Getting Down and Dirty: Pet Photography Tips

Calvin, up close and personal


A few days ago, I found my cat Calvin in yet another comical position: all stretched out, but with his paws completely hidden under his head.

I grabbed my camera to take a few pictures. Later, when I downloaded and reviewed them, I found a few that were standouts. They were the ones where I got down on the floor facing Calvin and snapped away.

This got me thinking about how some of my most favorite photos of my pets are ones when I’m on their level. Those pictures often seem more emotional, more personal and more interesting. They tell stories. They invite you in.

Usually when we interact with our pets, we’re above them — literally, not figuratively. It’s very natural to take photos from where stand, from our normal height.

Get down for great pet photography

However, my advice to people who want to take great photos of their pets is this: Get Down.

Get on the floor with them. Or the grass.

Put yourself (and your camera) on their level.

Look into their eyes. See things from their perspectives.

How to get down, get dirty and get the picture

Sometimes it’s easier than others: laying on a nice warm carpet is a lot more fun than getting down on cold, wet snow. However, here are a few tricks that can help:

1) Keep a garden kneeler nearby when you’re outside. Depending on how you employ one, it can cushion your knees or protect your rear from mud puddles. You can keep one in the car as well.

2) Include an inexpensive plastic painter’s drop cloth as part of your standard photo equipment. It folds up small, weighs next to nothing, and is easy to replace if it gets muddy beyond repair. A drop cloth can come in handy if you need to get on the ground, but can also keep you (and your equipment) dry if you get caught in the rain.

3) When outside with your pets, wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty. You may do this already (pawprints are lovely accessories), but if you start with an expectation that you might get a little messy, you won’t mind crawling on the ground to get that perfect picture of Fido.

4) Take advantage of times when it’s easier to adjust your height. Take a picture of your dog when he is at the top of the stairs; you can position yourself several steps below. Or snap a photo of your pup when she’s on the bed; kneel on the floor to get the right perspective. Cats can be a little simpler, since they move vertically; grab the camera when your cat is on the cat tree, a window sill, the back of the couch. You can get great kitty photos by adjusting your angle.

5) Buy an angle finder. This simple device attaches to the viewfinder of your camera, and uses mirrors to enable you to see through the viewfinder without lying down. Your camera can rest on the ground, and you don’t have to be a contortionist to take a picture of your dog rolling in the grass.

Getting down works for portraits, candids and actions shots

For this picture of my cat Athena on my backpack, I lay down on the floor in front of her.

Athena lying on a backpack

If a cat is on it, it’s a cat bed.

We kept this upside down box at the top of the stairs for years. To take this photo of Dawn I knelt several steps down and put the camera on the carpet.

Dawn thinks she's being sneaky

You can’t see the cat. She is hiding.

To get this picture of Elsa Clair on our buffet, I put the camera on its surface and just had to bend slightly. An angle finder would have made it even easier. The reflection is emphasized in this black-and-white version.

Elsa Clair reflected in the surface of our buffet.

Thank goodness it’s only a reflection. I don’t know if our home could handle two Elsa Clairs.

I used the kneeling pad for this one — just on the edge of the leaf pile. With the camera on Jasper’s level, the yard and fence disappear, making the photo of my dog more interesting.

Jasper in the leaves

Jasper loves to lay in leaf piles.

Lilah was standing on our deck, and I was on the ground —  four stairs down. A little creative bending on my part, and I was even with her eyes. She has a gaze that goes right to the soul.

Lilah looks right through you

Lilah sees everything, knows everything.

I love to try and capture my pets interacting with their favorite toys. Sometimes I’ll throw Tucker’s ball while sitting on the ground. Here, I was sitting on the lowest step of my deck, putting me right on his level.

Tucker loves his ball

You got a little shmutz on your nose there, Tucker.

This photo of my three dogs inspired me to purchase an angle finder. I was on my stomach in the spring grass, and when I stood up, I had wet and muddy spots all over me. With an angle finder, I could have rested the camera on the ground or my hand, and simply knelt down to look through the viewfinder. Much easier.

Lilah, Tucker and Jasper hanging out.

I always thought this photo looked like one advertising an indy rock band.

An oldie but a goodie, and an example of a photo taken with a point-and-shoot camera. The only way to take this picture of my son and my dog Rosie was to get down on the floor.

From years ago, my son and Rosie share a box

Aaron and Rosie

One of my favorite photos of all time shows my three dogs’ noses peeking through my gate. I leaned down to get on their level — just in time to catch the moment.

There's not much cuter than 3 dog noses.

Dog noses are irresistibly cute.

Sometimes it’s easy to get down and sometimes it takes a little creativity. But the results are nearly always worth it.

Do you have any favorite tips for pet photography? Share them in the comments.

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27 Comments on "Getting Down and Dirty: Pet Photography Tips"

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  1. easy rider says:

    thanks or some great tips! I’m always sad when I see my bad photos… specially when we take photos of our furkids, we have to catch the moment, there is no “play it again Sam”… I mostly miss this moment… maybe I should read the instruction sheet of my cam now, there are so many buttons I never touched or used… but they are probably there for a reason :o)

    • I don’t use many of the functions on my camera either. But, I nearly always have my camera at hand — and that’s how I’m able to capture so many great moments.

  2. da tabbies o trout towne says:

    guys…all theeze fotoz R grate …yea….even ewe dawgs taked sum good ones !!!! ::

    de food gurl doez knot own a camera, just the one on de fone N even tho itz knot de best ….we get sum good shotz everee now & then…. ♥♥♥

    • Thank you! I probably should have said in my post that you don’t even need a special camera to take great pictures. You can still get down and take photos with a camera phone.

  3. Ellen Pilch says:

    Those are all great photos. If I get on the floor to take a photo, I may not get back up 🙂

  4. Earl Lover says:

    Pet photography rules.

  5. Emma says:

    Mom is laughing as this is the perfect post for today. We were just at the garden center and Mom got down on the floor to take some photos of me. After the shots, we started walking and her foot felt funny. What happened? As she was almost lying on the greenhouse floor, her left shoe got into some mud and was covered in it. Oh well, anything for a good shot of me I guess. Great tips you have! Once you play around for a while all the stuff seems to come naturally…even mud.

  6. Novroz says:

    Thank you for the tips 🙂

    My God, all those pictures are amaazing

  7. meowmeowmans says:

    You are so right! Oftentimes, getting good shots of the PAWS cats means laying on a towel on the floor. 🙂

    Love the pictures, with my favorite being the one of Aaron and Rosie!

  8. Susan….I just looked at your blog for the first time and immediately subscribed to everything. It’s wonderful – your writing combined with photography and the works. I have to admit the pet photography tips drew me like a magnet! Your photos are superlative! Great tips!

    You asked for tips to share: I have one: When taking more than one animal, have a combo of squeaky toys available. At THE moment (such as when two or more animals are assembled, be ready, squeeze the toy and CLICK quickly! (has to be a sound they’ve never heard before)

  9. Annabelle says:

    I do this as well. The only problem is when I get down near to them they move towards me! MOL

  10. speedyrabbit says:

    those are some fun shots,xx Speedy

  11. Ruby says:

    These are ALL amazing shots. I love your tip about getting down on the ground at their eye level!

  12. Flynn says:

    Your photos are beautiful! I get down as much as possible but the older I get, the harder it is to get up again. When I am outdoors I am sure I sometimes look more like a crab than a human trying to get back on my feet.

  13. They’re all so adorable. Granny is getting down too, but when she’s down, I’m away 😀 Great tips anyway 🙂 Pawkisses for a Sunny Sunday 🙂 <3

  14. Christy Paws says:

    These are some great tips. Mom tries to do the down and dirty thing with us but we usually end up getting up and walking over to her if we are on the floor. This works pretty good when we are on our trees though. She did not know about the angle finder and wants to look into that.

  15. Kitties Blue says:

    Susan, these photos are all exceptional. I particularly like the one of the “two” Elsa Clairs. Whenever I am on the level of my subject, they usually come right at the camera or walk away. I usually have to try to surprise them. I will never take such great photos, but I keep trying. So sorry to be absent for such a long time. Thanks for being such faithful supporters of our blog hop. XOCK, Lily Olivia, Mauricio, Misty May, Giulietta, Fiona, Astrid, Lisbeth and Calista Jo

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