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7 Tips for Photographing Pets (Working with Difficult Pets)

Last updated: September 21, 2023 - 8 min read
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Photographing pets is a fantastic way of celebrating your love for your furry friend. Whether you’re a professional photographer or just starting, these tips will help you take great photos of your pets.

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7 Tips for Photographing Pets

Photographing pets takes a bit of patience and practice. Here are seven tips to help you through the process!

1. Identify the Real Problem When Photographing Unruly Pets

Dogs, cats, and other animals often misbehave due to underlying issues. Figuring out what that is can help remedy the behavior in a productive and timely manner that saves your shoot!

You don’t have to be a certified trainer or behaviorist to decipher why the dog in your studio is bouncing off the walls, either.

Cute pet portrait of a brown dog standing on a wall

These are some of the most common reasons a pet may become difficult during your session:

  • Overstimulation and Excitement: This is especially true for young pets. Sometimes a dog goes haywire because they are overexcited about something new in their environment. This could be due to pent-up energy, a need to play, or certain foods that illicit a hyperactive response.
  • Fear: A very common reason for difficulty during photo sessions is fear. You have to view life from the eyes of the subject you photograph. A camera, lights, lenses, and clicking noises can be scary! As is a stranger in one’s space. It’s good to let the animal sniff and get to know you and all the equipment you use.
  • Anxiety and Uncertainty: Fear and excitement can cause anxiety. And this leads to a pet that won’t listen or cooperate. The uncertainty of what’s happening can result in a fight-or-flight response, So be mindful of the body language you observe.
  • Lack of Control: Animals are smart. They know who they can take advantage of. So read a great animal training book for ideas on regaining control of your photo sessions with animals.
  • Medical Issues or a Sick Pet: I have unfortunately experienced situations where owners force unwell pets to attend sessions. And the better idea is to give them a break or reschedule. If this is the case, use your better judgment. Send the client home if you need to.

2. Interact With Animals Calmly to Prepare Them for Shoots

With the above reasons for misbehavior, it is safe to say that unruly animal behavior can often be linked to certain emotions. They may be excited, overstimulated, or anxious about something new in their home or environment.

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

I’ve found that the key to calming an animal down is to appear as uninteresting and unthreatening as humanly possible.

Playful pet portrait of a little black and white dog standing upright

Photographers must find a way to dull the reaction their presence causes. Letting pets become familiar with us is a good way to do so. Let a dog sniff you and your photo equipment. Or have a cat circle around and check you out.

Interacting with the owners as they would any new person can also help the animal become more familiar with the photographer.

Most importantly, keep your excitement in check when you meet a new animal. This is a great way to help the pet feel more at ease. This is all meant to normalize your being in their space and make your interactions as mundane as possible.

3. Predict the Pet’s Behavior or the Best Shots

It is key that you are always ready to capture the perfect moment whenever it may occur. And predicting the animal’s behavior is a good way of knowing when to raise the camera and click the shutter.

Much of this comes from experience and exposure to various kinds of pets. But you can often use common sense to determine your subject’s next steps.

For example, a boisterous puppy fixated on a toy will likely grab it and swing it around. It’s a perfect opportunity for playful shots!

Pet portrait of a dog standing on grass

A cat perching on a shelf’s ledge will probably leap. So prepare to take an action shot! It is best to always set your focus mode to Continuous Focus mode (AI Servo for Canon users or AF-C for Nikon users).

This allows your camera to lock onto your subject and follow it around without you constantly having to refocus. This is especially useful (and a bit of a lifesaver) with unpredictable pets.

4. Ask Your Client to Tire Out Their Pet Before the Shoot

How likely are you to protest or cause a ruckus when tired? Probably less than if you were hyped up with energy! Animals are the same way, especially baby pets like puppies and kittens.

Get your subject physically and mentally tired before proceeding with the rest of the photo session. Play with, run, and stimulate the dog, cat, or even a parrot before a session. It keeps them mellow when it comes time to take photos.

Depending on how you run your photo sessions, you can suggest your client do this or take on the responsibility of doing it yourself. You could also begin with a more candid photo session with the animal playing or running around.

Cute pet portrait of a dog running on grass

If your client is the one to do this, ensure that they time the play effectively. This ensures their furry family member isn’t too stimulated that the presence of a photographer causes stress or anxiety.

The key is to get the animal to a level of tiredness that they no longer care about what is happening around them.

Remember that how long they remain tired or how long they will play depends on the age of the animal you are working with.

Puppies and kittens tend to tire out very easily. But an adult dog or cat takes a longer amount of time. Baby or young animals may also remain tired less than adults, as their energy comes in bursts.
Pet portrait of two dogs standing outside an industrial type building

5. Use a Telephoto or Zoom Lens to Oberve and Snap Photos From Afar

If you’re boring, you’re less likely to be the center of attention for your client’s animal.

Sometimes the key to working with difficult animals is to stop trying to control the situation, like making them pose. Instead, begin watching their behavior. And, again, snap beautiful candid moments.

Many of the most iconic pet photography shots are those in which you play no involvement. Sit back as an observant photographer rather than one who dictates the session.

Pet portrait of a dog running and playing on the beach

Sitting further back with a telephoto or zoom lens is often beneficial. And it does not interfere with what happens naturally.

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 consider it a possibility.

6. Try a New Perspective or Composition 

Are you ever stressed about photographing animals? Or do you have anxiety over uncontrollable situations with pets? The trick is finding new, fun, and imaginative ways of working with the situation.

Being an amazing photographer is knowing how to work with the cards you’re dealt. This makes the experience more pleasurable for your subject and client, as you won’t radiate uncomfortable energy.

Cute pet portrait of a small dog sitting in grass

Try using a different lens or changing your perspective and composition. Doing something new based on what’s happening is a great way to work with animals.

Of course, all animals are different. Your reaction should be based on the individual animal’s personality, reaction, and needs.

7. Use Toys and Treats as a Way to an Animal’s Heart

Finally, toys and treats can cause overstimulation. But they can equally be used as bribes to get you what you want.

Toys and treats can become your best buy, depending on the pet you photograph. You may even be able to teach a dog to sit during your photo session. Or you can keep a cat looking at you, depending on how good you are with animals.

The key is to use high-value treats. It’s a common term used among dog trainers. High-value treats are goodies that the pet finds irresistible. So it’s a big motivator for them to do what you want.

Certain types of toys may have the same effect. It may be a bit of trial and error. But toys and noises are also a great way to get alert ears and a happier facial expression.

Cute close up pet portrait of a black dog with a ball in his mouth

Conclusion: Tips for Photographing Pets

Using the tips above, you should have no trouble taking pictures of any difficult pets that come your way.

Pet owners can no longer claim they can’t book a photoshoot with you because their puppy doesn’t sit still. You will be able to tell them that they don’t have to worry about such things!

Online Course Access
Perfect Pawtraits
Perfect Pawtraits
Capture beautiful pet portraits with Perfect Pawtraits!