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Photographing Pets Like A Pro: Shanna Paxton

Hi, I am Shanna, owner of Shanna Paxton Photography. I am the proud fur mom of Lady Leia, a Yorkshire Terrier. Photographing her practically every day has taught me a thing or two about pet photography. I hope some of this info helps you take at least one great photo of your loved one. There are some tips for preparing yourself for your pet’s photograph and some for your pet to get ready.

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Dog in owners arms by photographer Shanna Paxton
Dog playing ball by photographer Shanna Paxton
Dog sitting between owners by photographer Shanna Paxton
Dog in owners arms by photographer Shanna Paxton
Dog by boats by photographer Shanna Paxton
Dog on blanket by photographer Shanna Paxton
Dog on blanket by photographer Shanna Paxton
Dog in snow by photographer Shanna Paxton
Dog and child by photographer Shanna Paxton
Wild cat by photographer Shanna Paxton
Cat in grasses by photographer Shanna Paxton
Dog with owners by photographer Shanna Paxton

Shanna Paxton and her pupEvery year we see incredible entries to our calendar contest from local amateur photographers. The photos get better each year as we receive many repeat entries from hobby photographers aiming for that “perfect” shot. In the spirit of supporting our entrants that love photographing their pets, we met with local photographers and asked them to share their expertise on the subject. Here is Shanna Paxton and some quick tips on snapping a photo that will last a lifetime:


Get yourself ready for taking a pet photo and then put your expectations aside.

The best bit of advice I can give for pet photography is to be kind to yourself and experiment in the moment. Pet photography can be tricky but so rewarding. I once tried to photograph my family’s four Yorkshire Terriers … it was indescribably difficult. So my first tip is to photograph one pet at a time.

Think outside the box.

Pets aren’t just dogs and cats. Pets can include fish, hedgehogs, bunnies, snails, snakes. Let’s get diverse!

Camera choice is important.

With regards to what camera to use, it could be anything from an SLR, GoPro or camera phone. Technology is quickly catching up to the kind of quality that was exclusive to professionals a few decades ago.

Shoot in a horizontal format.

Our subconscious feels “secure” when we are viewing that format. And in pet photography, this wider frame allows space for the subject to move.

Think about your surroundings.

The background of a photo is about color and texture. Settings in nature are pleasing to the eyes every time and are a reliable pre-made backdrop. Photographing inside a home can be full of distractions and visual clutter and are often a second choice. Whatever it is, make sure it’s interesting because it makes up a large part of your photo. I took a risk once photographing a cat on a pink blanket with a green wall … Eeeek. I blurred the background and it turned out OK … when in doubt blur the surroundings.

It’s all in the eyes!

The eyes are the most important thing to focus on. Do you know that saying “the eyes are the window to the soul”? This is true. Make sure wherever your pet is it’s near a light source. Whether it’s window light, a white wall reflecting light on them, sunshine pouring down or sun through the clouds. When pets, or people for that matter, have light reflecting in their eyes, it makes them look vibrant and engaged.

With sparkling eyes in mind, make sure your eye level to your subject or just a little bit higher to get that one-in-a-million photo.

Now that you’re prepared, prepare your pet too.
  • Give your pup a bath or send them to the groomers.
  • Consider having them do something active like catching the ball or enjoying catnip … something that gets their mind off of wondering what you’re up to.
  • Use meals and treats to your advantage. Give your pet treats during the designated photo time and capture their wide eyes and full attention.
  • Consider, will you have them “pose” in a still position or will you want them to move? Both are great but require your consideration. With movement it can be tricky to get everything sharp and not blurry, you may want to consider shooting a slow-motion video and screen capturing the moment you wanted. If you can keep your pet still, it really does make things easier.

In conclusion, be patient with yourself and your pet. Take your time trying different areas and settings. Think about all the times you thought your pet was cute and try to recreate that. If you’d like a photo of you and your pet together, hire a professional photographer to make sure you’ve got exactly what you want.

Good luck to everyone that enters the OlyFed Pet Photo Contest and I look forward to seeing the winning images printed in the 2022 calendar!

Dog in rose petals by photographer Shanna Paxton