Want Great Pet Pictures? A Professional Photographer Shares Tips
To take awesome pet photos, you might think it's necessary to have a fancy camera, a high-powered lens, a bank of lights, and a bag full of treats. But Vincent Lagrange, a photographer who specializes in animal portraiture, says stillness is your most powerful tool.
"I make sure the setting and decor are quiet with as few distractions as possible. Remove any sort of noise to create a calm atmosphere," he tells Daily Paws. "I also make sure I can shield myself with curtains if I really have to in order to get the right attention."
Lagrange, a native of Belgium, is heavily influenced by fine art photography. And while he's captured a few celebrities and stately forms of architecture in his time, his lens is now focused on companion and wild animals. "I used to photograph people and actors, but I felt much happier portraying animals and printing them in a size that makes humans feel small," he says. "I like the idea of turning the world around so in that way, the animals receive more attention than humanity does today."
(Click on the arrows in the lower-left corner to enlarge any picture below.)
He says one of the reasons he loves working with animals is they don't need makeup or a stylist—they're just pure. He encourages pet parents to strive to capture other emotions with their animals, ones they don't normally have.
Lagrange's current on-going series, The Human Animal Project, was inspired by his beloved Belgian shorthair cat, Dwiezel. The project raises awareness about animal causes both wild and domestic. His Instagram feed is filled with animals in the studio, from his travels, and of his favorite pets at home: Ray, a Belgian Griffon; Django, a Himalayan, and Polla, a rescued Persian.
In his 2021 book, The Dogs: Human Animals, it's easy to see why the aspect of stillness works to create stunning pet photos. His advice? Patience.
"Patience is the key in this process, especially for me, since I determine my focus manually. Nothing in my process happens automatically," he says. "I like the form of a craft that takes time—that's also why you get the beautiful results. It's a kind of yoga for me."
5 Pro Tips to Take Great Pet Pictures
1. Get Your Pet Comfortable
Lagrange says taking great pet pictures starts with the relationship between you and the animal. "Their comfort is one of the most important things to be able to make a nice portrait. This is also the case with people: the chemistry between the model and photographer has to be right." If your pet isn't in the mood, then wait and try again another time. They still have a say in this process and might delight you with other aspects of their character when they're ready.
2. Use Soft Lighting
Next, use soft lighting, whether indoors or out. "I recommend not to use flash, since it's not natural to get a flash in your eyes every time," he says. "Therefore, I use a soft daylight lamp so that the tones are also all very nice." This one or maybe this one might be a good fit and aren't too expensive.
3. Hold the Treats—At First
And this might surprise you, but Lagrange doesn't use treats—at least, never in the beginning! "When it gets really hard, I start with smells, sounds, wind, and my own sound database." He'll bark, howl, and purr if necessary to get a more authentic reaction. He thinks giving food right away makes an animal tired and uninterested in the shoot—but he's not above handing out bits of lightly-seared roast beef when it's time to coax a more difficult model into action!
4. Don't Worry About the Equipment
As a professional, Lagrange uses Leica photography equipment, but with these tips, you'll have just as much luck with your pet photos using some of the phone camera options available now.
5. Have Fun!
Most of all, simply enjoy spending time with your treasured pet in a fun and novel way, letting the photo shoot unfold naturally. Lagrange says there's not a way to predict how long it will take to get the results you want. "It really depends. Sometimes it's done in an hour, but sometimes I spend a whole day on it. I don't push the animals and make sure they are always comfortable."