Want Better Pet Photos This Christmas? Follow These Simple Tips

Funny cats are taking a selfie with smartphone camera. They are wearing Christmas hats. Selfie party.
credit: AnatoliYakovenko/iStock/GettyImages

The winter holidays beckon, and with them come tacky sweaters, bourbon-spiked eggnog, and *lots* of portraits taken as a fam, which, these days, almost always includes our pets and four-legged BFFs.

But just because we all have cameras at our fingertips, doesn't mean we're regular old Ansel Adamses behind the viewfinder.

In an effort to take our photo game to the next level this holiday season, we picked the brain of a professional: Chloe Millar, a Sr Photo Editor at the Leaf Group (which, disclosure, is Cuteness's parent company).

Millar shared some awesome tips that will improve your snaps and help them stand out on social media, both this holiday and in the years to come.

Want Better Pet Photos This Christmas? Follow These Simple Tips
credit: Cuteness

Use treats to get your pet's attention.

Like any good photo subject, you need to coax your pet into an attentive yet casual pose — but you don't want them too rigid or fixated on your every move.

"If your dog is driven by food," Millar notes, place "a treat just above or to the side of lens of your camera or phone to [establish] eye contact."

Because some cats and dogs can't be bribed quite so easily, Millar recommends so-called posing toys (such as this one at Amazon) that fit over your camera and "are sure to grab [and hold] their attention."

Want Better Pet Photos This Christmas? Follow These Simple Tips
credit: Cuteness

Avoid confusing your pet.

"If your pet is getting told to 'sit' and 'stay' by [multiple] people at once or being yelled at loudly, chances are they won't and who can blame them," she warns. Just as you wouldn't welcome a human model into a crazy environment [unless your name is, say, Andy Warhol], you need to create a space that's fun and calm for your animals.

To this end, Millar tries to eliminate any potential distractions ~before~ she shoots: "Turn off the shutter sound, [for example, because] that noise will [prompt] confusion or excitement and their sensitive little ears will react to it."

At the same time, she stresses that patience and flexibility are key to composing killer pics: "If you spot them in a cute pose, don't suddenly scream 'STAY ROVER STAY'".

This, she says, will lead to them to think you are playing. Instead, "avoid eye contact until the last [possible] minute" before you starting snapping. They will think you're busy doing something else and won't get self-conscious or overly excited as a result.

Want Better Pet Photos This Christmas? Follow These Simple Tips
credit: Cuteness

Adjust your camera's focus.

"Just know that you will take a ton of pictures and probably get one great one two if you are lucky!", Millar cautions.

Modern cameras (and smartphones), she reminds us, "are designed to recognize human faces, not our furry friends, so what looks sooooooo cute in your eye [and in preview mode] may not translate to the camera" or online when you post it to the platform of your choice.

"Because the nose on your pets' face protrudes [out further than that of a human], the auto focus will train to that feature, but "when we look at their cute faces we go straight to the eyes."

Account for this by "shifting the focal point up to those peepers to get the best shot."

Another successful strategy: Crouching down to their level, but remember: "Avoid eye contact to keep them in that cute and unaware stage!"

Taking picture of italian cane corso dog
credit: VioNet/iStock/GettyImages

Work the angles.

As anyone with a brown or black pet can attest, photographing dark fur can be tricky to master. Because their coats absorb light, photos will look sharpest if your pets are positioned close to a light source, ideally of the natural variety.

"Try not to shoot them head on and shoot at a slight angle so as to let the light catch the angles of their face," she suggests.

And simple little hacks, like using a white piece of paper or bed sheet to bounce the rays back at the source, can really tease out the features in their face, such as in-between the eyes and on bridge of the nose.

Experiment with different positions, Millar counsels, to dial in the spot where the reflection can be optimized.

Even without a fancy SLR or help from pricey post production software, these tips, she concludes, "will definitely help [with your holiday pictures]!"

Got a favorite pet photo hack? Share it with us in the comments below!