12 Simple Photography Tips for Dog Parents

Do you get frustrated trying to take good pictures of your dog? Capturing the magic isn’t as hard as you’d think, once you master some very simple tips.

Sherman is ready for his close-up.
Sherman is ready for his close-up.

Editor’s Note: Jennifer Costello was the winner of one of Petful’s photo contests last year — so she definitely knows what she’s talking about when it comes to capturing beautiful photos of dogs. Here, she shares some quick tips.

Capturing an amazing picture of your dog to frame and hang on the wall for all to see can be greatly rewarding.

But for some people, pet photography can also be a daunting task that quickly leads to disappointment and frustration because — let’s face it — there’s a very small window to get that perfect shot, and you can’t tell your dog to smile, turn more to the left or say cheese.

Here are 12 tips that might help you capture that magic photo.

1. Get a Decent Camera

This doesn’t mean you have to go out and spend a ton of money. Start out small and upgrade later. Even most smartphones now have the capabilities to take beautiful pictures.

I usually use a Nikon SLR digital camera (affiliate link), but I started out using a small COOLPIX camera similar to the COOLPIX 3500, which costs $99 and is fine for shutterbugs just starting out.

2. Get Comfortable

Yes, it might seem obvious, but it deserves a mention here: Familiarize yourself with your camera. Actually read the manual and play around with the equipment before you try to take a picture of your dog. This simple tip alone can reduce a lot of frustration for both you and your dog.

3. Let Your Dog Check It Out

Some dogs are shy around cameras. Maybe they don’t like the sound it makes or something new so close to them. Give your pet time to get used to the shutter click.

4. Zoom

If your camera has a zoom lens, use it! This way you’re not in your dog’s face, so you’ll allow the dog to feel more comfortable. Watch out for digital zoom because it enlarges the image back to its original size, and then you risk losing quality in that picture and gaining distortion. Most of the time, I use the optical zoom and then edit it as I see fit.

5. Natural Lighting

You don’t need fancy lighting — use natural light. Natural light makes for the best pet photos. You can take advantage of the natural light in your house or outside.

Some of the best times to take pictures are early morning and right before dusk because the sun isn’t too bright. Overcast days work fine too. If the sun is shining, no need to worry; just make sure you’re not shooting into the sun.

6. Motivation

If you want your dog to look at you and have a cute facial expression, try pulling out a favorite treat or toy. No dog can resist a cute little head tilt with the squeak of a favorite toy.

My dog Leroy is not at all treat-motivated, so I have to get creative when trying to get a cute expression out of him. One time I had to squeak like a mouse and — believe it or not — I once had to snort like a pig! There’s not much I won’t do for a good picture.

7. Background

Be aware of what is in the background of your picture. A cluttered background will take focus away from your subject.

I like to take a quick survey of the area where I’m taking my pictures to make sure there isn’t anything distracting in the background such as a chair, table or even a person walking by.

8. Get Down

Shooting down on your pet is going to take away from the picture, so get down to your pet’s level.

Sometimes you have to get down to the pet's level. By: Kristine Lacoste/Pets Adviser
Sometimes you have to get down to the pet’s level. By: Kristine Lacoste/Petful

For small dogs this might mean actually lying down on the floor, but the outcome will be totally worth it.

Kristine from Petful captured the photo of the Frenchie shown here while she was lying on the floor at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York last February. She says, “You have to get dirty sometimes, but capturing the animal from a unique angle can take the picture to the next level.”

9. Forget the Props

When you’re just starting out, don’t use props such as funny hats — just focus on getting familiar with the camera and your dog. You can add those props later, but remember that some dogs probably photograph better without them.

10. Patience Is Key

Chances are you’re going to have to take a lot of pictures to get a few good ones, so be patient. I’ve taken literally hundreds of pictures in one day and have had fewer than a handful that were worthy of being hung on the wall.

Sometimes you just need to take a break and walk away. That’s okay.

11. Edit

After your photo session, go through your pictures and check them out. Don’t count a picture out because of something silly like a chair that you didn’t realize was in the frame. You can crop that out with a variety of free online photo editing sites. (My favorite free online photo site is Picmonkey.)

12. Know Your Dog

I have 2 dogs. One loves the camera and the other does not, so I have to work in different ways with each of them to get a good picture. Over time, you’ll learn what works for your own pet and what doesn’t, so pay close attention.

The most important thing to remember when taking pictures of your dog is simple: Just have fun. No one ever gets a good picture when they’re frustrated and angry, so loosen up and go get that perfect picture!

Additional Resources

Jennifer Costello

View posts by Jennifer Costello
Jennifer Costello is a pet blogger and veterinary technician. She shares all about her life with her family and dogs on her blog, My Brown Newfies. When not on adventures with the dogs, Jen is spending time with her husband, 2 children and guinea pig. Jen’s passions include photography, pet health and all things dog.

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