Animal photography is definitely not to be underestimated! It may look easy with the pros, but anyone who has ever tried to photograph an unpredictable creature like a cat or a dog knows that it is the opposite. Here you will find the best tips on how you can make beautiful animal photos.
If you don’t want to photograph your animal yourself, we have a large selection of the best animal photographers for you here. Otherwise, have fun with our tips so that you can quickly become a professional yourself!
# 1 relax
Animals are little emotional sponges, and if you are stressed or restless, they’ll notice and get infected. A stressed animal looks at you with concerned eyes and ears, which is not particularly good in pictures. Take a deep breath and don’t forget that you can have fun! Keep this fact in mind while taking pictures of animals! I think that’s one of the most important tips in wildlife photography .
# 2 Focus on eyes and expression
The eyes are the most expressive part of an animal face. So if you want to take really interesting animal portraits, focus on the eyes and facial expression. A well-timed whine (by you) can easily draw the attention of a puppy or a curious dog to you and before you can even say “woof” your model looks directly into the camera. By the way, here you will find our top 20 tips for dog photography .
Animal photography: pay attention to the eyes, because they give the picture the most expression.
# 3 Make sure everything is in order
Before you even take the camera out of your pocket, take a look around and clear away any clutter and clear away anything superfluous. Do you really want to see the empty Starbucks mug on the coffee table in your cat’s photo? Is the garden hose snaking through the grass in the photo of your dog really aesthetically pleasing? Of course, this tip does not only apply to animal photography , but to all areas of photography .
If a background element doesn’t improve your image in any way, put it away or rearrange it. A tidy environment results in more beautiful pictures and reduces the amount of post-processing. Nobody needs to see animal photos on which you can see the overflowing trash can in the background. Speaking of post-processing: Read here why and how you should calibrate your monitor before you start editing.
# 4 Take the pictures in their world
Some snapshots of your animal from above are certainly cute – but to take really captivating animal portraits like the professionals, you have to go to their height, “into their world” . Try different things, here we have put together 8 camera perspectives that will also help you take pictures of animals.
- For a Great Dane this means waist height for you;
- for a chihuahua, it can mean the height of your ankles.
- With a cat on a scratching post, you may need to step on something to be on the same level.
Animal photos in the natural environment are always the most authentic.
Learn to photograph animals “from the hip” to get the camera into their world without kneeling or crouching yourself when they’re on the floor.
# 5 Be flexible and agile
If you’ve ever seen a professional photographer in action, you’ve probably noticed that he turns and stretches and bends and kneels and crawls. Whatever it takes to get a good picture – he will do it. In animal photography, you have to be ready for some physical effort to capture the perfect composition. Sometimes it is enough for a dog to get up from a sitting position to break its “sit and stay” position. It is better to stretch your arms or lean forward than to make a large movement that may tear the animal out of its perfect pose while taking pictures.
# 6 Go where the light is best
Good light is everything in photography and especially in animal photography, where the light has to be reflected in the eyes of the animals (the bright, reflecting light spot on their pupils). Avoid animal photos in dark rooms or on very cloudy days. The best animal portraits can be shot under bright but non-directional light. So look around you and decide where the best light shines before you lure your animal there and start shooting. Learn everything about the 8 types of light and how you can best use them here.
The type, source and angle of incidence of light play a major role – also for animal portraits.
# 7 Reward your model
Every animal needs some kind of motivation to stay alert for a long time; otherwise they will go away and no longer care about you. Find out what motivates them (i.e. their reward) and provide them with them regularly during the animal photo shoot. For dogs, these may be treats, toys, or just love and attention. For cats, this is a feather toy, a paper bag, tuna, catnip or your favorite blanket. For horses, it’s best to choose your favorite food, such as carrots or apples. Do you have a horse or would you like to take a picture? Here you will find everything about horse photography .
Reward your model with something fine or a little break.
The biggest “trick” in animal photography is letting the animal believe that it is making the decisions itself, while actually making it do what you want it to do without directly commanding it. This system works through rewards. Be creative when it comes to rewarding your animal models and they will reciprocate with great shots and their cooperation. In addition, the animal photo shoot is more fun and should be the same with animal photography!
# 8 Think of a concept in advance
The models show the most interesting animal pictures in context:
- This can be a cat looking up at its owner while opening a bag of food (concept: desire).
- A dog who looks expectantly at the front door and waits for his master (longing).
- Or a horse owner who hugs the neck of his animal (solidarity).
Our photo equipment
Are you wondering what equipment we take photos with? You can find our equipment here.
When you express something with your pictures, they create a lot more emotions in the viewer.
# 9 keep calm
Nothing confuses a dog more quickly or drives a cat crazy faster than repeated commands during the animal shoot. Cats then withdraw or leave the room and dogs are confused and nervous.
Communicate with your animals as much as possible, as they do among themselves – namely non-verbally . Use hand signals or point to a location to guide them there. Use the hand signal for “sit” on dogs who understand it. If you have to say “sit”, then do it quietly and quietly and at most once or twice. Avoid saying your pet’s name, because the more they hear it during a photo session, the more likely they are to ignore you.
An important animal photography tip: The strength lies in the calm.
In my opinion, there is nothing worse than an animal photographer (and an owner) who buzz around the dog all the time and say things like, “Sit, Charlie,…. no – SEAT. I said: Charlie, sit. Seat. Get down! Seat, Charlie. Charlie – sit. Siiiiiitz. SEAT.“Poor Charlie! No wonder he’s confused. The less you talk and “command”, the better the recordings will go, and the more attentive Charlie will be and “listen”.
# 10 move slowly
If you are not particularly skilled in documentary animal photos from the movement, then it is all the more important in animal photography that you learn to move slowly. Even if the animal does not hold still for a moment and you try to get the perfect moment and the right position (while it is running, sniffing, jumping, hunting, etc.) … move slowly! This is particularly important for cats who often change their facial expression (and the position of their ears) radically even with the slightest movement or even leave the scene completely. This is also true for dogs that are supposed to sit or lie.
Move slowly, even if not everyone on set does.
When you move, they think you’re going on a new adventure and want to follow you. If you absolutely need to move and don’t want your model to do the same, move very slowly and without making eye contact . Also think about your physical effort. Then you will not only have a fun photo session with your animals, but also do some sport!
# 11 Use accessories and baskets
Just like in baby photography or at a newborn shoot , animals can be packed heartily in baskets or cozy blankets . So if you want to have more “jöö effect” in your animal pictures, then prepare the necessary accessories before the animal shoot.
Baskets and toys are the most important accessories for an animal shoot.
# 12 Take cool action photos
Taking pictures of your pet while playing is a great way to take some interesting pictures with personality. If your pet is moving fast and you want to make sure the photos aren’t blurred, turn the mode dial to TV or S mode (shutter priority). In this mode you can easily freeze the action. If you have a DSLR or DSLM, set the focus mode to continuous focus (AI Servo AF for Canon / AF-C for Nikon) so that the lens stays focused on the running pet.
For multiple shots, use burst mode and hold the shutter button down until the action moment is over.
# 13 involve people
A good, simple portrait of an animal alone or with the owner is a classic. Use natural light as much as possible to avoid flash. Animals generally do not like lightning – they are easily scared and can therefore be quickly distracted. More on that later.
Include people in wildlife photography.
A standard 50mm lens is ideal for this type of picture. A shallow depth of field keeps the subject in the center of the picture. So make sure all eyes are in this sharp area (even when they are closed )
# 14 Avoid flashing
There are several reasons why flash should be avoided when photographing animals. For example, the flash is bright and can be annoying for a small animal. Flash can scare them or make them nervous. Then they hide.
Flash is also rough. Especially when you are indoors, it is best to use natural light . If your pet is bright, the white fur looks washed out with flash. Another reason for not using flash light is that animals get red-eyed, just like humans.
If you want to photograph animals in a glass container or aquarium, you also have to do without a flash, since the glass reflects the flash and forms an unsightly white hotspot. This also applies to metal cages.
# 15 wildlife photography camera settings
Which settings you choose on your camera ultimately depends on the shooting conditions. But there are general guidelines that you can follow.
What camera settings were used here? Read below.
- ISO value
First adjust the ISO value. It’s usually best to use a low ISO (100, 200, etc.) to minimize noise in your photos. In low light conditions, however, you can choose a higher ISO value as long as this does not affect the image quality. The noise behavior (granular image) depends on the camera used, but ISO 800 is usually sufficient to take pictures in low light conditions without the noise becoming too obvious.
- Shutter speed
Next you have to set the shutter speed. When photographing animals that move quickly, choose a fast shutter speed to avoid motion blur. With this setting you can take more pictures in a short time and avoid missing a great moment. For slow animals such as grazing deer, 1/500 seconds should be sufficient. For fast moving animals like birds you need 1/2000 seconds or less.
If you use an open aperture (low f-number, e.g. f / 4.0), a lot of light falls through the lens onto the sensor. If a lot of light can be received in a short time, a correspondingly faster shutter speed can be selected. Therefore, the same principle applies as for the shutter speed. Choose an open aperture for moving subjects, or if you want a blurred background (see turtle above). Choose a closed aperture (e.g. f / 22) if you want the image to be sharp all the way back and you are not taking any action photos.