kitty in a gold gift bag playing with a gold ornament set up against an orange background

Holiday Pet Photos: Pro Tips and Hilarious Fails

It’s the holidays and everyone is feeling all cozy, warm and light. The tree is aglow, candles are flickering, and glittering reindeer, snowmen and lights adorn front lawns across the country. Don’t let all this magic go to waste—it’s the perfect time to snag the most adorable photos of your pet.

Pet photography has been on the rise for several years now. We go through the cycle of school pictures and family portraits for our children, so why not our furry kids, too? Just like any other photo shoot, many pet owners are willing to pay a premium for a flawless pic of their fur ball. While going the professional route is a great idea if you’re seeking perfection, you can also take a darn good pic on your own. If you’re a DIY pet photographer, read on, cuz we have some awesome tips for you!

You're aiming for this... 

sleeping husky and grey tabby kitten lounging together in front of a christmas tree 

But after wrangling with your furry pals, you end up with this... 

golden retriever and grey tabby cat laying on the floor wearing santa hats pulled low over their eyes

You see all of those adorable images of doggos and kitties in festive holiday garb.  Surely you can capture some of your own furry family.  And we are here to help.  Read on, pet parent, for some tips to get the best holiday pet photos ever. 

Plan Ahead

Are you looking for a posed portrait of puppers?  Or a dynamic, action play shot? Thinking ahead about what you want to capture will help you set up the scene the way you want it as well as schedule it around your pet's energy level. 

black cat wearing a holiday shirt and reindeer antlers on his head sideways sitting in front of a christmas tree

Portraits work best if you have a subject willing to sit still.  This might work better when they are just waking up in the morning or nearly read for bed at night. If you want them frolicking in the snow or the freshly abandoned wrapping paper, schedule it for a time when they are most active.

Will you need props in your picture? Toys?  Ornaments? Lights? Consider the look you are going for before you start snapping pics.

TIP: Have a variety of props at the ready that will surprise and delight your furry pal so you can keep them from getting bored and becoming mischievous. Unless you are trying to capture a pet on Santa's naughty list...

Find Natural Light

Natural light is so much better for excellent photography and it usually means you are in a natural environment... one that the pet will likely prefer to a stuffy old studio. If you are lucky enough to snap pics on a gray day, even better, because the lighting will be more even overall. 

TIP: When snapping your pics, experiment with shooting from different directions to see what the light does to your image.  You will discover that the same shot looks totally different with a slight shift in lighting.

Fast Shutter speeds

Looking for that adorable action shot of them playing with their new ball or frolicking in the snow?  You're going to need to use a faster shutter speed. If you're using a good old fashioned camera, you can switch your exposure to manual and experiment.  If you are using a cell phone camera, you can do burst photographs, set your own focus and change the exposure.

TIP: Learn how to customize your iPhone settings.  There are hundreds of articles out there.  We liked this one by Dan Price at Make Use Of and this one by Kate Wesson at iPhone Photography School

Get on Their Level

Standing up and pointing your camera down result in a funky angle. Plus, you’re not able to connect with your pet; you’re not viewing them as they are. Take your photos at a their level. This could mean sitting on the floor or ground or even laying on your belly. 

golden labrador laying between two kids who are kissing him in dim light

But, come on... it's totally worth it because it completely changes the vibe of the photo and gives a more realistic perspective. And your floof will love having you on the floor to play with them.  

TIP: When you get on the floor with them, give them time to play with you before you start taking pictures. They will likely calm down after a few minutes of floor time with you.

Composition is Everything

Give the composition of your picture some thought. Turn your camera to match the position of your pet. If the animal is sitting up, facing you, and you’re shooting with mobile phone's camera, turn the phone so it’s vertical. If you’re pooch is laying down in front of your Christmas tree, a horizontal shot may suit the scene better. You can either step back and capture the dog lying horizontally, with more of the tree in view, or get a tighter shot. 

TIP: Allow yourself to explore different compositions with the same shot. Try both vertical and horizontal orientation or centered and offset positioning. You may accidentally discover you like something you had not planned to capture.

Be Flexible

Be prepared to take lots and lots of photos.  Hundreds even.  Yes... really! The best photographers shoot as many pictures as they can, knowing that they will end up with a few great shots. Many people start their photo shoot with a specific setup in mind—the dog needs to sit there, the kids there, the background just so—but that’s not necessarily how these things work. Most animals like to move. Be prepared to move with them and go where the photo shoot takes you. This helps keep you from getting frustrated and your pet stay positive (cuz you're in a good mood!).  The result is that you capture the personality of the pet more easily.

TIP: Jot down several scenarios for your photo shoot and then allow them to naturally evolve... kind of like a good conversation that naturally flows all over the place.

Dial Down Distractions

Taking pictures of animals is a lot like taking pictures of “real” kids. It’s sometimes darn near impossible to get them to sit still. Remember those props we suggested earlier?  This is where they come into play.  Whip one out to redirect your pet's focus back to you when they inevitably get bored and want to go play or sleep.

Shaggy brown dog wearing an elf's hat and a green holiday bow on his nose

You can use hand-held squeakers, bells wrapped around your ankle, another person standing nearby, or even a delicious smelling treat to get pets to look in the right direction and pay attention. 

TIP: Be patient with your distracted furry pals.  They are (usually) super eager to please you and will take their cues from how you react.  Avoid yelling at them or you will get pics of concerned pets with flat ears.  Ewww. 

Focus on the Eyes

They say the eyes are the window to the soul and, well... those doggy and kitty eyes do us in every time. Your pet's eyes are quite expressive when you slow down and take a good look. Whether they are staring at you or off in the distance, their eyes can hint at their thinking.  

TIP: Make sure you focus the camera on their eyes so that part of the photo is sharp, crisp and clear. 

Tap into their Curiosity

 You've heard the old saying about curiosity killing the cat.  We believe that curiosity makes for great photos!  You may have a great set up in mind for your photo shoot. Your feline may have something else in mind entirely.  If they wander off to investigate something they suddenly find interesting, go explore with them. Their natural interest in things causes their eyes to focus, their ears to move into different positions, and their mouths to express their intent. 

TIP: When you are capturing their curious wanderings, try to stay as still as possible to capture them without distracting them.  Just keep clicking the shutter to get as many pics as possible.

Treats at the Ready

If your doggos and kitties are anything like ours, they are supremely food motivated.  We have no qualms whatsoever with using treats to get our furry family to let us take pictures of them.  Treats are a great way to get them settled at the beginning and also to redirect their attention back to you. 

brown and white small dog with his head buried in a holiday bag

TIP: Find your favorite treats at the Scollar Personalized Pet Marketplace.  Even better, use code SCOLLARFIRST10 at checkout for a 10% discount! Score!

Want More Tips?

We gathered up our tips for this post from these sources below.  Be sure to visit to learn even more! 

And don't miss this super funny blog about panoramic pet photo fails at DeMilked: 30 Panoramic Photos Hilariously Photobombed by Animals

Happy snapping, Scollar Pack! 

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