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6 Tips for Working with Animals in Pet Photography

Whenever I do an event that promotes my pet photography, there are always one or two potential clients that have reservations about booking due to their beloved furry family member’s “unruly” behavior. Whether it be a hyperactive puppy that does not yet know how to sit still or a feline that runs the roost, some owners believe their pets to be impossible to photograph!

But you see, this perspective comes from someone who lives with their critters. Those who specialize in pet photography know just how to work with all sorts of four-legged personalities that find themselves in front of the camera. Here are some tricks for working with the hyper, the untrained, the unruly, or the camera-shy to help you bring out their best sides.

Please note that the tips provided below are not intended as a pet training mechanism or a deep insight into animal behavior – they are only to be used for individual photography sessions.

1. A Tired Dog is a Good Dog

Each old saying has a grain of truth to it, and in this case, significantly more than just a grain. An animal that is tired is less likely to have the energy to misbehave! A key tip in working with untrained pets is getting them too tired to exert their boisterous behavior or protest having to stay still. Playing, running, and stimulating the dog, cat, or even parrot before a session will keep them mellower when it comes time to take the photographs.

2. Become Boring John or Jane Doe

Animals communicate with body language and conduct. Because pets cannot speak words to us, their method of expressing emotions is very physical.

Knowing this means that we, as photographers, must find a way to dull the reaction our own presence causes. Allowing pets to become familiar with us is a good way to do so, such as letting a dog sniff us and our equipment or having a cat circle around and check us out. Letting owners interact with the photographer as they would any familiar person can also help the animal become more familiar.

3. Tap Into Your Inner Mind Reader

The following tip can be applied to all animal photography, whether it be wild animals or domestic. Ensuring that you are always ready to capture the perfect moment whenever it may occur is key. A good way of knowing when to raise the camera and click the shutter is to predict the animal’s behavior.

Much of this does come from experience and exposure to various kinds of pets, but you can often use common sense to figure out what your subject is going to do next. If a dog is about to run, practice your panning technique! If a cat is about to jump from the back of a couch, prepare yourself to capture that action.

4. Become an Observer

Sometimes, the best pet photography shots are those in which you play no involvement and sit back as an observant photographer rather than one who dictates the session. It is often to your benefit to sit farther back with a telephoto or zoom lens and not interfere with what proceeds to occur.

This does depend on what your client wants from the photo shoot, what you expect, or what the animal you are working with is like – but certainly, give it a thought!

5. Toys and Treats Capture Hearts

Depending on the pet you’re photographing, toys and treats can become your best friend. Though you do not want to overstimulate the pet, keeping their attention can be equally important. Treats, toys, and noises can often do this for you.

You may even be able to teach a dog to sit during your photo session or keep a cat looking at you as you take pictures, depending on how you are with animals. The key with treats is to use high-value treats, a common term used among dog trainers. High-value treats are goodies that the pet finds irresistible, and that becomes a big motivator for them to do what you want.

6. Be Creative

This is the most important piece of advice anyone can give you – just be creative. A successful photographer is one who knows how to adapt to any situation thrown their way, and an animal that isn’t behaving is just another circumstance to overcome.