How to Photograph Your Pets

Millions of pet pictures are taken every year. The results are proudly shown off not only in frames next to the rest of the family pictures but also on websites and blogs dedicated to the best pictures of animal companions, and in books like The Ultimate Dog Lover, The Ultimate Cat Lover, and The Ultimate Horse Lover.

How do you get that perfect picture you'll be proud to keep and to share? We asked Troy Snow, a top professional photographer with years of experience taking pictures for the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, for advice on how to get the best possible pictures of your animal companions. Below is his response.

You can view some of Troy Snow's animal photography at his Flickr site, More information about The Ultimate Dog Lover -- and other books featuring the photography of Troy Snow -- follows the article. Good luck with those snapshots!

"How to Photograph Your Pets"
by Troy Snow

Digital photography has changed everything for the casual photographer. Instead of wasting roll after roll of film -- or not bothering to take pictures at all because of the trouble and expense of getting them developed -- it's now possible to take hundreds of pictures of your pet, happy in the knowledge that if there are just one or two good ones out of every few dozen taken, nothing has been wasted except possibly your time.

Even better, photo-editing software has made it possible to salvage a marginal image. With a few clicks of the mouse, the out-of-frame, out-of-focus, or just "not right" images are jettisoned forever. A few clicks more, and those images with potential are fixed up and made suitable for framing --- a crop here, a red eye changed to brown, the elimination of items cluttering up the background.

But the best pictures aren't made in a software program. They start with the knowledge of how to get great pictures at the first shutter click. Learn these basics and you'll end up with the memories that will last forever:

Get Outside

Taking pictures outside gives your pet a more natural, healthy look. But animals won't sit still like humans. Dogs romp, cats frolic, horses trot. Learn to adjust your aperture and shutter speed to shoot objects in motion, or use predefined program many cameras include. You'll capture the best of your pet's athletic grace.

If your pet is a solid, dark color, use your flash to bring out the detail in his or her face. If you do end up with a red eye, use photo-editing software (basic programs come free with many new cameras and computers) to fix the problem.

Get Close

If you want a good picture, you need to get on the same plane as your pet. Shoot at eye level or just above the eye level to get the best visual connection. Be careful not to get too low though. A long snout shot from too low an angle can block the eyes, breaking the connection you're trying to get.

Watch the Background

Think neutral -- a plain wall, not a cluttered cabinet, or a barn door, not a tool shed. Think contrast, but not too much -- a lighter background for a dark animal, darker for a light pet. If your dog loves to curl up on his paisley dog bed, consider throwing down a solid-colored blanket before you shoot. Your cat might look better against the solid green background of the lawn than in front of a busy garden bed. You might be able to edit a distracting background later, but it's easier to avoid it in the first place.

Be Patient

If you pet does something cute and you miss it, don't despair. Chances are, if you're patient and keep your camera ready, you'll catch an encore performance.

Get Help

Children make the best photographer's assistants. Get a kid to help get your pet's attention with a toy or treat or by posing with your horse, dog, cat, or other pet. Nothing is more adorable than kids and pets together.

Be Creative

If you want to capture your dog kissing your child, do what the pros do: put a little butter on your child's cheek, and let the dog lick it off. Food is good for more than kissing -- it's also great for getting your animal's attention for the shot. Squeaky toys and laser pointers work well, too. If you can get your pet to stay still for a few seconds, throw a toy (or even your car keys) in the direction you want him or her to look.

Have Fun with the Software

The camera's just the first step to a great picture. Basic photo-editing software can do more than fix errors -- it can turn your images into art! Play with colors, contrast, sharpness, and more, or use special effects such as "watercolorizing" to create something unique.

Keep Taking Pictures

Just as with children, people tend to take pictures of new puppies or kitties, then put the camera away. But your pet is always changing, and the images you one day love the most might be of your companion as a sweet senior.

So get out there with that new camera, whether it's a pint-size point-and-shoot or a sophisticated digital SLR. You'll find that pets are more patient subjects than people, especially if treats are involved for good behavior.

adapted from
The Best Experts' Advice for a Happy, Healthy Dog
with Stories and Photos of Incredible Canines
by Dr. Marty Becker, America's Vet,
with Gina Spadafori, Carol Kline, and Mikkel Becker
Published by Health Communications, Inc.
Reprinted with permission.


Troy Snow is a professional freelance photographer whose work has been widely appreciated and published. Along with a team from Best Friends, he went to the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to help animals and people. The stories from that rescue effort are told in his stunning picture book, "Not Left Behind: Rescuing the Pets of New Orleans" (Yorkville Press). Troy's pictures can be found on the Best Friends website at and on his own website,


All books are available through bookstores or directly from the publisher, Health Communications, Inc.:


Nationally recognized as the popular pet correspondent for "Good Morning America," Dr. Becker is also a frequent guest on "The Martha Stewart Show" and Fox-TV's "Morning Show with Mike and Juliet." More recently Dr. Becker and coauthor Gina Spadafori have become contributing writers on the subject of pet care for "Parade" magazine. Their weekly pet column is nationally syndicated, as is Dr. Becker's PBS television series, "The Pet Doctor with Marty Becker."
You'll find more information about Dr. Becker at the Pet Connection:

Copyright (C) 2008 by Troy Snow. All Rights Reserved. Please feel free to duplicate or distribute this file as long as the contents are not changed and this copyright notice is intact. Thank you.