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Pet Photography 101




Out for a Run


Using a shutter speed of 1/1000sec and continuous auto focus, I was able to capture this shot of a dog running towards me. I chose a focus spot in advance, asked my wife to call the dog and as he came into my chosen area of focus I fired away a rapid succession of shots.

  • January 3rd, 2013
  • NIKON D700
  • 105mm / f/3.2 / 1/1000 sec


Photographing pets often presents the same challenges as photographing children. They move around, never listen and refuse to do what you want when you want it. Throw in the exposure problems caused by black and white fur into the mix and you may think that you have a nightmare on your hands.

Not so! There are some simple hints and tricks to make photographing your cat or dog easy and effortless.



Nap Time

  • February 19th, 2008
  • NIKON D700
  • 105mm / f/3.3 / 1/80 sec

The first and most important piece of advice that I can give to anyone, is that it is very important to get down to the level of your pet. Perspective is everything when it comes to creating those pet images that stand out from your everyday snapshots commonly seen all over the web. By lowering your perspective to that of your dog or cat, you create images that show the world at their level as seen from their perspective. So don't be afraid to get down on the ground. In most cases this also leads to your cat or dog wanting to play with you enabling you to get those shots that show off your pet's personality and playfulness.

As with photographing children, cats and dogs too tend to show more emotion in the photographs when they are having fun and enjoying themselves. If you have a little kitten or a cat, put him/her in a tree or some long grass. If you have a dog, take it to the park and throw a stick or something for it to fetch and run around with. Just remember to stay at their level so you can capture the fun from their view.




Natural Outdoor Light & Soft Focus


Taken outside amid the leaves and trees, using a flash set to -3 to help brighten her and making the sunlit leaves in the background a little darker. Using an f-stop of f5.6 I was able to blur out the background helping to make her the focus point of the shot. I was sure to use 3D tracking (Continuous auto-focus) to keep her head in focus, with my focus point selected on her eyes.

  • July 19th, 2009
  • NIKON D70
  • 55mm / f/5.6 / 1/180 sec

So how do we get these active and happy pets that are running around and climbing up trees to stand still long enough to fire of a shot?

The answer to this is simpler than it seems. Continuous burst mode! Different brands of camera have different names for this, but in effect it is the setting where your camera will shoot a few shots in rapid succession, with one press of the shutter button.
When photographing a dog running across the frame, follow the dog with your camera continuously focusing on the dog and then fire off a few shots in rapid succession. Your camera should also be set to continuous auto, AF-C / 3D tracking on Nikons or AI Servo AF on Canons. If the dog is running towards you or away from you, then it becomes a little trickier, in that you need to first focus on the area where you would like to photograph the dog and then fire off the rapid succession of shots as the dogs passes through the area you are focused on.
A handy hint here is also to use an f stop of around f2.8 to f5.6, this will help keep only your dog in focus and will increase your shutter speeds instead of using an f-stop of f8 or higher. If you cannot get a shutter speed of around 1/250sec then you will need to increase your ISO settings.

For the type of photos where you feel you want or need to dress up the background in a specific colour that will help bring out your pets eye colour or make them look cuddly and soft in a blanket, get them to go to sleep on the bed and then wait a while. Kittens and puppies are usually most accommodating to you posing them when they have been sleeping for a while.
When taking the shot, though, make sure that your focus point is on the eye closest to you, otherwise fine hairs and whiskers can cause the camera to change focus.





This photos was shot using natural sunlight coming through the window. Using spot metering, which is where the camera places extra emphasis on metering the exposure on your point of focus, or centre of the frame, so that the bright spot of light on her face would remain bright without the camera trying to make the rest of the background brighter. I then set the exposure compensation to +1 so that the sunlit highlights would remain bright.
I used a fast shutter speed to freeze her fast moving actions and a low f-stop of f5.3 to help blur out the background.


  • November 18th, 2011
  • NIKON D700
  • 260mm / f/5.3 / 1/2000 sec

Exposure when photographing pets can be a nightmare, but it doesn't have to be.
A camera's meter will try to capture an image with an average exposure. What this means is that if you have a black cat in a light room or outside in the sun, the camera will try to make both the bright surrounding and the dark cat fit into the tonal range of the camera. The effect of this is either a cat that's too black or a cat that is grey and washed out.


So what to do?


By default, most cameras are set to measure the light from the entire frame which would then take into account the animal and the background. The result is that when photographing a black cat or dog, your camera's exposure metering, will try to compensate and make the animal a little brighter which can often lead to an overexposed animal, or it will take the background into consideration and leave a underexposed pet.

If you have the option on your camera to choose the type of exposure metering, then centre weighted metering would be the best for pets. Depending on the kind of camera you have, this may have a different name, but it is generally the metering mode depicted by a small dot with brackets around it in the middle of a frame.
The trick to getting the exposure of your cat or dog correct is to adjust your exposure compensation. Simply put exposure compensation tells your camera to either darken or brighten an image. If you are photographing a dark coloured or black cat, then you would want to tell your camera that the cat it black and hence would set your camera's exposure compensation to -1.5 or -1. In effect your camera then knows that what you're photographing is dark and that it shouldn't try to make it lighter, causing it to appear over exposed or grey. Similarly, when photographing a white cat or dog, you would need to set your exposure compensation to +1 or +1.5 so that your camera knows the object you are photographing is white and mustn't be made darker.



Warm Glow


Photographed sitting next to a bed side lamp at a very low f-stop f1.4, which allowed me to keep my ISO low and shutter speed manageable at 1/60sec for hand held photography.  By using a bed  side lamp, with a shade cover, I was able to create a softly lit portrait that would not work under other lighting conditions.

  • September 9th, 2009
  • NIKON D70
  • 50mm / f/1.4 / 1/60 sec

Direct sunlight through a window makes for great cat photos, brightening up their eyes and allowing you to photograph at a faster shutter speed eliminating blur from any fast movements. When photographing outdoors in direct sunlight, you may be fooled into thinking that there is no need to use your flash; however this is often when it is needed most. By setting your flash exposure compensation to -1 or -1.5, this tells the flash not to use its full power but lowers it a stop, allowing you to fill in some of the dark contrasty shadows caused by the bright sunlight, but also helps from overexposing the photo by blowing out the highlights.

When shooting indoors, it is important to use a large diffuser to help soften the glare and spread the light coming of your flash. If you don't have a large diffuser, try bouncing the flash off the ceiling or a wall to soften the light a little.


Please feel free to leave a comment if you have found this guide helpful.

To see more of my pet photography, go to:  www.matthewtheronphotography.com/pets







This photos was shot using a large diffuser and flash bounced of the wall on the left side of her after napping on the bed. Whilst napping I put a cloth along side her that would bring out her eye colour. She awoke with a stare making it very clear that she was not happy.


  • March 3rd, 2013
  • NIKON D700
  • 105mm / f/7.1 / 1/320 sec

Big Eyes


Photographed using a flash with a diffuser from the front. Again, I placed the scarf around her whilst she was sleeping.


  • March 3rd, 2013
  • NIKON D700
  • 105mm / f/14 / 1/320 sec

In the Kitchen

Photographed in the kitchen using the light available, meant grabbing the camera, and changing the aperture to the lowest setting available for the lens so that it would give me the fastest shutter speed available. There is often not enough time to set up a shot when it comes to pets, and one has to think on your feet. There was no time to set ISO, shutter speed, aperture etc. So by prioritising the aperture I knew that with the low level of light, it meant having to hold the camera steady with a slow shutter speed.

  • December 16th, 2011
  • NIKON D700
  • 260mm / f/5.6 / 1/30 sec

Having Fun

Photographed outside by letting the cat do what it loves best, climb trees. Here I actually got the settings on my camera ready, then placed the cat in the tree and photographed it coming down.

  • August 12th, 2010
  • NIKON D700
  • 50mm / f/2 / 1/200 sec


  • August 5th, 2011
  • NIKON D700
  • 105mm / f/32 / 1/60 sec