Pet column: How to successfully take a pet photo |

Pet column: How to successfully take a pet photo

Dawn Armstrong
Special to the Tribune

The call is out for pet photos from amateurs. From the 2014 Tahoe Pets Calendar and breed rescue and shelter contests,to online apparel, coffee mugs and mouse pads, opportunities abound to immortalize, wear, and display a pet likeness. In addition, it’s not too early to get out holiday decorations and plan a family shoot, including pets, for 2014 greeting cards. First, decide what you are going for: pet portrait, pet in a setting, pet in action, or all of the above. Here are basic pet photo tips.

There are two unique pet photo challenges. First, people “red eye” becomes pet “devil eye” which cannot be corrected with automatic settings. Second, dark coat color is tough to capture, making black pets the most difficult to photograph. As in all photography, it’s all about the light. Use natural lighting indoors next to a window or in a sun room, outdoors in daylight, or use an indirect flash separate from the camera. If needed, there are instructions on the Web for correcting “devil eye” with basic photo software. A third challenge is the same when photographing children – communication and movement. For keeper shots direct from the camera, all you need are the three “Ps”: a preset camera, your pet and patience.

Preset the camera

Even point-and-shoot digital cameras have settings which can capture an active pet, a sequence of expressions or a dramatic portrait. Auto mode can suffice, but try Continuous or Burst mode to capture a series of shots. Check the camera specifications in the manual. In traditional film terms, the speed should be ISO 400 for outside action. Inside, ISO 800 compensates for low light. A shutter speed of 1/125 reduces the chance of blurring. Many pocket cameras can set ISO automatically. Put the camera on shutter-priority mode to get a fast shutter speed. If available, use a sport action type mode and the camera automatically selects the fastest shutter speed possible for the situation. Pre focus the camera to set up for each shot. Simply push the shutter button halfway before the action starts, allowing time for the camera to automatically focus, hold then push down to burst away to avoid shutter lag. Remember that black pets need more light since it is absorbed by their fur and detail is lost. White pets need less light and photograph best out of direct sunlight.

Prepare the pet

For pets who just won’t sit still, schedule the photo session after a tiring play time or during a rest on a long hike. Keep in mind that flash can hurt a pet’s eyes or make him or her camera shy. Avoid direct flash or tape gauze over the built in flash. This eliminates reflection from glass fish or reptile tanks as well. Some pets turn away when they hear the camera click. Try camera conditioning by leaving the camera out for the cat or dog to sniff and discover it’s no big deal. Offer a treat when the camera clicks. Then use a helper to hold a tennis ball over your head or wave a feather to get the pet looking at the camera. However, some of the best pet photography is candid, when the pet is unaware or even asleep. The most memorable photos reflect a pet’s personality. Capture the feeling between you and your pet and the result will be magical.


Digital photography offers the benefit of limitless free mistakes. No film to develop or prints to order. Professional pet photographers assume they will take at least 25 shots of a single pet pose to get one keeper, getting two out of 36 sharp shots is exceptional. The key is to keep it fun for both you and your pet. Get down on your knees or belly to pet level. Take advantage of that golden hour before sunset when a pet’s fur and eyes take on a glorious glow. Carry a camera and extra batteries everywhere. Some of the most famous photos ever taken were spontaneous, snapped at an unplanned moment with simple equipment at hand.

Free 2013 Tahoe Pet Calendar samples, 2014 Tahoe Pet Calendar information and entry forms are at 870 Emerald Bay Road or by calling 530-542-2857. A downloadable entry form for the 2014 Tahoe Pet Calendar is available at The submission deadline is Sept. 30.

— Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help “Keep Tahoe Kind.” Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.

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