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How to Take the Perfect Holiday Pet Photo

Updated on November 8, 2015
Christmas santa  hat photo
Christmas santa hat photo | Source

Did you recently add a new member to the family this year and want to share their cute fur face with your friends and family this holiday season? Perhaps you’ve had a fur baby for a while and are looking to add some cuteness or fun to your holiday card? If you have ever tried to photograph your pet, you know that it can sometimes be challenging! Between their willingness to pose for photos and your patience level, getting the right shot can be easier said than done.

Last winter, my husband and I added two kittens to our family of two so this is our first year we are able to share them on our holiday card that we send to friends and family every Christmas! We got a jump start on taking their photos this fall so our cards will be ready to mail out the day after Thanksgiving in preparation for the Christmas season.

If you are a cat owner you know that they are not always the most cooperative creatures and like to follow the beat of their own drum. Our Frida and Diego are no different! Learn from our mistakes and challenges and follow my tips below to take the perfect do-it-yourself holiday pet photo for your seasonal card this year!

Build a Background

Start by envisioning what you want your holiday card to look like. What style are you going for? Style inspirations include:

Black and White / Vintage

If you are going to decide to include yourself in the photo asking a friend or family member to be your photographer will save you a lot of time and keep you from losing your nerves trying to get tripods cooperate or capture the perfect selfie!

Once you settle on your style inspiration and how many pets (if you have more than one) are going to be in your photo(s), you need to find the perfect background.

Diorama built for cat photos
Diorama built for cat photos | Source

Here’s my list of don’ts when it comes to choosing a pet friendly, photogenic location:

  • Don’t choose a location (like your dining room or kitchen) that is going to have a lot of clutter in the background. You don’t want chair legs or magazine racks in the background of your photo.

  • If you live in a small, indoor space, build your own background! Hang up a white sheet or table cloth and throw some holiday toys or props around the area that your pet can play with during the photo.

  • If you plan ahead early enough in the year, consider taking an outdoor photo in your yard with the grass, white fence, gravel road, or wheat field in the background.

  • Keep the background simple and clutter free so your subject of the photo (your loved one!) will shine through as the star.

For our holiday card this year, I build a “diorama” for our cats out of card board boxes. Yep, diorama, like you build in 4th grade for your book report project! I build up the card board boxes then covered them with holiday wrapping paper, added some lights and fake snow to the bottom and strung some Christmas bulbs across the top. What cat doesn’t love to crawl into a box? Whatever background you choose, make sure you are creating a friendly environment your pet will want to spend time in during the photo shoot.

Give Yourself Plenty of Time

I can’t stress this tip enough. Don’t start a pet photo session if you are short on time. Especially if you are using the photo to send to lots of friends and family, you’ll want to take it on a day when you’re not rushed so you will have time to get lots of shots and have plenty of options to choose from.

Also, you never know how cooperative your pet will be when it’s time to get the camera out. Don’t worry if it takes you two or three different sessions to get the photo you really want. If your cat or dog is being uncooperative, try again the next day if at all possible.

Have you used pet photos on your holiday card?

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Know your Pet

One of the most important things to keep in mind when photographing your pet is to know who they are. Are they full of energy and difficult to get them to sit still? Then posing them on a pedestal probably isn’t the right choice of staging for your photo. If they are cuddly and prefer to sit with you in your lap, consider being in the photo yourself.

Are they more energetic during the morning? Afternoon? Evening? Choose the time of day to take your photos that matches your pet’s energy level. If you want to capture a photo of your dog running through the field, doing it in the evening when your dog is tired probably isn’t the best timing.

Keep them well fed before your shoot. Make sure your pet is watered and fed before trying to capture their photo or they will lose focus. Keep plenty of treats on hand to help them stay focused and reward them for good behavior.

Dog in santa hat
Dog in santa hat | Source

Use Natural Light

Animals always look best when you can capture them in natural light. Try shooting on a bright sunny day. Keep the windows open if you are doing an indoor shoot and let the natural sunlight light your subject.

Sunset photos can be particularly beautiful if you are shooting outside at dusk, especially in the fall months. Avoid dark backgrounds for holiday photos. While they may make a cool photo for your hallway or social media account, the holidays are a time for bright, cheerful colors and light.

Entice Them

Getting your pet to hold still, pose, or sit still (especially if you have more than one you want to capture in the same photo) can be a real challenge. It’s important before you start the shoot to gather everything you need to keep your pet’s attention and entice them to behave well.

Keep plenty of treats, their favorite toys, catnip or even laser pointers to help direct your pet’s attention. I found it best to always keep the camera ready and in hand. That way, you can position your pet with one hand and be ready to capture a quick shot with the other before they move or run out of the shot.

Make sure to reward them with lots of love and a treat or two for good behavior.

Getting the Right Angle

Photographing your pet at the right angle can be tricky.

Peek-a-boo Christmas cat
Peek-a-boo Christmas cat | Source

Here are my tips for the angles that make the best shots:

  • Straight on.

    There’s nothing cuter than capture the wide-eyed look of your best buddy.

  • Looking at you.

    Position the camera angle so your pet looks at the camera’s lens. If at all possible, try to avoid using shots of your pet looking down or away. You want your friends and family to see what they really look like and the best way is to have them look at the camera.

  • Looking up.

    Try shooting them from above. Dangle a treat, feather, or favorite toy above them to get them to look up while you take an aerial shot.

  • In action.

    Taking an action shot always brings a smile to someone’s face. Action shots will bring out your pet’s personality so don’t be afraid to let them play, jump, sniff, or move about as you snap frames.

Patience, Patience, Patience

Our cat Frida's 2015 Christmas photo
Our cat Frida's 2015 Christmas photo | Source

Above all, remember to practice patience. It will probably take you dozens (if not more!) shots to get the right photo you have in mind. So keep snapping away and remember that it doesn’t have to be perfect.

Your friends and family want to see you and yours and that means capturing your pet’s true personality, even if it means they are trying wriggle their way out of the photo! Have patience and have fun! You will have lots of laughs later when you start looking through all of the throw-away shots!

Touch Up Later

Our cat Diego's 2015 Christmas photo
Our cat Diego's 2015 Christmas photo | Source

Remember, you can crop your photograph later and use photo editing programs to add filters or backgrounds to get just the right look after your photo shoot. So next time you or your pet are running out of patience remember you can use your laptop later to get the right finishing look to add to your holiday card.

Most holiday card programs online even make it easy for you to upload a photo that might need cropping or lighting effects that you can apply right in their program online. You can line up your angles, crop, and even add filters on many online card making websites.

Some of my favorite holiday card making websites include:

Tiny Prints
Vista Print

Do you make a holiday card every year? Do you include your pets? What are some of your own tips or ideas for holiday pet cards that you’ve done in the past? Share in the comments below!


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    • ThatMommyBlogger profile image


      3 years ago from The Midwest

      Cute article. I think we'll include our cats this year.

    • Tom Pumford profile image

      Tom Pumford 

      3 years ago from Cheshire

      We have been thinking of expanding our wedding photography business and started up a traditional holiday christmas photography. Family around the fire, that sort of thing. We want to somehow do it properly and un cheesy. Some great tips here!


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