How to Photograph Pets: Outdoor Edition

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  By Jonathan Ma
How to Photograph Pets: Outdoor Edition

Pets are the beloved animals in the family. In some cultures, they can even be viewed as a child. Therefore, pet photography is a niche that most pet owners have gotten into at one point or another in their lives. Today’s focus will be photographing pets while in the outdoors. Wild animals were meant to live outdoors, and to a degree, domesticated animals also thrive when they are able to roam free outside. Animals love to run around, play, and explore nature. The difference with pets is that they are able to be somewhat controlled. This is immensely helpful, as the pet owner can interact with the pet and/or instruct them to go in different positions.

Today, we’ll discuss 4 tips to help boost your pet photography skills:

  1. Using props
  2. Find an interesting environment to use as a backdrop
  3. Pet owner interaction
  4. Think from the pet’s perspective

Using Props

Props are a great way to keep pets occupied and happy. Types of props that are great to use are rope toys, plushie toys, balls, food products such as fruit, or other things that can keep the pet occupied. Communication with the pet owner is crucial. Let the pet owner know early on that they should bring the pet’s favorite toys or other possible prop items. On the photo shoot, use each prop for a series of photos and then move on. If a certain prop doesn’t work out, just move on. It’s better to have a variation of photos at the end than to be stuck on one type of photo for too long and only have that one type of photo.

With toys, pets can be very active and focused. This helps the photographer because they will behave in a more predictable fashion. For example, if a pet owner throws a frisbee to his dog, the dog will run towards the frisbee, jump, and catch it. The dog will then turn around and bring the frisbee back to his owner. A seasoned photographer would be able to see the pattern, anticipate it, and capture the excitement in the dog’s eyes when they are catching the frisbee or running it back to their owner.

Find an Interesting Environment to Use as a Backdrop

It’s important to have background context in your photos. By finding an interesting background for your outdoor pet portrait, it will help tell a story about the animal. For instance, the photo above helps us to see the animals’ home environment is a snowy, cold forested area – possibly Alaska, USA. For an animal such as a horse, you could take the photo in a grassy area or field of hay.

Pet Owner Interaction

A great tip is to have the pet owner interact with the pet. Pet owners have a special relationship with their pets, and this is evident when they interact with each other. For leashed animals, the photographer can suggest that the pet owner brings a leash and either walk the pet or give them other commands. Another option would be to mount the animal if they are a bigger pet such as a horse. Before the photo shoot or as you are riding in the car with the pet owner on the way to the location of the photo shoot, ask them what commands the pet knows and will respond to. This will help you prepare mentally for the possible options you will have during the shoot.

Think From the Pet’s Perspective

As a dog, what would you enjoy most about the outdoors? How about as a cat? Or what if you were a horse? These are the types of questions that will really help you decide what kind of locations/settings you will take your pet portraits in. Be creative, and don’t be afraid to suggest something you’ve never tried before to the pet owner. The worst that could happen is they say no. Best case scenario, you’ll learn a new skill or have a new tool to use in future photo pet photo shoots. Remember too, that you have another resource before the day of the pet photo shoot. The pet’s owner will know more about the pet than you will ever know or be able to research about. Communicate often and ask the right questions to draw out what you need to learn from the pet owner.

Happy shooting!

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Jonathan Ma

Jonathan Ma is a freelance writer and professional photographer. He grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest of the United States. The natural beauty that surrounds this area has helped him to learn to appreciate art and photography. Jonathan's favorite styles of photography are nature and sports photography. He enjoys learning and teaching others what he knows.

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