12 Tips for Capturing Great Holiday Photos of Your Pet

Written by Backdrop Express Photography Team on . Posted in Holiday Photography, Pet Photography, Photography Tips


There’s no doubt that your pet is a part of the family. The American Pet Products Association confirms that about 62% of all U.S. households have pets. When the holidays come around each season, it’s only natural for pet owners to want to their furry friends included in the holiday photos. Whether they take the photos themselves or have them done professionally, pet owners love capturing endearing  photos of their pets in holiday decor and enjoying the memories for years to come. Pet photography can be a thriving part of any photography business, and a main business for many photographers.

Whether you’re an amateur photographer shooting at home or a professional looking to start a pet photography business, your pet photography will go much easier if you keep these 12 guidelines in mind:

1. Familiar Settings

The easiest place to get a good pet photo is at home, in the animal’s most familiar setting. It’s difficult to predict how a pet will respond to a studio setting, and a nervous cat or dog who feels out of their element can ruin your chances for a good photo. Many pet photographers make house calls, but some go out of their way to make their studios highly pet-friendly. Do your homework.

2. Fun Props

This is the fun part — stop by your local pet store and pick up some holiday accessories. A festive Santa suit, reindeer ears or an elf hat are crowd-pleasers, or pick up some doggy-sized stockings to hang behind your pet. Think safety, too — a puppy or kitten is likely to chew on whatever is around, so keep fragile, glass, toxic or glittery items away.

kittens sleeping in red stocking

3. Choose the Best Time of Day

Before scheduling a formal holiday photograph with your pet, consider the time of day. If your kitty loves to nap in the afternoons, have her picture taken in the morning when she’s alert. If your pet is an active new puppy, nap time might be the ideal time to take his photo, as he’ll be more calm and less squirmy.

4. Practice Before the Holiday Season

If you’ll be shooting your own pet at home, let him become familiar with the camera and other equipment well before the holidays. That way they won’t look like 1.) something scary or 2.) new toys to chew on when the holidays come around. You’ll also want to have the pet try on any costumes you’d like them to wear in the photos to get them used to them.


5. Lighting

For impromptu on-location shots and portraits, avoid using a flash indoors if you can; take advantage of natural light whenever it’s available. Choose the brightest spot in the home or location as a “studio” and turn on all of the light fixtures as well. Professional studio lighting can augment the natural lighting effect and make a flash unnecessary. You’ll achieve better results and are less likely to scare your subject. Ensure that wherever you’ll be standing will not create a shadow on your subject.


6. An Assistant

If possible, employ a helper! Try and find someone who loves animals and has a “way” with them. Photography knowledge and instincts are a plus, but primary is that they are organized and have a calming effect on your subjects.

7. Backdrops

For more formal holiday pet portraits, the backdrop should be considered. If shooting at home, your living room holiday decor can offer a great setting. Seamless paper in deep reds or green tones can add a rich, artistic holiday touch. If a pet has an accident, you can easily cut that portion of the paper, discard it and unroll a fresh piece. Vinyl backdrops are also great for pet photography as they are very durable and easily washable. Your pet photographer should also have a small stock of specialty holiday backdrops to set a festive, cheerful holiday mood in the studio.


8. Schedule Family Photos for Another Day

If you want more formal portraits of your pets, don’t attempt to do both the pet photography and the family portrait on the same day. Choose a day before or right after the holidays to give your pet the special attention they need to get great results.

9. Spontaneous Shots

Remember that there are other ways to generate excellent pet photos than just trying to get them to pose by the Christmas tree or fireplace. In fact, these scenarios may not be the best way to convey the pet’s true personality. Consider heading to a park or your back yard to take photos of the animal in environments that are more “their element.” Encourage them to run around and have fun! You can also snap impromptu indoor shots of your pet roaming amongst holiday guests dressed up in their “holiday attire.” Try and catch those fun, stolen moments — like when they’re “kissing” someone under the mistletoe, or stealing cookies from Santa’s plate.


10. Santa Pet Pictures

Santa events in many cities designate a day that’s pet-friendly, often as a fundraiser for local animal shelters or charities. If you decide to attempt holiday photos with Santa, get in line early to avoid standing in line with a fussy cat or impatient pooch.

11. Bribes

Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of a well-chosen bribe to get great results! Be sure to have plenty of favorite treats and toys on hand to coax your furry subjects to do ultra-cute things for the camera.

12. Take LOTS of Photos

Lastly, shoot in quantity. While it’s fine to try and pose some of your shots, know going into it that there are a lot of variables with animals. Just go with the flow and keep clicking off shots. You can always crop later and delete the blurry ones… and who knows, maybe even some of the “outtakes” will be keepers!

What’s your favorite costume to dress up your pet in for the winter holidays?

-Backdrop Express Photography Team

Interested in reading more on pet photography? Check out Pet Photography: Indoor or Outdoor?

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