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Ask a Photographer

The Pet Parent's Guide to Better Photos

Anyone who’s surfed around has seen the work of Bailey. She’s one of our photographers and has been successfully pointing her camera at pets and the products they love for several years. Here’s what she had to say about her gift for photography, her love of pets and how the rest of us budding pet photographers can work toward getting the great results she achieves!

Q: Bailey, we’ve seen your wonderful photography on How’d you learn to snap a photo like that?

A: I started my journey by taking a photography class in high school. My family always had pets from cats to dogs and even a reptile. Each pet in our family enjoyed having their photos taken. Working closely with the family pets helped prepare me for this job. I ended up at a college in Arizona to study photography. My instructors taught me about capturing moments, what my strengths were and how to fine-tune them.

Q: I want to be able to take photos of my pet that look as good as yours! If I’m shooting at home, do you have any setting and lighting tips I can put to work?

A: One of the best lighting options is opening your curtains and blinds to use natural sunlight for your pet portraits. Most cameras have an “available light” setting that can be applied. Natural light will keep that nasty red-eye look out of your pet photos and is warmer than using the on-camera flash. If your camera has an “action” or “sport” setting, turn it on and try to catch your pet in motion. (This works especially well if your pet won’t stay still!) Also, instead of pointing your camera downward at your pet, try crouching down to their level to capture a different perspective.

Q: What about taking photos of my dogs at the park or in my yard? Any tips for taking photos outside? What’s the best time of day to capture the moment?

A: Outdoor photos are nice because you can take wonderful photos of your pet during playtime. When you are outside, make sure you are in a safe area where your pet will not be around traffic or other distractions and dangers. You probably don’t want a photo of your dog running away from you. When taking photos outdoors, the best times for natural light are the early morning and late afternoon. Morning and evening light will give your photos a warm feeling.

The Pet Parent's Guide to Better Photos, Cats
Photo credit: Getty Images
The Pet Parent's Guide to Better Photos, Dog
Photo credit: Getty Images

Q: Okay, I’ve got my camera and lighting situation squared away. Now what? Any tips for getting my dog to actually pose?

A: First and foremost, train your dog to hold a sit-stay position and grab your pet’s attention—think squeaky toy or another noisemaker. The right sound will cause your dog to put his ears up and look perky. When your dog is panting, it helps create the illusion that he is smiling for the photo, so consider running around with your pet before getting down to business. Make sure to reward your pet for listening. Another tip is to catch your pet as he wakes up from a nap, be quick with the shutter release and you’ll have yourself an adorable photo.

Q: Wow, I got some great photos! They’re clogging up my camera. What do I do with them now?

A: Websites like Shutterfly and Mpix offer affordable print and album solutions to share your photography. If you prefer to customize your pet photos, programs like iPhoto help make basic color corrections or digital enhancements. Once your photos are saved to your computer, you can download editing apps or upload to services to create calendars, photo albums, holiday cards and more! Don’t be afraid to experiment! For example, I am working with Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to create a digital scrapbook as a tribute to our Greyhounds. Going through all of the photos I captured of them has been a comforting experience and brings a smile to my face when I remember the happy memories.

Q: My dog/cat/hamster/ferret could totally be a pet model! How do I get him/her into that?

A: It’s a fun business to be in, and if you think your pet has the talent and work ethic to make it as a model, find an animal talent agency in your area and inquire about whether or not they’re looking for new models.

Q: Now time for the fun stuff. Tell us about any pet model divas you’ve dealt with on the set. (You don’t have to name names!) What about the funniest pet model?

A: Believe it or not, the majority of our models have been wonderful to work with. The models are always doing something to make me laugh, from yawning as I snap a picture, getting up mid-photo to steal a dropped snack or being so excited that they cannot sit still. I’ve photographed Bret Michaels and Martha Stewart with their pets, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Everyone was so kind and photogenic. Bret and Martha’s pets have had tons of practice in front of the camera, and it shows!

Q: Do you have your own pets? If so, what kind? Do they enjoy having their photo taken?

A: My family will always share our home with pets. In the past years, we have adopted Greyhounds, hamsters and fish. Our current dog, a mixed-breed who is a lovable ball of energy, enjoys having her photo taken outdoors, or stepping in front of the camera when I try to photograph my daughter! She is afraid of the studio flashes, so I keep photo shoots with her strictly in a natural light environment.