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Pet Photography Cheat Sheet (Easy Tips to Follow for Perfect Pet Portraits!)

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If you’re interested in taking pet photos, a photography cheat sheet is very helpful. Although pet photo shoots are a lot of fun, they can also be stressful and overwhelming. Animals are prone to anxiety, aren’t always trained, and tend to move in unpredictable ways.

Even with daily practice, you still might forget something important. To help you prepare, we’ve created a pet photography cheat sheet!
 
We explain everything you need and help you choose the correct equipment. You’ll learn how to use your camera for all different shots.

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How To Choose the Right Equipment for Pet Photography

Every photo shoot starts with picking the correct photography equipment. There are many questions to keep in mind. What’s the right type of camera and lens? What helpful accessories should you take along? Will you need extra batteries and cards?

A pet dog running with a toy rat in his mouth

The photography equipment you need also depends on the lighting of your shoot. Consider whether you’re shooting inside or outside and if you need any action shots. For example, a waterproof camera case can come in handy when dealing with bad weather. When working in a studio, a tripod will be your most useful accessory.

We put together a handy article to help you decide what to put in your camera bag for any photo shoot! Or, download the pet photography cheat sheet below for a full list.

Cute pet portrait of two black and white dogs

Essential Camera Settings For Pet Photography

It’s crucial to understand how to use your camera settings for all different types of shots. Pet photography is even more complicated. You need to be on your toes to capture that perfect shot before it goes away.

Sometimes you’ll shoot outside in sunny or cloudy weather. Other times you’ll be inside a studio. The best thing you can do to prepare for any lighting and any pet is to understand basic camera settings. There are other advanced settings and tools that are helpful when capturing our furry friends.

How to Easily Understand the Exposure Triangle

The Exposure Triangle is an important photography technique. It’s one of the best tools you can have up your sleeve. The “triangle” consists of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

Try to understand these three settings and how they work together. Then you’ll be ready for any photo shoot!

Aperture (f-number)

Aperture refers to the opening of a lens’s diaphragm through which light passes.

Wide apertures = shallow depth of field.

Shallow depth of field is best for outdoor portraits, action shots, and low-light situations. It helps to create bokeh and separate the subject from the background. Use f/1.2, f/1.4, f/1.8, f/2.0, f/2.8, or f/4.0.

Narrow apertures = deep depth of field.

Deep depth of field is the best solution when shooting in a studio with a lot of artificial lighting. It can also come in handy when focusing on several pets. Use f/5.6, f/8.0, f/11, f/16, or f/22. Cute pet photography of two dogs outdoors among flowers

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed refers to the length of time that your camera shutter is open. It exposes light to the camera sensor.

Slow Shutter (long exposure): 1/1, 1/2, 1/10, 1/15, 1/30. These speeds are too slow even for creating motion blur in portraits. They’re not best for pet photography.

Mid-Range Shutter (neutral): 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/250, 1/500. These are the lowest shutter speeds to use when shooting handheld and not using a tripod. They’re great for portraits or when the subject isn’t moving too much. They’re also essential in low-light situations.

Fast Shutter: 1/1000, 1/2000, 1/4000, 1/8000+. You’ll need these fast speeds for action photos if you want to freeze motion. They either need a lot of light or high ISO.A pet dog running

ISO

Your camera’s sensitivity to light is what’s called ISO. It’s a camera setting that will brighten or darken a photo. The larger the ISO number, the more noise the photograph will have.

ISO for daytime: 100, 200, 400, 640. When there is a lot of natural light available, we recommend keeping the ISO as low as possible.

ISO for nighttime: 640, 800, 1600, 3200+. You’ll need higher ISO in low light, like sunrise/sunset, blue hour, and indoor pet photos.

Dreamy pet portrait of a ginger cat outdoors

Additional Camera Settings

The Exposure Triangle will get you most of the way to fantastic pet photography. Yet, sometimes you need a few extra tools to help you capture animals. We’ve added more tips for camera settings that will help you.

Exposure Compensation

If you’re working with light-coloured pets, their fur tends to blow out in the light.

Your camera will probably use the most common matrix metering mode. It’ll take the whole photo into account when determining the correct exposure. Pets lighter than the backdrop will appear too bright.

Avoid this frustration by using manual mode or exposure compensation. Then, underexpose by one to two f/stops.

The opposite goes for dark-coloured pets. In that case, you have to overexpose by one or two f/stops.

In cases where your model has both dark and light colouring, you’ll find an even greater challenge. Black and white animals are difficult to expose. It can be easy to underexpose the black to bring out the white or overexpose the white to bring out the black.

To solve this problem, shoot in the shadows or on an overcast day when the lighting is even. Then underexpose by about two f/stops. It’s easier to bring back the black details in post-processing than the whites. Overexposed white has no detail because the information is missing in the file.Cute pet portrait of a black and white dog

Burst Mode

Use your camera’s frames-per-second tool by applying burst mode (high-speed drive mode). Burst mode takes many shots in a row while you press down on the shutter. It works well for pets because it shoots with a fast shutter speed to freeze the moment. This tool helps ensure that you get the right shot and don’t miss any important moments.

Continuous Focus Mode

Change your focus mode to Continuous Focus Mode. (AI Servo for Canon users or AF-C for Nikon users.) This mode allows your camera to lock its focus on your subject and follow it around. You don’t have to keep refocusing or worry about blurry subjects.A yellow pet bird in a cage

Master Pet Photography Composition

Great pet photography means creating engaging compositions. One way to do this is by considering perspective. When you photograph from the pet subject’s eye level, you’ll create stronger emotion. Viewers are more empathetic and attracted to images from their same perspective.

It’s also important to leave more negative space. Try to keep it in the direction of potential movement. If you crop the subject without enough negative space, the image can feel suffocating. Leave negative space around the subject to prevent the image from looking too tight.

You can also use dynamic tension if you want more dramatic images.

For action photos, keep the animal centred in the frame. Keep plenty of negative space in the direction of the action.

Cute pet portrait of a black and white dog catching a Frisbee

With portraits, there’s a lot more wiggle room. The general idea is to keep the subject centred or skewed to one side. To help you achieve this composition, use the rule of thirds.
Cute pet portrait of a black dog among purple flowersIf you’re shooting many pets, keep them all on the same level, so it’s easier to focus.

In post-processing, be mindful about cropping. Avoid cropping ears, tails, or any joints. If you must trim the legs, do so between joints (such as the shin or upper thigh), but never at the joint.Cute pet portrait of a black and white dog

Try Our Creative Pet Photography Tips

If you work with pet photography, you might agree that it’s far easier to direct human subjects. Shocker: pets don’t always listen!

Sometimes, this is a good thing, and you can use the animal’s natural playfulness to your advantage. Take the pet’s lead or try other creative photography composition techniques. Often, the pet’s energy plus your creativity will elevate your photography.

Experiment With Intentional Camera Movement (ICM)

As a strategy, ICM is an excellent way to add a creative touch to your images. You can do this by panning. Move your camera horizontally while following the subject’s movement. It’s most suitable for action shots, which works great for dog photography!

You can also try zooming out of the photo while taking the picture. You will need a slower shutter speed if you want your camera to capture the zooming movement.Cute pet portrait of a black and white dog jumping

Use a Wide Aperture For Shallow Depth of Field

Shallow depth of field adds depth to your images. It separates your subject from the background and creates a smoother look. But the stronger the blur, the harder it will be to focus.

Even the smallest movement can take your subject out of focus. You won’t be able to adjust your stance without the need to refocus.

Try adjusting your technique to accommodate the small focal plane. One trick is to use single-point autofocus and keep all subjects at the same distance from the camera.

The further away you are from the subject, the easier it is to focus.Cute pet portrait of a white dog

Mindful Leash Placement

If using a leash, make sure it doesn’t cross any paws, joints, or complicated details. To remove the leash in post-processing, you’ll need to use the cloning tool. The more complex the photo is behind the leash, the harder it will be to remove it.

To simplify the process, ask the owner to hold the leash above the pet. It’s also easy to remove the leash if it’s on the ground or in the grass.

A cute black and white dog running beside his owner

Focus on the Eyes

Pet photography is all about emotion. To create a compelling photograph, keep the pet’s eyes sharp and in focus. If the eyes aren’t sharp, you’ll miss some of that emotional tug.

Try setting focus points right in the middle of your frame. First, focus on the eyes, then hold the shutter down halfway to lock the focus. When ready, move your camera to your ideal composition. You can also bump the aperture up a few f/stops higher to make focusing on the eyes easier.

Some newer cameras like Sony A7 III have ‘Eye AF’ that tracks the eyes for you.

Cute pet portrait of a black and white dog resting on a tree

Downloadable Pet Photography Cheat Sheet

Now that you’ve read all our tips for pet photography, you’re ready to start shooting! Don’t miss a beat while out on a photo shoot, and take our pet photography cheat sheet with you.

Conclusion

Pet photography is a unique niche that can feel challenging and fun at the same time. There are many things to consider and many (literal) moving parts! Understanding basic photography techniques and embracing your creativity is the key to success.
 
Our pet photography cheat sheet helps you stay alert and on top of your game. Soon enough, you’ll capture striking, emotional, and adorable pet photos.
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