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How to get the perfect photo of your pet, according to an Irish pet photographer

by Grace McGettigan
03rd Sep 2020
photo of your dog

photo of your dog

We asked professional pet photographer, Philip Murray, how to take the perfect photo of your dog

Dogs are part of the family, and if your camera roll isn’t already full of pet pics – it should be.

Kathy Smith had the right idea. The Welsh woman’s ‘family pawtrait’ went viral as it features not one, not two – but eight dogs and nine cats. Speaking to Metro in the UK, Kathy admitted it took three attempts and a lot of darting back and forth to ensure all 17 pets remained in place for the photo. “In the end, I managed to keep them there for a couple of seconds and get the photo before they were off again,” she said.

Photo by Kathy Smith

With a lot of extra time on our hands, we animal-lovers at IMAGE are eager to create ‘pawtraits’ of our own. For that reason, we turned to professional pet photographer, Philip Murray for his expert tips and tricks. One of our first questions was, of course, ‘how can we get them to do the cute head tilt?’

Any tips for encouraging my pet to look at the camera?

“Treats, treats and more treats,” says Philip. “The type of treat is also important. Small treats (about the size of a pea) work best. You don’t want to give them something that will take time to chew and if you’re going to be a while, then you don’t want them to get full. You want to give them just enough so they get a taste. This will keep them coming back for more, making it easier to hold their attention.

“Avoid dry treats,” he adds. “It’s always good to have a bowl of water near, but if the treats are too dry, your pet will get thirsty very quickly and they won’t want any more.

“If you are photographing your pet often, use a different treat to what they normally get. That will make it extra special and they will stay engaged for longer. Give your pet one or two treats so they know what you have. Show them another one and get them to sit or stay.

“If your pet is staring at the treat, then put the treat where you want them to look,” Philip explains. “And while they are looking at the treat, bring it right up to your camera/lens. The biggest mistake that people make is clicking their fingers or waving the treat way above where they want the pet to look.”

Toto via Philip Murray PhotographyToto, by Philip Murray Photography

How do you get dogs to do that cute ‘head tilt’ for a photo?

“Make a weird noise! To get the best head tilt reactions, you need to make a noise that your pet has never heard before – squeaks, yelps, any weird noise you can make with your mouth. You sound crazy but it’s just what you have to do to get the perfect shot.”

My pet moves every time I go to take a picture – any advice?

“Your pet gets their cues from watching you and your face. If you lift up your camera to take a photo, and it blocks your face, your pet can no longer see you and so they’ll look away.

“To hold their attention, try not to block your face but if you have to, then that’s when the treats come in handy. If you are using a phone, they might be looking away because of the flash. Which ties nicely into the next question…”

Zero via Philip Murray PhotographyZero, by Philip Murray Photography

Is it okay to use a flash in pet photography?

“I would advise not using the flash on a camera phone. If you want your pet to look directly into the camera, that’s also where the flash comes from so, of course, they’re going to look away as soon as it lights up. If you really need to use a flash, turn off the red-eye setting,” Philip advises. “This will stop the flash going off before the photo is taken, giving you the best chance of getting a photo before they look away.”

How can I get my dogs to stand/sit together for a photo?

“This is a tricky one. The short answer is that it depends on the dogs. Some dogs don’t mind being beside other dogs but some just want their own space. If they don’t mind being close to each other, then a good trick to get them focused is to have a different person giving treats to each dog. If there were two dogs, I’d hold a treat near the lens for Dog A, and a helper would hold a treat for Dog B.

“If I was to hold one treat for both dogs, they might feel like they’re in competition with each other for the treat and probably jump at it. By having different people offering treats, your pet knows they’re getting their own treat. If your pets do not like sitting near each other then combining two separate portraits (for example, via Photoshop) is probably the best way to go.”

Of course, if all else fails and your ‘pawtrait’ isn’t going to plan, it may be worth calling in a professional. To enquire about at-home photoshoots for pets, visit

Feature photo: Pexels

Read more: You can now buy a full range of Christmassy dog treats for your pooch

Read more: Pets are scientifically proven to make you happier

Read more: The best dog-friendly eateries to enjoy in Dublin

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