How to Take Great Pet Photos with Your Phone

| This guide is meant to help you get better photos of your pet for social media or for your own entertainment. The products recommended are things I’ve actually purchased and used before sharing with you. I have a working background in professional photography and a Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design with a minor in general Design Studies, so I feel confident in this area. However, all opinions expressed are my own and are not intended to be interpreted as professional advice or criticisms of any particular person and/or account.

The following tips and tricks are things that have worked well for Penny and I, but please remember all dogs are different. If your dog isn’t feeling comfortable during a photoshoot in any way, stop and continue once their needs have been met. Use low-calorie training treats and praise to reward your dog for their cooperation. Do not leave your dog unattended for a photo unless you feel confident in their ability to follow a stay command. Keep in mind that photographing one pet at a time is almost always easier than trying to get a group shot of multiple dogs.

I use my iPhone 8+ to take all of the pictures and videos that I post on my social media. I’d love to work with more advanced photography tools and techniques someday, but at this point, it’s the best option for my busy lifestyle with Penny! Plus, I always have my phone with me, even when my hands are full!

Posing your Pet

If you have a cat or a small dog, you’ll want to get a bench or a stool to elevate your pet within the frame of the photo. You can use any bench or stool, but my favorites are a simple wooden bench or a faux fur stool. Both of these items are available at several different price points in several different stores, but the exact two I use are listed above. If you have a dark-colored pet, choose a white or light colored fur stool and black or dark color if you have a white or light-colored pet. Keep in mind that the bench needs to be both light enough for you to carry around, but large and sturdy enough for your pet to feel comfortable sitting on it.

The best way to photograph pets with your phone is by using bursts (holding down the camera button) so that you capture all of their movements and funny faces. You can always delete the outtakes later to save room on your phone. If you have it, portrait mode works well on dogs that can sit very still and pose.

Tips for Getting Funny Poses

  • Take a burst of photos right after your pet eats a treat to try to catch them sticking their tongue out
  • Strategically use wind or a house fan to get your dog’s floppy ears or long hair to fly like a model
  • Take a burst of photos while your pet is running to capture some hilarious action shots
  • Snap a photo while your pet is yawning to make it look like they’re singing or yelling at someone
  • Take a picture while your pet is doing a trick or silly behavior to make the funniest memes

Getting the Best Lighting

Good lighting is the key to good clarity in your photos. In most photos, the best lighting comes from multiple angles including from in front of the subject, with minimal light coming from behind the subject, keeping shadows at a minimum. However, part of the fun of photography is playing with these norms to create interesting effects with your lighting and shadows! The following paragraphs are my tips for shooting in several common lighting situations:

  • Shooting Outdoors in Day Light: The best time of day to take pictures outdoors is about an hour before the sun sets. This is because the sun is low in the sky, providing a more ambient light versus the direct sunlight you get during the middle of the day, which is why it’s called the “Golden Hour.” If you’re planning to take photos of your pet outside, aim for a 1-2 hour window before the sun sets!
  • Shooting Outdoors in Low Light: If you’re tying to get a photo of your pet outside at night or in low-light, don’t plan on getting the best quality. A ring light or lighted case like I’ve shared above can definitely help you snap much-needed photos at night-time events, but will give you the same awkward bright lighting you get from a camera flash. Keep in mind that all animals’ eyes reflect in flash photos.
  • Shooting Indoors in Day Light: You probably already know this, but the best place to photograph your pet indoors during the day is near a large window! Strategically open your curtains or blinds to direct the light where you want it and use large pieces of cardboard to block unwanted reflections or glare. Try to angle yourself so that you and your camera don’t appear in any glass reflections!
  • Shooting Outdoors in Low Light: You don’t need a fancy lighting setup to get good photos of your pet indoors at after sunset! You can use an adjustable desk lamp, preferably a daylight-simulator or one where you can change the color temperature of the light to create a spotlight for small pets, or a few to create a professional photography studio look with light coming from multiple angles.

Getting Your Pet’s Attention

We’ve all been there – squatting on the ground making kissy noises and clicky sounds, clapping our hands, jingling our keys – making a fool of ourselves trying to get our pet to look at the camera. Getting your pet to pay attention for a good photo can be tricky, especially when you’re in public around people and other animals! Some dogs have shorter attention spans than others and that’s fine, but well-trained dogs who respond to their owner’s voice will obviously photograph best. You can hold a treat over the lens or use a treat clip like the one pictured to below if you need both hands free!

TIP: If you’re confident in your ability to whistle, try whistling while also humming to create the laser-beam sound from the movie Dumb & Dumber. It’ll take some practice, but once you get it down, every dog in the area will look at you whenever you make that sound! You can Google it if you’re still confused.

Composing Your Shot

Photo composition is something that can really help your photos stand out among the thousands of others on social media. You’re welcome to research the topic on your own, but it basically refers to the relationship between the subject, the middle ground, and the background of the photo. Keeping a variety of compositional arrangements on your feed helps keep things interesting for your followers – many social media users get bored when accounts post too many photos that look more or less the same, unless of course they have an intentional theme or pattern and that is the intended effect!

TIP: A remote-operated camera or phone tripod like the one pictured to the left is a great tool to help keep your composition locked-in while you focus on other stuff, like posing your pet.

Creating Dynamic Content

If your social media page follows a specific pattern or theme, this isn’t the section for you – keep doing your thing! If you’re like the majority of users, you’ll most likely need to post a variety of different photo types, poses, and backgrounds to keep your followers interested and engaged with your page. Posting new and dynamic content also helps drive new traffic to your page and helps you test out what your audience likes to see the most.

Playing With Different Heights: If you have a large dog, you probably won’t need a bench or a stool. If there are any short walls or stairs nearby, any pets can pose on them to make for a better shot! Have fun playing with different heights, whether you have multiple animals in one photograph or just one pet and some props!

Changing Up the Background: Walk your dog around the neighborhood and look for colorful walls and street art to use as photo backgrounds! A dog is the best companion to get out and explore your own city – every place has its own unique scenery, skylines, interesting buildings, nature parks, fun cafes, cute boutiques, and other backgrounds. If you’d rather stay home, use blankets, towels, or sheets that you already have for solid color or patterned backgrounds. If you have a well-lit bathroom with enough space for you and your dog to comfortably take photos, you also use fun and interesting shower curtains for interchangeable backgrounds.

Useful Behaviors and Commands: Keep in mind that every pet has a different temperament and tolerance for photo shoots, but if your dog is relaxed and noodly in front of the camera like Penny is, you can get a lot of different poses. If she’s comfy and we lie her on her back or prop her up on a pillow, she’ll stay there for a while! It’s very useful for a petfluencer to know basic commands like sit, stay, down, leave it, and how to look at you or the camera when called. Teaching your pet to stay very still is important to get shots at a distance.

Using Pet-Friendly Props: In my opinion, dog toys that look like human stuff make the funniest photo props for social media! So many brands make toys like this at all different price points, but Zippy Paws and Fuzzyard are our favorites! They’re available at a lot of US retail stores and online, but I buy almost all of ours at TJ Maxx or Home Goods for less than market retail price. Keep in mind that your dog may ruin the toy if you don’t keep it hidden away for photoshoots – having a collection of “prop toys” is a great way to save money, especially if your dog is a destroyer like Penny. Just be sure to buy them some “destroyables” too!

Ballin’ On a Budget

We all probably dream of giving our fur babies the most lavish and luxurious closets money could buy – after we do the same thing for ourselves first! Don’t worry if you’re not an hotel heirness, giving your pet a great wardrobe and prop collection doesn’t always have to break the bank! If you live in the US, check the Dollar Tree or any local dollar store – they have pretty much all of the items I listed to the right. My other go-to non-pet stores for pet stuff are Home Goods, TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, Hobby Lobby, Michael’s, & Tuesday Morning.

Ideas for budget-friendly photo props: Faux flowers, seasonal signs and decor, baby accessories (hats, sunglasses, socks, headbands, etc.), lawn/garden ornaments and signs, patterned dish towels, miniature kitchen or home items, plastic buckets, fabric bins, cheap ceramic decor items, beach towels, 18” doll accessories, stuffed animals, faux food, child-size sports balls, baby furniture, nursery decor, pool/beach toys, and more. Use your imagination!