If your family is anything like mine, then you may just have a few fur babies running around your home. We are all about our pets and don’t mind the little mess…and sometimes big mess…that comes with being the owners of several animals.

As a photographer and my designated family’s storyteller, it’s important for me to capture our life. A big part of our lives involves our fur babies.

However, it’s not always easy to include animals in the frame. And when taking good light and composition into consideration, it gets exponentially more difficult.

Over the years of including my own pets in my family photos, I have learned some tricks that make things a little easier. With these tips you can minimize the challenges so many of us face when trying to photograph our beloved pets.

Find the light

photographing pets baby in high chair with large dog laying nearby st bernard by meg loeks

I tend to gravitate towards lifestyle photography more than documentary. That often means I’m in search of good light in which to photograph my family and pets rather than waiting for moments to unfold where they may.

About ninety percent of the time, my dog and cats are not in good light. That means I need to find a way to get them there!

For the most part, that’s an easy feat for my 150 lb. Saint Bernard, Juniper, who loves to sleep and cuddle my children. Anywhere we go, she goes. Juni is naturally calm and easy going so I don’t often have to worry about her running out of my frame, especially indoors. She doesn’t have the space for that inside anyway (outside it’s a bit of a different story…and I’ll touch on that soon).

When I’m photographing my pets, I pay attention to how the light is falling on them just like I do with my children. Are they facing away from the light? Is something blocking the light from falling on them? If I notice less-than-desirable light, I find a way to correct it.

For example, let’s say my dog is facing away from the light source or window. One way of getting her to look toward it is to make noise near the window. It could be something as simple as me snapping my fingers or tapping on the window with my hand. Then I use my other hand to shoot!

Be sure to have proper exposure

photographing pets large dog and small boy in warm light st bernard by meg loeks

Pets, just like people, come in all different shapes, color and sizes. My Juni is a mix of different colors from black to white. We also have a cat who is all black and another cat who is a mix of white and gray.

This means that once I’ve found good light in which to photograph my pets, I need to make sure that I’m setting my exposure carefully. I don’t want clipped blacks on the darker parts of my furry friends nor do I want to blow the highlights on the lighter parts.

The darker the color, the more it absorbs the light. The lighter the color, the more it reflects the light. If you are questioning your exposure, check your histogram in camera. If you see that your shadows are climbing the left wall or your highlights are climbing the right wall, you need to shift your exposure.

Related: Not too dark, not too bright: 3 Steps to get exposure just right

In post processing, I will often fix any areas on my pets fur with a brush to lift shadows and lower highlights as needed. As long as this detail isn’t clipped or blown it’s easy to fix.

Have the right gear and camera settings

photographing pets ducklings following small girl along path by melissa haugen
photo by Melissa Haugen

My preferred gear choice doesn’t change when I am photographing my pets with my children. I typically prefer a wide angle lens like my Sigma Art 35mm inside and my Sigma Art 85mm outside.

The 35mm works great in low light and tight spaces. I love the compression I get from the 85mm without having to stand far away from my subjects.

must haves

OUR PET PHOTOGRAPHY ESSENTIALS

sigma 35mm f1.4 art lens

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART

This lens is perfect for those moments when you want to be close to the action or get a lot of the scene in the frame. It is quick to focus (which is good for fast-moving pets!) and has a wide aperture to still let you get that subject isolation we all love.

sigma 85mm f1.4 art lens

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 ART

If gorgeous bokeh (background blur) is what you are looking for, this lens is the one you want! It let’s you take a step back without being too far away from the kids and pets and creates the most gorgeous blur to make for dreamy scenes.

dog treats

Treats

Your furry friends deserve a reward! Treats are a great way to get your pets right where you want them for a picture.

Use a little bribery

However, my preferred aperture choice does change when I include pets within my frame. The more subjects I’m photographing, the narrower my aperture settings. This allows me to have a larger depth of field, ensuring that I get everyone in focus.

Normally my aperture is anywhere from f/1.6 to f/2. However, when I am also photographing my pets I will close down to around f/2.5. This widens my focal plane and gives me a little more wiggle room in case my pets move on me (which they often do!).

photographing pets small boy eating strawberry shortcake messy with large dog st bernard by meg loeks

I’m not above bribery, especially when it involves capturing my pets in the frame. An easy way to place them where I want them is by offering treats, especially with my cats who tend to be a little harder to “pose.”

I just place the treat where I want them to be within my frame. Again I’m paying attention to the light and if they are facing away from it I try and move them so they are in an ideal position. If the treat is showing in the final shot, I simply remove it with some quick cloning in post processing.

Hold them close

small girl hugging chicken in grass by melissa haugen photographing pets
photo by Melissa Haugen
photographing pets small boy carrying large cat in grass by meg loeks

Is there anything sweeter than snuggling your furry friends? I don’t think so! And I love capturing that sweetness in photographs.

While my children are not quite able to hold our 150lb Saint Bernard, they are able to hold our cats. This is another great way to capture pets within the frame. It makes it easier to keep everyone where I want them for the photo and to position them in good light.

Everyone loves these cuddle sessions and I love capturing the connections between my kids and their beloved pets.

Capture candid moments

photographing pets small boy climbing fence with large dog st bernard by meg loeks

Candid moments have my heart and it’s often the easiest way for me to capture my children and pets together in the frame. This is especially true outside as the light tends to be more evenly distributed than it is indoors.

There’s no planning or posing in these shots. At most there is a bit of gentle direction.

Simple directions such as asking my son to throw a ball for Juni or look at her as we walk down our driveway work beautifully here. It puts my subjects where I want them but opens up the opportunity to let natural interactions unfold.

Even better, these moments capture my family dynamic perfectly. They are natural and showcase the true love my children have for their furry pals.

Try a composite

photographing pets small girl on chair with kitten before picture by meg loeks
In this SOOC image, my daughter was exactly where I wanted, but the kitten was not.
photographing pets small baby girl smiling in chair with kitten by meg loeks
After a little magic in post processing, I have the kitten and baby both exactly where I want them!

Every now and then I get asked how I am able to capture my pets and children in good light at the same time. The answer is often a composite!

The fact is, sometimes it is simply impossible to coordinate expressions, posing, and light perfectly on both a wiggly kid and a wiggly pet at the same time. I would go crazy and chances are I would be spending all day trying to do that!

However, if I capture one great expression on a child and one great pose from the pet in the same location, I can merge them together in Photoshop with ease.

Pro tip: Having a simple background makes this a lot easier to do in post.

Embrace happy accidents and photobombs

photographing pets boy and large dog st bernard playing in snow by meg loeks

Sometimes the best thing to do when I’m photographing my pets is to let go and not worry about the perfect frame. This is especially true when I’m trying to photograph Juni in the snow. She loves the snow and it is impossible to keep her still outside in the winter!

Some of my favorite images of my kids with the pets are happy accidents and photobombs. Instead of trying to control the scene, I have found that stepping back and being more of a silent observer as the scene unfolds ends up being the best thing for all parties involved.

Nothing brings me greater joy than photographing my family’s everyday moments. A big part of that everyday is our furry friends. They complete our family and bring so much joy to our lives.

I hope you have so much fun photographing your own sweet pets using these quick and easy tips and can’t wait to see what you create!