Pet photography is very similar to photographing children - it's difficult to coax and encourage them into the perfect composition. But when you get it right, the hard work can pay off in dividends.
Working with animals is far easier if you know the subject personally, and not all the tips below will be relevant for every different animal. Still, hopefully they'll give you a few ideas on how to take great shots of your pets!
Step 1. Focus on the Features
One of the first things to consider is how you want to portray your pet in your photographs. Consider whether your pet has any particular traits, habits or physical that you could capture. This may well affect what posture you'd ideally like the pet to have in your shot.
Try and maximise the affect of the animals facial features, such as teeth or eyes. Maybe you can try and evoke a particular reaction from the animal, but a good rule to start you off is to focus in on the eyes.
Step 2. Direction
It's difficult to make a pet shot look natural, as they don't necessarily follow directions and will behave unpredictably. But there are a few things you can do in order to get your pet to respond and make your life easier.
Try and get their attention - either call their name or use a treat or biscuit to get them to focus on you. If you're not the pet owner, try and ensure the owner is present, as the animal will be far more receptive to their direction than yours.
If you like, you can try getting the pet to interact with the owner or other animals - this can produce some wonderful moments, but could also prove a major distraction, so it's your call!
Step 3. Get to Their Level
Make sure you've got a nice quick lens, as undoubtedly your pet will move around quite a bit. Try and be as mobile as possible, so don't burden yourself with loads of equipment. You want to be able to respond to your pet's movement.
Get down (or up!) to their level, and consider it the same as taking a portrait shot, you want to capture the face of the subject and any expression or posture that they hold. Also, if you can, try and get in close, so you can capture the detail of the fur or skin and fill the frame with your subject.
Step 4. Environment
It's also important to consider the context and setting in which you're taking the shots. Try and get the pet to a place with a decent amount of light - this could either be out in the park, or at home near a window or strong light source.
You could also trying using props, positioning your pet by a particular piece of furniture or even in someone's hands depending on how small it is! Remember that the environment you choose will affect your pets behaviour. Somewhere familiar indoors will probably lead to them being quite subdued, but out and about, or even somewhere new to them, may lead to more excitable shots.
Step 5. Doing Something Different
Hopefully you've gathered a few ideas together of how and where you might construct your shoot, but don't be afraid of trying something creative or different.
Think about the context in which you usually see your pet and maybe try removing it from that setting and trying a new location or environment. I've got nothing against capturing a really detailed face on portrait shot of a pet, but please don't forget there is the potential to be creative!