Your guide to photographing small pets

Images of small pets almost touches on macro photography – learn all the basics of capturing them here

Taking shots of smaller pets enters a whole new world of exciting photography that almost touches on the theme of macro. These small animals need the close-up treatment to gain any real impact when stuck in a frame on the mantelpiece.

These small animals need the close-up treatment to gain any real impact when stuck in a frame on the mantelpiece.

The golden rules are the same as any other style of pet photography; clean natural backgrounds, focusing on the eyes, dynamic poses and above all, capturing their personality.

You can go for the ‘grande fromage’ style, such as capturing a guinea pig peeking out from a plant pot, but small pets work better (and are happier) in their own environment.

Togo the lizard loved his favourite spot under his heat lamp. Unfortunately, the strong tungsten light causes hotspots, but using a foil reflector helps to pick out plenty of other detail.

A macro lens is the weapon of choice for nailing great small pet pictures, but any long lens above 00mm will enable you to get in close enough for frame-filling impact. Youll need to maximise depth of field using small apertures around f/8 and above, so if they live in a cage indoors get it near a window for maximum light levels.

Shooting directly under a light without a reflector to bounce some light back results in a very underexposed image with a hot spot on the top.

Using silver foil as a reflector helps to light the underneath of reptiles when theyre under strong lamps.

Shooting macro with a compact

Having a compact around is very useful when it comes to macro subjects as they tend to focus close and therefore produce powerful close-up shots. Another benefit is that the live preview in the LCD enables you to compose to perfection, and you can also be sure the focus is locked as you will hear it beep.

For the best results switch your camera to Macro mode, indicated by a flower icon and zoom in until the zoom bar changes colour. This indicates the focal length is at the optimum for the closest macro shots.

Dont discount compact cameras for shoots when they c

an produce shots like this.

Switch your compact camera to Macro, select Auto mode and off you go.

Get in as close as you can focus and use the LCD to compose.


An ugly, unnatural or distracting background will ruin any picture and small pets are no different. In fact, they require a little more thought as cages, tanks and cases are usually full of unsightly distractions, such as reflective glass, bars or bright man-made toys.

Posing Togo on the end of a rock and shooting with an earthy log in the background, rather than the case feels much more natural.

A quick tidy-up first to rid the area of clutter will save time in the digital darkroom later and free-up many more composition options while shooting.

Okay, so five minutes of the Clone Tool could rid this distracting thermometer, but it would only take ten seconds to take it out before shooting.

The easiest option to avoid any permanent fixtures, such as the strip light near the nose is to change your composition.

Using flash

Taking pictures of small pets with direct flash can cause unsightly shadow halos on the background. Using flash as fill-in rather than the main illumination will help alleviate the problem, however the best solution, especially for pets in enclosed cases, is to use TTL off-camera flash.

Using a TTL off-camera cord enables flashwork in even the smallest of spaces

Using a wireless system or off-camera cord, place the flashgun in the case and point it upwards. This will fire the flash towards the roof of the case and ‘bounce’ it back down, smoothly spreading it around the enclosure.

Youll get more even lighting on the subject, will be able to use larger apertures for greater depth of field and faster shutter speeds for shake-free pictures.