How to Take Stunning Pet Portraits at Home

How to Take Stunning Pet Portraits at Home

Take simple pet portraits at home while you’re self-isolating. All you need is a pet, a window, and some pet treats to grab their attention, then set your camera to aperture priority mode and work on your composition.

Look for the Light

Underexposed pet portrait next to lamp

My cat, Aurora, is sitting in front of the lamp here so I've deliberately underexposed the shot to capture a silhouette of her round, chubby face

The most important step to making a good pet portrait is the lighting. Photographing your pet with a bright lamp in the background may be a nice idea, but think about how this will affect your subject. Either you underexpose to reduce your pet to a silhouette, or overexpose to capture detail in the subject but lose background interest.

Position Your Pet Next to the Window

Pet positioned next to window

The north-facing window, camera-left, is cascading soft light across Aurora, giving texture and dimensionality to her soft fur.

Instead, it might be beneficial to encourage your little friend to sit next to a window. North-facing windows are ideal in the northern hemisphere because they produce soft, wrapping light all day long. Of course, other windows will work if it’s cloudy out. Position yourself and your pet so that the light pours from one side of the frame and across your subject’s face/body. This way the light and shadow produce dimensionality to the subject. 

Bonus tip: Having a hard time getting your pet to stay in one place? It might be a good idea to grab some treats and pop them down where you need your pet to be. Or use a toy if you want their eye contact.

Shoot in Aperture Priority Mode

Shoot in aperture priority mode

Shooting in aperture priority mode means you can focus on choosing the depth of field while the camera adjusts shutter speed as light levels change.

The easiest way to shoot pet portraits at home is to let the camera do some of the work for you. For example, in aperture priority mode you can decide how much depth of field you want by dialing in the aperture, and the camera will decide on the shutter speed appropriate to record good exposure. For my main image I shot at f/1.4.

It’ll be relatively dark inside, so depending on your light levels you might want to switch on Auto-ISO or ramp it up to ISO 800 or more. That’ll ensure the shutter speed doesn’t drag, causing camera blur. Auto-ISO also has the added benefit of automatically adjusting exposure so you can concentrate on composition and focusing, while the camera produces a good exposure. If you want to under or overexpose a shot in aperture priority mode then use exposure compensation on your camera.

Using Auto-ISO

Auto-ISO adds another layer of automatic exposure to the shot, so you can concentrate on composition and focus. This is especially helpful when pets move between bright and dark spots or light levels change.

Focus on the Eyes

Lastly, it’s important to get the focus right. Focus on the eyes with your autofocus, or use face detection if your camera has this feature. You may want to use manual focus, but if your pet’s particularly fidgety this might be more difficult. Either way, you want to get good focus on the eyes — or if they’re side-on to the camera, focus on the closest eye.

Summary

  1. Shoot in aperture priority mode (Av mode on Canon)
  2. Position your pet next to the window for beautiful side light
  3. Use Auto-ISO or a high ISO to overcome camera shake blur
  4. Focus on the eyes, or the nearest eye to you
  5. Under or overexpose your shots intentionally with exposure compensation

We’d love to see your pet portraits so share your favorite images in the comments below with your best tip on how you got the shot. Or perhaps if you've tried the techniques above yourself, why not show us your results below to get some feedback?
 

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56 Comments

Previous comments
Jason Parnell-Brookes's picture

What excellent mimicry :)

Stephen Dietrich's picture

Just took a few snaps on the patio with my model. She's so easy to work with!

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

My sister's dog. The little things that makes her happy.

Jason Parnell-Brookes's picture

Very cute dog. Hell of a stick, too! It's more like a branch! Amazing. Love the depth of field in this.

Catherine Bowlene's picture

Good tips, thanks! I also like doing photoworks color correction to make the shadows not so sharp. But now I have to ask he most important question: how do I make my cat sit quietly for some time? Seems like this mission is impossible, haha! When I'm trying to make a picture, I got something like this:

Jason Parnell-Brookes's picture

What a sweet kitty! I don't know about your cat, but mine sits nice and still after a big meal - a bit like lions do.

Catherine Bowlene's picture

I wish mine would do so! Instead he is about to sleep or lay like that waiting for me to pet him.

Jason Parnell-Brookes's picture

Awww. What you should do then is make sure he flops down next to the window, get a nice side light on him and go wide with your aperture or long with your lens. I'd probably shoot him on a telephoto, about 80mm or 100mm at f/2.8 (or as wide as your lens goes) and you'll get some lovely intimate portraits.

Catherine Bowlene's picture

Yeah, sounds good, thanks! I'll try it.

steven christie's picture

Lexxi - Taken with a Fuji X-Pro1 and vintage manual Helios 44/M 50mm f2 lens.

Alexander Lobozzo's picture

Actually took this sitting in the car one day.... i was so excited to have a new lens that i couldn't even wait long enough to get out of the car before trying it out!

Emir Horozovic's picture

My dog George says hi to everyone. He's always willing to sit next to the window and pose. :)

Diane Bowen's picture

Diane Bowen- My cat Harry playfully having a roll on the carpet.

Baxter waking up from a nap

Julie Blichmann's picture

My Blue Heeler, Astra (1 of 3 dogs) and Baby Kiki (1 of 4 cats)!

This is my morkie Hashi (Japanese for chopsticks).

Teresa Oldenbourg's picture

This thread got me all hyped to try another photo! Iv been playing around with cheap lighting I have around the house. This is the result of a moon lamp and light plastic hair clips. Have yet to edit them. No idea what id do.

Randy Lovelace's picture

Our newest family member, Zoey

Joshua Scott's picture

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel ?

Randy Lovelace's picture

Yes, we are members of a Cavalier Rescue and she came to us a month ago. She is 6 years old, and an absolute sweetheart of a dog.

I set up a small home studio, with a super basic lighting set up.