Pet photography is popular for many reasons. And if you want to get into taking portraits of humans but photographing people makes you nervous, start with your pet! The animals you live with every day make fabulous photography subjects and are fun to experiment on. Your pets won’t judge you if you don’t capture their best side. Plus, pet portraits make fabulous gifts for your friends and family. Let’s dig deep into the exciting world of pet photography using your iPhone camera.
Pet photography tips and ideas
A pet photo should capture your pet’s unique personality traits or mood. You know your pet better than anyone, so it’s up to you to capture that sweet, funny, or memorable moment. Of course, you don’t have to stop at photographing your own pets. Once you start experimenting with pet photography, you’ll want to photograph the pets of your family and friends, as well as the pets you meet while you’re out and about. Here are some general tips to help you photograph pets of all kinds, from turtles and gerbils to cats, dogs, and horses.
1. Get down to your pet’s level
Most of the pets you photograph will be lower to the ground than you are. You can better capture their emotions and perspective by shooting from your pet’s eye level instead of from your own. People are used to seeing their pets from above, so this quick perspective change is actually a great way to show a side of your pet that others aren’t accustomed to.
2. Look for simple backgrounds to minimize distractions
The less cluttered your background, the better you will be able to highlight your pet’s unique characteristics and emotions. Seek out backgrounds that contrast nicely with your pet’s coloring but won’t clutter the scene. For photographing dogs, this can be as easy as taking them to a grassy field. Outdoor cats can be photographed against a blue sky or a neutral part of your yard. Indoor scenes may be trickier — just look for simple backgrounds like plain walls or pieces of furniture.
Another way to easily declutter your background is to use Portrait mode. Starting with iPhone 11, Portrait mode automatically recognizes pets and will gently blur the background while keeping your pet in focus.
3. Include negative space in front of your pet
Negative space is the area that surrounds the subject in a photograph, giving it breathing room for a less cluttered feel, as well as adding definition to your subject. When thinking about positive and negative space in pet photography, there are a few things to keep in mind. If your pet is moving, you want to include a healthy amount of negative space in the direction that they are headed. This creates a visual story and a sense of mystery, enabling you to picture what is going to happen next.
If you are photographing a portrait or a close-up of your pet, leave some negative space in the direction where your pet is looking. Again, this allows the viewer to consider what the animal is looking at and why, adding interest to the image.
4. Include props or clothing to add interest to your pet photos
Using clothing and props will add interest to your image and help you tell your pet’s story. Whether you include a bunch of carrots with your pet rabbit, put a fuzzy coat on your dog, or show your cat snuggling in a favorite blanket, a thoughtfully chosen toy or prop will make your photo stand out in the cluttered world of pet photography.
5. Focus on your pet’s eyes
You know the saying: “The eyes are the window to the soul.” And that doesn’t just apply to human beings! Your pet’s eyes show so much emotion and character, and capturing their expressiveness should be at the top of your list of priorities! When photographing your pet’s eyes, try to capture a “catch light,” which is a small reflection of light in your subject’s eye or eyes, which causes them to appear to sparkle.
Gear and settings for pet photos
While you don’t necessarily need any specific gear or settings to get started taking pet photos, there are definitely a few tactics that will help improve your pet photography skills. Here are our favorite iPhone settings for pet photography, as well as some extra pieces of gear that are worth the investment.
iPhone Camera settings to use when photographing pets
- Burst mode: Useful for capturing action shots of any type of animal, Burst mode allows you to take numerous shots in rapid succession. Simple hold your finger on the shutter and pull it to the left.
- AF/AE lock: This is most useful for pet portraits when you want to lock in the focus and exposure on a certain area of your photo. Hold your finger on the main focal point on your screen. You will see a yellow box around the area in focus. Drag the little sun up to increase the brightness or down to decrease.
- Portrait mode: Starting with iPhone 11, Portrait mode recognizes pets, allowing you to take fabulous pet portraits with an in-focus subject and a gently blurred background.
- No flash: Do not even think about using a flash for pet photography. Your iPhone flash will give your pet an unnatural look, not to mention glowing green eyes.
What lens is best for pet photography?
Your standard wide-angle iPhone lens will be fine for most pet photography sessions, but if your aim is to capture pet portraits that highlight your pet’s unique character or mood, we would suggest using a telephoto lens so you can really capture your pet’s face and eyes in detail. The following iPhones have an included telephoto lenses:
- iPhone 7 Plus
- iPhone 8 Plus
- iPhone X
- iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max
- iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone Pro Max
- iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone Pro Max
If you aren’t using one of the models mentioned above, you can buy an external telephoto lens for pet portraits.
How to take fun dog photography on iPhone
Dogs are both challenging and fun to photograph. Sometimes they move so fast that you will be forced to use Burst mode to capture that energy. Other times, dogs can be trained to strike a pose and hold it so that you can really focus on their face and emotions. Here are some creative tips for taking incredible dog photos with your iPhone.
1. Use treats or toys to focus your dog’s attention
What’s the key to your dog’s heart (and attention span)? Is it a yummy biscuit? A squeaky toy? A scratch behind the ears? Whatever it is, you can use it to your advantage with some positive reinforcement training. Ask your dog to hold a pose. Then snap a few photos and give them a reward. Sounds easy, right? With a little practice, it’s not hard; you just need to know what type of reward your dog will work for.
If you’re photographing a dog that isn’t your own, you’ll have to ask the dog’s owner what works best. Or recruit them to help keep the dog focused using their own training methods.
2. Try owner/dog portraits to capture the relationship
Capturing that special bond between dogs and their humans is a moment that is beautiful to photograph. If you find yourself in a situation where you can photograph dogs and their owners, consider yourself fortunate. The photos will turn out a blend of pet and lifestyle photography, capturing authentic, unposed moments.
Ask the people in the photo to spend some time playing with, training, or cuddling their dog (or dogs) while you simply observe and take photos. Use some of the other tips that we’ve already mentioned to give yourself the best chance of success — find a simple background and good natural light. Use toys, treats, and props to make it more fun, and take lots of photos so you can capture that perfect moment.
3. Shoot outdoors in natural light
To seek out great natural backgrounds and good lighting, we urge you to head outdoors with your dog. If your dog has a favorite spot, start there. Try to capture the joy your dog feels while on a walk, hiking in the woods, or playing a game of fetch. Similar to props, the background of your photo will help tell your pet’s story, so whether you head to the dog park, the woods, or a local lake will depend entirely on your dog. Where would they ask to go if they could make a special request?
4. Use Burst mode to capture action shots
We talked a bit about Burst mode above, but it’s worth discussing again. Most dogs are energetic and fast, which means you have to be fast too! If your dog likes to fetch, run, swim, or chase other dogs, you can capture that action with a quick trigger finger and Burst mode. In the shot above, the photographer got her camera ready, threw a toy into the water, and then captured the whole sequence in Burst mode. Later, she looked through the photos and found the best silhouette of the bunch.
How to do cat photography with your iPhone
Photographing cats provides a whole different set of challenges. If you’re working with your own cat, you will find it easier to capture your cat at the right moment. But if you are working with a cat that isn’t your own, your photographic success will depend a lot on whether the cat is shy or outgoing. While cats can certainly be trained, it’s never as straightforward as working with dogs, so our advice is to expect the unexpected.
1. Encourage your cat to play while you snap photos
Does your cat have a favorite toy? The cat pictured above is partial to a feather on a string, and when its owner pulls it out of the drawer, he stalks it before pouncing. Unlike dogs, cats’ actions are a little more difficult to predict, so it’s even more important to be ready with the camera when they’re in the mood for play. For this shot, the photographer asked one of her kids to do a little enticing with the toy while she focused on the cat.
2. Natural light is always best
Natural light is perfect for bringing out the highlights in your cat’s fur and the sparkle in their eyes. If you have an opportunity to capture your cat outdoors, that’s great, but even a sunny window will give you enough natural light to capture your cat’s best side.
3. Capture your cat at rest
Did you know that most cats sleep an average of 20 hours a day? It’s true! That means you can practice photographing your cat while they’re in their favorite position. Look for simple, beautiful backgrounds to highlight your cat sleeping or resting comfortably. Great backdrops include colorful quilts, blankets, or pillows, windowsills, and uncluttered shelves. Seek out the places where your cat normally sleeps and make it cozy and photogenic. Now all you have to do is wait for the catnap.
4. Use different angles to highlight your cat’s personality
How do you normally see your cat? Is he prancing through the house with his tail in the air? High on a shelf looking down at you? Cats are not vertically challenged, so it can be fun to capture them from the ground looking up or from other angles that are unique to your cat.
5. Fill the frame with your cat
Dogs and cats alike deserve a few glamour shots now and then, so don’t forget to get up close and fill the frame for beautiful portraits. Focus on the eyes and other facial features that really highlight your cat’s personality. These frame-worthy photos are the ones that will tug on your heartstrings.
Why are cats afraid of cameras?
Like people, cats are quirky and have their own sets of likes and dislikes. If your cat seems to run away every time you pull out your phone to take a photo, it may be that the noise makes them nervous or that your behavior behind the camera is alarming them. The first thing you should do is turn the shutter noise completely off. To desensitize your cat to your iPhone camera, start by taking photos from a good distance or when they are sleeping. As they get used to having their photo taken, you can get closer.
Pet photography is a rewarding genre, especially for animal lovers. If you have an animal companion in your life, now is a great time to start experimenting with pet photography. If you don’t have a pet of your own, reach out to a friend with pets or visit a local dog park or animal shelter.