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Home photography ideas: Shoot studio-style pet portraits with one flashgun

Home photography ideas: Shoot studio-style pet portraits with one flashgun
Direct a single off‑camera speedlight, and your pet will stand out from the surroundings in a studio-style look (Image credit: Future/Peter Fenech)

Whether we're pro or amateur photographers, right now we're all looking for fresh subjects that we can shoot at home. If your family members have had enough of sitting for portraits, why not turn next to your furry friends? 

The greatest challenge in any environment outside the studio is controlling the ambient light, but here, you only need one flashgun to get great results.

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A home environment can be filled with visual distractions and unphotogenic elements (we're not saying you're messy), so we'll also explain how to work these out of the frame for cleaner compositions. 

With a combination of shutter speed, off-camera flash and careful framing it's possible to produce images that appear to have been taken in a controlled studio setting, allowing you to work under any conditions – from your living room in lockdown.

Step 1: Position your pet

(Image credit: Future)

We didn't have a seamless background at home, but having the cat sit on a black cushion made it easier to control background brightness, as more light was absorbed by the dark material. Look for items around the home you can use.

Step 2: Make the flash directional 

(Image credit: Future)

Attach a wireless trigger to your speed light and place this off to one side, at a 90° to 45° angle, elevated slightly above the subject and facing down, approximately where you'd place a strobe.

Step 3: Set the flashgun zoom

(Image credit: Future/Peter Fenech)

Use the controls on the rear of your flash to increase the head zoom position. Select the longest zoom setting (in our case this was 105mm) to narrow the beam for a focussed effect. 

Step 4: Cut ambient light

(Image credit: Future/Peter Fenech)

Next, increase your shutter speed or stop down the aperture to reduce visible background detail. Start by lowering the ISO, choosing the base sensitivity if possible, then the speed or f-stop if this is insufficient.

Step 5: Increase flash power

(Image credit: Future/Peter Fenech)

To further darken the environment, increase the flash output and adjust camera settings to match. This will overpower ambient illumination even more, to help with the seamless background effect.

Step 6: Focus the light

(Image credit: Future/Peter Fenech)

 To reduce light spill further, consider adding a small flash snoot or honeycomb grid to your speedlight (if you've got one). This 9mm model fitted directly to the flash head to create an even more focussed light.

Step 7: Adjust the white balance

(Image credit: Future/Peter Fenech)

Many home settings feature light bulbs with a low Kelvin setting, which creates a warm colour cast. Use a Tungsten White Balance preset or make a custom setting for a more neutral, studio-like colour palette.

Step 8: Adjust your frame

(Image credit: Future/Peter Fenech)

Zoom in on the composition to exclude edge detail and fill the frame with your background (and furry pal). Limiting context will minimise the need for removing objects when you edit the images. Shoot multiple frames at a fast continuous burst rate to capture the perfect pet pose.

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Lauren Scott

Lauren is the editor of Digital Photographer magazine, a practical-focused publication that inspires hobbyists and seasoned pros alike to take truly phenomenal shots and get the best results from their kit. 

An experienced photography journalist who has been covering the industry for over seven years, she has served as technique editor for both PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine

PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine and DCW's sister publication, Digital Camera Magazine

In addition to techniques and tutorials that enable you to achieve great results from your cameras, lenses, tripods and other photography equipment, Lauren can regularly be found interviewing some of the biggest names in the industry, sharing tips and guides on subjects like landscape and wildlife photography, and raising awareness for subjects such as mental health and women in photography.