Yes! You CAN take great photos of your pets with your cell phone!

May is National Photography Month - the perfect time to share some tips for getting better shots of your best pals. I don't know about you, but my cell phone is ALWAYS with me and my dog is with me almost as much. So, while you're out for a walk, hanging out in the yard, enjoying a summer day at the beach or on the lake, or simply sipping craft beer at a local beer garden, you have so many opportunities to capture great pics of your pups.

Disclaimer: This article refers primarily to dogs, but the photography concepts apply to other pets as well, so if you have cats, rabbits, horses, or even pets without fur, read on because these tips apply to you, too!


The term "PHOTOGRAPHY" comes from the Greek words "photos", meaning "light" and "graphe", meaning "drawing". Photography is literally "drawing with light".

One of the most important tips I can share is to find and use available, natural light to enhance your pet photography. Early morning (just before the sun rises) and late evening (just before the sun sets) are the best times to take photographs - this time is often referred to as the "golden hour" and it's the time of day when the sun is low in the sky. It offers beautiful soft, golden tones over your subject. Cloudy days are great, too, because the cloud cover acts as a diffuser, spreading the light over your subject. Realistically, if we're out with our pets, it's a beautiful, sunny day and possibly sometime during the middle of the day when the sun is high in the sky. Now what?

You can still get great photos of your pet any time of day - here's what to look for:

  • Look for "open shade". Open shade is a place where no sun is directly hitting your subject, even though there is sunlight around them. Think of a space under a pavilion or canopy, in the shadows being cast by a building, or inside a building facing out. When you use open shade, be sure to face your subject toward the light source (so your back is to the sun as you take the photo). Doing so ensures that your subject will be bright and it also makes for really pretty catchlights in your pet's eyes.
  • Avoid "dappled shade". The best example of dappled shade is that which is produced by trees. This type of shade and lighting does not usually result in great photos unless the leaf cover is so thick that it produces solid shade.
  • When photographing your pet indoors, look for soft, natural light from a nearby window and try to avoid harsh, midday sun.

Open Shade on a Sunny Afternoon

Tip #2 - GET LOW!

This is the simplest change you can make when photographing your pets that will make your images stand out from the rest. Pets look best when photographed at their level. They say a picture is worth a thousand words - I think the two pics below say it all. These were taken in the exact same location just seconds from each other. The only change was my position as I took the photos.

Koda in the park

Photo 1: I am standing to take this photo

Photo 2: The set up is the same as Photo 1 - EXCEPT I got down to my dog's level


"The Eyes are the window to your soul." ~William Shakespeare

Your pets love you and that is a bond that can be seen in their eyes. When you focus on your pet's eyes, your image will convey more emotion and meaning to the viewer.

Focus on the eyes to capture the bond


Most mobile phones have a "portrait" mode on their camera's settings. This is a great tool that you can use to blur out the background of your image, giving your photo a beautiful, more professional look. Try it on your phone the next time you're out taking pics of your pet with these simple steps (these instructions are for the Apple iPhone, but other brands have something similar):

  1. Open your camera app
  2. Select "Portrait"
  3. There is a small "f" in the upper, right-hand corner of your screen. This adjusts the amount of blur that will be applied to the background of your image. The smaller the number, the more blurred your background will be. I recommend sticking between f/2.o and f/3.5 for one pet. For each additional pet or human in your photo, increase that number by 0.3 to 0.5.
  4. Your camera app will tell you to get closer to your subject or move farther away if necessary.
Background in focus

Photo 1: Background in Focus

Photo 2: Blurred Background


Just a bit of clever composition can make the photos of your pet look more polished. Here are a few dos...and don'ts when shooting pet pics:

Composition ideas to try:

  • Use a bridge, trees, buildings or other items in the environment to "frame" your pet;
  • Use natural props (i.e. a park bench, a stone wall, a fallen log, or a tree stump) for your pet to stand on or to use as a backdrop;
  • If your pet is looking someplace other than at the camera, leave some open space in the direction of your pet's gaze. If your pet is running, leave some open space in the direction that he is traveling;
  • Try a symmetrical composition by placing your pet in the center of the frame. This looks best when you are taking a close-up of your pet and he is the main focus of the image and there is nothing distracting in the background;
  • For a bit more interest and creativity, split your scene into thirds, leaving some negative space, or try shooting from an angle for an added perception of depth.

Things to avoid:

  • Watch for poles, trees, etc. behind your pet. You don't want it to look like Fido has a tree growing from his head! It's usually as simple as moving to the right or left to be sure that distraction from the background doesn't detract from your subject.
  • Be sure your subject isn't too small in the frame. Folks often like to fit in the beautiful scenery around their pets so they try to include everything in the image. It's tells a better story and captures your subject's personality if he fills more of your scene.

Use Natural Props

Frame your pet using landmarks in the scene

Break the Rules

I hope these tips help you bring out the best in your pet's photos. By making a couple of small adjustments, you can take great photos with your cell phone anytime!

These are just a few guidelines to help you take interesting photos, but photography is both science AND art, so it's okay to do it your way and BREAK THE RULES once in a while!

Get creative & have fun!