Photographing Your Animal Companion – Tips and Tricks

Photographing Your Animal Companion – Tips and Tricks

You do not have to be a professional photographer to get a great source image. Gather your camera, some toys, treats and your best friend. Take a lot of pictures and enjoy the process!


Getting Ready:

  • Chose an Optimum Time: Make sure your animal is relaxed and ready for the photo shoot. It does not all have to happen in a single day. If your companion appears bored or stressed during the shoot, do not continue. Just keep your camera handy for a better time.
  • Choose a Candid Moment: After reading through the tips and setting up your camera, you may discover that your best image can be captured at a candid moment, when your animal is unaware of being photographed.
  • Eliminate Distracting Objects: If you want to have your animal’s actual collar and tag included in the portrait, just leave them on. If you want the artist to add a more elaborate custom collar, bow, tag, jewel or medallion to your portrait, keep the neck area as simple as possible. Please remove any devices, multiple tags or bulky harnesses.
  • Enlist a Friend: Leaving a very simple collar on while shooting may be helpful in posing your animal. A friend can hold the leash and help to direct your animal’s pose and attention, while you are free to focus on shooting. Just make sure that the leash does not dangle in front of the shot and obscure any part of his or her anatomy.



Select Image Size / Pixel Density:

  • Use the largest photo size your device allows.
  • An iPhone mayl take up to 4128 x 3096 pixel density. Choose Camera–>Settings (cog-wheel symbol)–>Photo Size—–> Largest Size (3:4 ratio)
  • A common Digital Camera (say, a Cannon SX710) may have a larger pixel density. Choose Function Settings–>Still Image Aspect Ratio—–>L (4:3 ratio). On this particular camera, this will provide something in the neighborhood of 5184 x 3888 pixel density.
  • If you cannot locate your Image Size settings, use Google to find the online manual for your device.



General Device Settings:

  • You can typically use your “Auto” Setting.
  • If your animal is moving a lot, switch to the “Sport” or “Action” setting to eliminate blur.
  • Make sure all filters and enhancements are turned OFF.
  • For more experienced photographers: you will want to enable more depth of field to keep all parts of the face and body in good focus. A shallow depth of field creates too much blur in the more distant parts of the anatomy.
  • Remember: Detail is everything. The best photo will help us to create a final image that looks exactly like your animal. Aim for photos that pick up the hair texture, whiskers, and a little point of light in the eyes.


Lighting your animal:

Lighting is very important. Great photos will have a subtle play of light and shadow that defines the three dimensional form of your animal’s face and body. Too much light will wash out the detail, and too much shadow will create “black holes” in the image.

  • Never use a flash, as this creates a flat, washed out image. “Red Eye” from a flash obscures the natural appearance of your animal’s eyes.
  • Direct sunlight and noon sun also create harsh shadows and make it difficult to see the eyes.
  • Use natural daylight.
  • When shooting outdoors, early morning light, late afternoon light, and overcast days are ideal for picking up soft shadows and accurate color.
  • When shooting indoors work near a large window.
  • The best light is at a 3/4 angle….it comes in at an angle, slightly to the side, front and above.
  • Make sure that your animal’s eyes are visible and well lit, with a pinpoint of light reflecting. The eyes are the windows of the soul, and they bring the whole image to life.



Staging Your Photo Shoot:

As you browse through the Elgin Portrait gallery, you’ll notice that all of the animals are sitting exactly at or just slightly below eye level. These are the best angles, because they allow you to capture an attractive silhouette, and minimize any strange distortions caused by perspective or out of focus body parts. In the full body portraits, the paws are visible and not obscured by grass or other objects. This is not important if you desire only a cameo of the head and shoulders, but it is vital to have unobscured feet in the full length shots. To achieve this:

  • Photograph your animal at eye level or slightly above. You can get down on their level, or sit comfortably in a chair opposite the level “staging” surface.
  • Indoors: Have your animal pose on a smooth blanket, dense sofa, short carpet, coffee table, or counter-top. Cats are allowed on the counter top for Art’s sake, but dogs will not be safe or comfortable there! Make sure your animal is safe and comfortable.
  • Outdoors: Guide your animal onto a smooth blanket, patio, sidewalk, or sturdy picnic table.



Finding a Good Pose:

Of course, most of our animal companions cannot strike a pose.  But, we can gently coax them into a great shot. For both dogs and cats, the best formal postures can combine the following.

  • Sitting at attention in frontal, 3/4 or side view. This is a very regal pose…think “Noble Beast!” There should be either a 3/4 view of the face, or can be turned fully toward the viewer.
  • Looking up! When your animal has his chin slightly raised and is focusing on an object, the effect can be lovely. The eyes are visible and engaged, and the animal can interact with other elements that are placed in the final portrait. A helper can focus your animal’s attention upward with a treat, feather or squeaky toy.
  • If you chose a lying down pose, aim for an alert, Sphynx like posture. These are easily integrated into the tabletop style seen in Elgin portraits. A paw or two can even dangle over the edge, if still visible in the shot.
  • If the tail extends out of your frame, just move your viewfinder over and take a second shot. We can “attach” it later!
  • Most importantly, take lots of sequential shots! When you see your animal enter an optimal position, just keep shooting one frame after the other.
  • Let yourself experiment. Take some head and shoulder close-ups, as well as full body shots. Take some detail shots of the feet. In the event that one particular frame does not do the trick, we can use information from other shots to paint seamlessly over the problem areas.
  • Upload your photos to your computer. Set aside some time to look through your results on the larger screen, and narrow them down to your best images.



Examples of the Tips and Tricks

Here are a few actual images that demonstrate these principles. When shooting, aim for the best silhouette. Good silhouettes make the most interesting, elegant and well balanced images. They are also optimal for capturing the best of your animal’s facial features and unique expressions. The following images can be used as a general guideline.


You’ll notice that they are all at eye level or just slightly above. Important features are easy to see (ears, eyes, paws). Because there is very little perspective or foreshortening, all of these shapes are easily recognized as “dog” or “cat”. The body language is alert, focused and elegant.

With a poor silhouette, we may have difficulty seeing the animal’s unique form and facial features. Shooting down at your pet (rather than near eye level) will cause too much visual distortion in the anatomy. These silhouettes do not lend themselves to balance or elegance in the final image.

The following photos demonstrate many of the features you will look for in your photo shoot. Enjoy photographing your companion!