5 Tips for Pet Photography

The general advice

The general advice is: never work with children and animals. I do both!
Portraiture of all kinds is the mainstay of my Herefordshire studio, but over the last year or two, it’s been a sensible business move to focus (excuse the pun) more towards pet photography – in all it’s furry, feathery, scaly, wonder! Pet owners are as crazy about their companions as parents are about their kids, so it’s no surprise that pet, and in particular, dog photography can be as financially rewarding as it is fun.

But don’t think pet photoshoots are easy, our animal friends really can smell fear! Excitable dogs and non-cooperative cats are also the reality, so here are some tips to help.

Be prepared for your photoshoot

Find out as much information about the pet coming to your studio before the session. Knowing which breed and colour will help you choose the right background, props, set up and light patterns to use. Being prepared will save time in pet photography. Did you know dogs only have 5 minutes of doing as their told before they need a break? What’s your subject’s temperament? Do they love toys? Hate noise? Not being prepared will leave you with a long and probably chaotic dog shoot. Asking an owner these questions will also show you care about their pet.

What does the client want in their pet photoshoot?

Speak to your client about their personal taste, and the decor in their home at the time of booking. Pet photography styles can vary so much and there’s no point shooting a bright contemporary set of pictures if they’re actually fine art fans. Are they looking for large acrylic prints or metal prints for their modern home, or a set of smaller Simplicity frames to compliment their cottage? Selling should start before you even pick up your camera – then you can go on to create a set of pet portraits that they actually want to buy. A big favourite at my Leominster studio are the round acrylic prints, like this gorgeous portrait of my own dog Minnie, and are an exciting way to make your photos stand out.

What does the client want in their pet photoshoot?

These items are pet photography must-haves:

  • Squeaky toys and balls – ask their humans to bring favourite toys, too
  • Cat lures – those feathery, bouncy ones on long sticks are great for getting their attention
  • Cheese – lots and lots of tiny cheese cubes (most non-lactose intolerant pets love it)
  • Chicken – the cat’s ultimate treat and pet photographer’s friend
  • Screens – great for reducing the size of your shooting area to keep nervous cats out from under your furniture!
  • Pet calming plug-ins and sprays – available for dogs and cats, plug them in an hour before for chilled and happy animals

I ask owners to bring their own treats for photoshoots too, but it doesn’t hurt to have a few on hand.

Take your time with your pet photography

You cannot rush when working with animals. Pet photography photoshoots can vary in time. Some will sit quietly, happy to do whatever you ask of them, but many will probably get bored very quickly. Let them take a mooch around the studio, sniffing and exploring before you start, then take regular breaks because dogs and cats have pretty short attention spans. You can use this time to set up another background or tweak the lighting – or just spend it hanging out with your new furry friend.

Be versatile with your photoshoots

I shoot two very different styles: a painterly fine art, with warm tones and textured backgrounds, and a bright, popping contemporary. Have fun experimenting with bright colours or plain white, and perfect your inner Rembrandt. Offering different options for your pet photography will double your client base. If using props, make sure they are in keeping with the pet – why not invite clients to bring their own in? Being in a rural county like Herefordshire, I often work with gamekeepers and will have working clothes and boots in some of the images – it makes them more original and special to them.

Pet photography with Jay Watson

If you want a pet photoshoot then you can find out more about Jay Watson and her pet photography on her website. She is based in Leominster, Herefordshire, but she’ll travel all over the UK to photograph your pet.