Pet Portraiture Tips

October 20, 2011 · 12 comments

in Animals,Lifestyle,portraiture,Tutorials

My husband and I just got a new addition to our family, a beautiful bouncing Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy, named Dexter! Naturally Dexter is a favourite subject matter, and taking photos of fast moving puppies isn’t all that easy, so this inspired me to write about Pet Portraiture tips.

1. Have oodles of patience and a good attitude

Animals are in tune to our emotions and moods. Having a positive, approachable attitude will help the animal to be comfortable with you and let their guard down. As soon as you get impatient or irritable, the animal will sense this and you won’t get the photos you’re after.

2. Rewards and Treats

When the animal performs well, reward him lavishly “Good boy! Good boy!” and give them a small treat. Animals respond well to positive feedback and often this makes them eager to please you. Get someone else to give the animal treats, this could also make for excellent photo opportunities.

3. Use Toys

Using toys outside of the camera frame can assist in getting the animals attention and most likely, an expressive facial expression. Using toys as props in the camera frame can also produce really great results. Experiment.

Munchkin, watching ribbons outside camera frame

Dexter and his favourite teddy

4. Opt for natural lighting

Studio lighting can be quite overwhelming for animals, and the constant flashing of the lights could upset their temperament.

When photographing outdoors, try to schedule your shoot for morning or afternoon.

If you have to shoot at noon with harsh sunlight, find a shady area to eliminate harsh shadows.

Overcast days are ideal, as the clouds create a giant softbox in the sky.

When shooting indoors, try using an area next to a large window or doorway to get enough natural light.

I would not recommend using camera flash, but if there is not enough available light, bounce your flash off a white ceiling or wall. Don’t know how? Read this bounce flash tutorial.

Neo, with window lighting

5. Camera Settings

Remember to adjust your ISO to the lighting conditions, open up your aperture to get a blurry background, and use a suitable shutter speed to prevent camera shake.

Experiment with various elements of composition, camera angles and different lenses to get a variety of effects.

Back lit close-up of Munchkin

Dexter looking up – Don’t those eyes just make your heart melt?

6. Environment

When photographing other people’s pets, I recommend shooting in their environment where they are comfortable. Dogs are a little easier to photograph outdoors, however for (most) cats I’d suggest confining the location to indoors.

Coco, the resident dog at Komati Gorge

7. Don’t forget the owners!

Most pet owners adore their furry friends, and for some, these cuties are almost like children. Set up a few shots of the animal and owner together. They say that dogs are mans best friend, so photograph them together!

Cara & much loved Maya

If you’re interested in booking me for a photo shoot with your furry friend, please contact me on 084 567 8913 or for pricing and availability.


{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Diaan October 20, 2011 at 8:49 am

Oh, nice hints. Styx hates it when I try to photograph him. Well, he does most of the time. When he thinks I’ve spent too much time with my studio lights he usually comes to sit in the middle of the action, usually on something important. I then get to snap a few shots before chasing him away.

Erika van Zyl October 20, 2011 at 9:19 am

I love these pics!

rikki hibbert October 20, 2011 at 9:21 am

Thanks Diaan – Munchkin does the exactly the same – sometimes those are the best pictures!

rikki hibbert October 20, 2011 at 9:21 am

Thanks Erika xxx ;-)

Dagmar Timler October 20, 2011 at 9:28 am

Awesome pics, cute pets and great advice. Thanks!

rikki hibbert October 20, 2011 at 9:30 am

Thanks Dagmar! And Happy Birthday! Hope Mittens curls up on your lap and gives you extra attention today!

juls October 20, 2011 at 10:16 am

Wow, I get all mushy seeing these.

rikki hibbert October 20, 2011 at 10:20 am

Hee hee! Most of the photos are our beautiful “children” ;-)

Lyn October 20, 2011 at 11:16 am

With having the absolute pleasure of meeting Dexter in person and being far from a photographer myself, but a huge animal lover, your pictures are truely amazing. Please post more when you have – i will pop in every now and again to take a peek. There is nothing quite like the warm fuzzy feeling a good animal picture brings into a busy work day.

rikki hibbert October 20, 2011 at 11:21 am

Thank you Lyn! Dexter sends his love and will take more photos of him this weekend! xxx

Ilke October 28, 2011 at 4:01 am

Toddlers and dogs are the most difficult for me. I need to get a handle of my camera better. I do take lots of food pictures for my blog and I had thought that was hard… Not a bit compared to a high energy Golden!
Thanks for the tips.

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