Working with pets

Pet photography is the ultimate test of a photographer’s patience and professionalism. The main reason for this is that animals have an inability to take directions from a photographer. Even the most well-trained animal cannot be completely relied upon to remain still or look in a certain direction.


Working with pets requires you to rethink how you approach the shoot and how to interact with your subject. I choose not be paid per hour and instead inform my clients that getting the perfect picture takes as long as it takes. This is especially true if you have to work with multiple animals – on my last shoot with a litter of kittens, it took fifteen minutes to get one of them down from a curtain in the studio.


Experiment with your environment

Animals are very sensitive to their environment and will react differently to various stimuli. Creating a calm and non-threatening atmosphere should be your goal and you can do this by studying your environment and trying to change it as necessary. At a recent session, I noticed that the pet’s owner was quite anxious and this behaviour was making the dog nervous. When I asked the owner to leave the room, the dog immediately relaxed and I could get some great pictures. Of course, this won’t always be successful as each animal is different, but the point is that you have the authority to alter the environment and experiment to see what works.


Learn to understand animal behaviour

Pay close attention to the interaction between the owner and their pet. Better still, research the psychology of animal behaviour and how animals interact with their environment. You don’t have to become an expert but it can be very helpful to have a working knowledge of common behaviour patterns.


There are lots of considerations you must think about if you are going to attempt a photography session with people’s pets. Here are some tips which will help you.


Tips when working with animals

  • If you are working in a studio environment, make sure that it is tidy with no distractions
  • Tape down cables where possible
  • Use flash as sparingly as possible as this can be very intimidating to animals. Never aim the flash directly at the animal
  • If taking portraits, you may have to get down to the animal’s eye level for the best shots
  • Wear comfortable clothes that you are not afraid to get dirty, especially if shooting outside
  • An assistant can be invaluable and can help with organisation and even distracting pets
  • Animals can move quickly so make sure that you bring suitable lenses for this
  • Bringing a pet’s favourite toys or treats to the shoot can help to calm them down


Working with animals can be very rewarding, especially when you see an owner’s reaction to the images. Ultimately, a successful shoot requires preparation and patience – two elements common to any photography session. For me, the opportunity to work with animals is one of the best things about being a professional photographer. I highly recommend trying it and having some fun.


What are your tips to get the best photos when working with pets?

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Written by: Noel Phelan

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