Pictures of pets are capable of melting the coldest of hearts and improving the worst of days. One can’t help but imagine how delightful the photo shoots must be.
If you were to witness the photo-taking process for your favourite images, you’d discover a world of accidents, loud noises, and challenges. As effortless as these adorable photographs seem, they’re actually products of very hard work.
Is it worth getting into a genre that’s so challenging? In my opinion, it is.
Though I’m a portrait photographer, I often take pictures of pets. Shortly after I got my cat (who happens to be both a Scottish Fold and a professional heartbreaker), I noticed a change in my creative life. I became more patient, determined, creative, and spontaneous.
This unexpected change compelled me to look at pet photography as not only a way to store memories, but an opportunity to become a better photographer.
You don’t have to change your career to improve your skills. You don’t even have to become a professional pet photographer. All you have to do is experiment with the genre, accept the challenges that come with it, and witness your own creative growth.
This is how pet photography will improve your photography skills.
You’ll Become Unbelievably Patient
In any photography genre, taking a great photo isn’t easy. Pet photography makes this even harder by inserting rambunctious animals into the equation.
Photographers enjoy being in control. As a portrait photographer, I enjoy communicating with my subjects and making things clear. It’s satisfying to know that your model understands your needs and is willing to help you get the best possible results.
While this is virtually impossible to achieve when it comes to animals, it’s a fantastic opportunity to improve your patience.
Pets rarely listen to instructions. Even if they do, they’re not going to react to commands like: “Please smile” or “Could you raise your ears slightly so I can take an elegant photo?” Because of this, you have to adjust to their impulses. By adjusting to their impulses, you’ll become impressively patient.
The more you photograph your pet, the easier other photography genres will seem. You’ll get better at waiting for the right moments. You’ll feel unbelievably proud when you finally get that perfect shot.
Most importantly, you’ll have an abundance of patience that will keep you calm and determined.
No Matter What Happens, You’ll Know When to Press the Shutter
Pets are undeniably photogenic, so much so that it’s tempting to press the shutter all the time. This temptation may result in hundreds of outtakes and an inability to make a proper decision.
If all of your photos look the same, you’ll find it hard to spot the most visually appealing shot.
However, you’ll find that the more photos you take of your pet, the less tempted you’ll be to impulsively press the shutter. Once you get used to your pet’s heartwarming nature (and trust me, you will), you’ll start to focus on compositions, depth of field, and emotions.
This will result in photographs that have the perfect amount of sweetness and style.
Knowing when to press the shutter will save you a lot of time and energy in other situations. For instance, when I take photos of people, I don’t focus solely on getting a beautiful shot.
I get to know my models (this is where patience comes in), understand what they’re comfortable with, and wait for appropriate moments to photograph them. This helps them trust me and, in turn, allows them to model for me as gracefully as possible.
This isn’t to say that impulsive photos are unnecessary, but a combination of patience, focus, and spontaneity will give you the best results in any photography genre.
Your Relationship With Light Will Improve
Unlike nature and people, animals won’t wait for you to take photographs. Since they move around a lot, you not only have to change your camera settings consistently, but find the most flattering light to complement their features.
Light is a tricky thing to master, even if you’re not struggling with a wild little creature. This is why using a pet in your lighting experiments will inevitably transform you into a better photographer.
As you follow your pet and adjust to different lighting situations, you’ll sharpen several photography skills:
- Observation – you’ll be naturally drawn to angles and locations with the best light
- Adaptation – as you move around, you’ll find creative opportunities wherever your pet goes
- Determination – regardless of what happens, you’ll persistently take photos
You’ll Become an Efficient Problem-Solver
Some pets are either very calm or very active, which makes shooting with them highly unpredictable. As frustrating as this may be, it’s something you’ll get used to with practice.
The quicker you accept this, the easier it will be to be grateful for small photo-taking opportunities.
Situations like this are similar to dramatic weather changes. When I take self-portraits outdoors, I often have to change my camera settings to adjust to unexpected clouds, rain, or wind.
Sometimes this forces me to give up and try another day, but it can also encourage me to challenge my problem-solving abilities and take unique self-portraits.
There will always be obstacles in your way. Pet photography can help you deal with them better. Keep in mind that it will take lots of practice before you feel confident in your problem-solving abilities.
However, when you do get to that point, you’ll be an even better photographer.
You’ll Fall in Love with Your Own Genre All over Again
Think about your favourite photography genre. What kind of challenges does it throw your way? Compare them to the ones mentioned here.
As a portrait photographer, I have to deal with challenges related to communication, comfort, and timing. When I take photos of animals, the intensity of these problems weakens.
Pet photography is so much more than giving instructions or making your subject feel comfortable. It’s an eclectic mix of discipline, patience, timing, imagination, and more.
When you get frustrated during a photo shoot with your pet, think of how easy it will be to return to your own genre. You won’t have to deal with unruly animals, lack of communication, or constant movements.
There’s something freeing and relieving in every genre. Comparing yours to a highly challenging one like pet photography will make you appreciate yours even more.
If you’re a landscape photographer, you’ll go back to taking photos of picturesque locations. If you’re a portrait photographer, you’ll get to work with people who’ll listen to you.
Don’t get me wrong. Pet photography is great, and it’s definitely not a nightmare. It’s just a fantastic opportunity to deal with many challenges at once, challenges that will quickly sharpen many of your photography skills.
And If You Want, You’ll Become a Great Self-Portrait Photographer
I often take self-portraits with my cat. It’s a great way for me to bond with her and include more cat pictures in my portfolio.
Self-portraiture is a brilliant opportunity to find your best angles, experiment with new styles, and get a better idea of how your models feel in front of the camera. It’s also an opportunity to strengthen your observation, communication, and lighting skills.
Being completely in control of both photographing and modelling will shape you into a better photographer, no matter how shy you are.
If you want to become a great self-portrait photographer, take photos with your pet. It will definitely be difficult at times, but it will provide you with an abundance of creative opportunities and memories. You’ll thank yourself later.
You’ll Get Better at Documenting Relationships
Even if you don’t take self-portraits with your pet, you might want to include a friend or family member in your photographs. Capturing your pet’s unconditional love for a person will help you document relationships of all kinds.
Pets are not self-conscious when it comes to expressions, so they’re amazing models for aspiring family and portrait photographers.
Something I’ve come to realise is that the more I photograph my cat interacting with others, the easier it is for me to document authentic relationships.
I know when someone is smiling genuinely. I can easily detect moments of connection and happiness.
This has helped me immensely in portrait and family photography, genres that used to greatly intimidate me.
You’ll Find Opportunities in More Places
Since you have to be very alert when you take photos of pets, you’re going to be alert during other photoshoots, too. Your mind will get used to finding opportunities no matter where you are.
Regardless of who you are, pet photography will compel you to notice more details in your personal work. Insignificant daily activities will turn into precious photo-taking opportunities.
For example, when I take photos of my cat, I’m compelled to find beauty in everything, be it her playfulness, the way the kitchen light highlights her fur, or her ability to light up any room.
Similarly, I’ve learned to find beauty in other situations: details in small rooms, movements in busy places, and vibrant colours on gloomy days.
These observations have significantly improved my work and the way I look at the world.
Pet photography is equally challenging and gratifying. Taking photos of your pet will show you that everything has the potential to bloom in front of your camera.
My favourite thing about it is its ability to strengthen multiple photography skills. Whether you come to dislike or embrace pet photography, you’ll do so with a whole new set of skills. You’ll be more grateful, persistent, patient, and imaginative.
So is it really worth getting into a genre that’s so challenging? I think so, but you should test it out yourself. Go out there, take photos of your beloved pet, and watch yourself become an even more incredible version of your creative self.
And please let me know how it goes!
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
Thank you for reading...
if you want to capture breathtaking images, without the frustration of a complicated camera.
It's my training video that will walk you how to use your camera's functions in just 10 minutes - for free!
I also offer video courses and ebooks covering the following subjects:
You could be just a few days away from finally understanding how to use your camera to take great photos!
Thanks again for reading our articles!