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How to Take Really Cute Pet Photos

Follow these top tips from professional animal photographers.
Photograph by Shelley Castle

Shelley Castle has photographed all types of dogs and cats, plus horses and even bulls—yes, bulls—during five years as a professional pet photographer. Her subjects can be challenging and unpredictable, such as the vizsla named Zip that refused to pose by the Potomac. Thinking it would make him look in the right direction to get her shot, Castle threw a few rocks into the river—and the dog promptly chased after them. “We decided to take swimming pictures instead,” she says.

Animal photographers have to be flexible, and they all have a bag of tricks—some obvious, some less so. We asked Castle and her fellow veteran Washington pet photographer Sara Riddle to share a few.

For Dogs

  • Choose a familiar place where your dog won’t get distracted by new surroundings. If you must go somewhere new, introduce the dog to the area before the shoot.
  • Help animals feel comfortable around the camera by allowing them to sniff the equipment.
  • If your dog is scared of the camera, give him a reward each time you snap to help him associate it with something he loves.
  • Take the dog on a walk beforehand to get extra energy out.

For Cats

  • Don’t pressure cats to pose. You can often get good photos just by letting them do their own thing.
  • If your cat likes treats, use them to coax the animal into looking at the camera.
  • In one hand, hold a toy that dangles from a stick to keep the cat’s attention, while taking photos with the other.
  • Because cats are typically photographed indoors, position them near plenty of natural light.

For Both

  • Don’t use a flash. Cats and dogs have reflective properties in their eyes, so a camera’s flash will turn the eyes green or red in photos.
  • For outdoor shoots, avoid dark or cloudy times as well as midday, when the light can dominate photos.
  • Choose a backdrop that lets your pet stand out. Good combinations include a chocolate Lab in front of a blue sky or a black- or brown-spotted dog in front of a white background.

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