: The eyes are a window into the soul. Get eye contact.

Compare these two images.

 

Technique-wise, both images are fine. The composition is good (though the right one is a bit too centered; I had to re-crop for this article). The lighting is beautiful (golden hour for the win!). The positioning could be improved with three-quarter lighting instead, but this is where Furball parked his self. The background doesn’t have any distractions.

Which version is more appealing?

I don’t know about you, but I’d say the one with the eye contact. The funny expression helps, too!

There are times when the lack of eye contact with the camera can be a good thing for a scene.

golden retriever wearing aviator sunglasses and boating hat
Furball Brah @jenphotographs

In general, though: aim for eye contact. It connects the viewer with the subject. You won’t wonder what the heck the dog is looking at over there [vague handwaving to the left] because he’s looking at YOU.

relaxed golden retriever
Stoned? Or just blissed? @jenphotographs

Doesn’t this make you want to reach out and give him a scruff and smooch on top of his head?

Eye contact. It’s gold standard when it comes to pet portraits.

Next tip?

Composition

Just like in regular people portraits, composition is an important element in pet portraits. There are a bunch of different composition guides. The Rule of Thirds is a good, classic one to go with.

The very same rule your art teacher taught you. It looks like this…

450px-photo_3x3-svg1
Rule of thirds

It’s classic. It works well. So well that artists have been using this, whether consciously or not, for hundreds of years. Take Van Gogh’s Starry Nights as an example:

painting van gogh starry nights
Van Gogh’s Starry Night

1024px-VanGogh-starry_night_grid

As you can see, the major elements are aligned near the blue nodes. The tower in the foreground is offset to the left, and the horizon of the distant hillside align with the lower thirds.

Unless you’re doing a fill-the-frame headshot (like the Blissed Furball above), offset your dog (see: Disc Dog, Furball Brah). To date, we photographers, artists, and psychologists haven’t been able to explain why exactly this composition works.

It just does.

mixed breed dog running on beach fog foggy day
Beach Dog @jenphotographs

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