If you’ve got a pet, chances are you have countless pictures of them stored on your phone or computer. Like children, pets are constantly doing something that’s photo worthy—even when they’re being naughty. But, quantity doesn’t always equal quality. Often, it’s better to have a small collection of incredible pet photography that artfully captures the true essence of your furry friend. Going beyond a smartphone camera, photographers have elevated the subject matter with their professional equipment and above all, a keen eye. Paired with creative thinking, these images of animals become unforgettable.
What makes a good pet photo?
Some of the best pet photography goes beyond “cute” and looks into the soul of an animal. Photographer Robert Bahou is a fantastic example of this; he’s interested in what’s beneath the fur and has captured creatures’ honest gazes for his series called Animal Soul. “I’ve avoided all distraction by limiting the photographs to medium shots with a black background,” he tells us in an email, “and I have purposely avoided humor as a selling point.” Continuing, “I want people to look at animals in a way that they don’t normally do. I want to show the animals they’re so familiar with in a way they haven’t seen them before.” With these minimalist shots, the creatures’ idiosyncrasies—like small smirks and poignant expressions—are revealed.
While Bahou focuses on an animal’s inner world, photographer Seth Casteel goes deep down in a different way. His brand of pet photography is playful and makes a splash for anyone who sees it. The California-based creative first gained praise many years ago with the series Underwater Dogs, which features energetic pooches diving into the depths of a pool to retrieve their favorite toys. Since then, he’s created similar series about puppies and kitties (although they weren’t underwater). The results are hilarious and technically awe-inspiring—both image-wise, and the lengths that Casteel has gone to make these shots happen. For his sensational Underwater Puppies, he says, “I taught swimming lessons to over 1,500 puppies, helping them build confidence and safety skills in the water.”
Photographer Sophie Gamand straddles the line between poignant, conceptually-based animal images and playful costuming. Her series Wet Dog is self explanatory—it showcases portraits of sopping wet pooches as they’re being washed during their grooming sessions. With silly hairstyles, the mid-bath looks will make you chuckle—but Gamand also hopes they’ll make you think. “I want others to see dogs for what they are: more than just animals. Our bond is so strong and unique that they really have a special place in the human lifestyle. They are more than animals, they are life companions. So when I photograph dogs, I look for the human in them: an expression, the life in their eyes, a smile.”
This idea of appearance is also a driving force behind Gamand’s Flower Power: Pit Bulls of the Revolution. Here, she adorns stigmatized pit bulls with soft, gorgeous florals as a way to challenge our perception of the breed. “The series is inspired by Baroque and Rococo’s aesthetics, using the traditional codes of portraiture,” she explains.“The flowers symbolize the ephemeral quality of life, reminding us that these creatures are fragile and precious.”
Pet photography tips from the pros
Like other facets of photography, there are tips and tricks that professionals use to make sure that they’re getting the most from their animal subject. Over the years, we’ve heard from pet photographers who’ve given us insight into their process. Much of their advice isn’t all that different from any other subject.
“Think outside the square,” creative pet photographer Serenah tells us. “Practice your techniques.” But, she adds, “Most importantly, keep it fun for the animal.”
Pooch photographer Elke Vogelsang offers more technical advice and says, “Every individual dog is so very different.” Keeping this in mind, what works for one animal might not entice another. “Some dogs react to noises quite well. There are dogs who do the cutest head tilts whenever you say one of their favorite words. Yes, dogs have favorite words and they understand quite a lot.” Treats work well in most cases, but toys can be a problem. “Some dogs get overly excited when presented with their favorite toy.” Mimicking Serenah, she reminds us to make it fun for the animal. And, be calm. “The art lies in finding the interesting pictures among the shots you did.”
If you’d like to learn more about pet photography, check out these online classes:
Scroll down for an inspiring look at 10 professional pet photographers elevating the practice of pet photography.
Although we’ve covered a few contemporary pet photographers, there are many others that elevate the ordinary animal portrait into something compelling and spectacular.
Read more: Playing Catch with Dogs Underwater
Read more: Funny Portraits of Wet Dogs by Sophie Gamand