Cute puppy in the street

A lot of us are addicted (OK, maybe even borderline obsessed) to taking pictures of our pets — and then sharing those snapshots with the whole wide pet world.

At some point, we’ve all likely had this internal dialogue: “This shot really shows off her blue eyes, but I need to find one that doesn’t cut off her cute ears and really showcases the color of her fur."

We reached out to photographer Kate Lacey, who spent five years shooting purebred pups for Show Dogs: A Photographic Breed Guide, to get her five best tips for taking a stellar (read: nonblurry, frameworthy and personality-capturing) portrait of your fluffy muse.

1. Don’t Just Wing It

Dog in car window portrait

Whether you want a formal look or a more candid vibe, it helps to be prepared. For a posed picture, “figure out your background, as well as the best lighting and camera settings, before bringing in your pet," says Lacey. Her advice for active shots: “Carry your camera on every walk and adventure that you take together because you’ll capture a true sense of your pet. My dog loves cars, so when we got a chance to ride in a friend’s vintage car, I was ready to shoot!"

Only have a smartphone on hand? "Explore photography apps, like Instagram," she suggests. "They have fun and easy filters that can enhance the original phone photograph."

2. Use Natural Light to Your Advantage

“I use an average of four photo lights in a studio, but this look can also be achieved with natural light,” says Lacey. If you’re working indoors, set up the shot with a big window on one side of your pet and a white poster board or foam board on the other side to bounce the light back toward your subject. You should also use lower light settings on your camera (high ISO’s, wider apertures), and opt for a tripod instead of flash.

For an outdoor shoot, “the best natural light happens in the first few hours of the morning and the last few hours of the day," she says. A fun thing to try: Back-light your dog with the setting sun. Also, overcast days are actually perfect for capturing nice soft light.

3. Be Selective About Backdrops

“I often photograph animals against solid white and color backdrops because I love the consistency of the look, and I want to focus on the personality, form and texture of my subject without a distracting background,” says Lacey.

To get that effect at home, buy rolls of seamless paper at a camera store or an online photography shop, like B&H Photo Video. “It’s also fun to use a painted or wallpapered wall," adds Lacey. "Just make sure that your subject is a few feet in front of the backdrop to avoid harsh shadows. And set your camera on aperture priority mode to control the depth of field — the smaller the number, the better."

4. Troubleshoot Distractions

Depending on the personality of the pet, Lacey prefers to limit the amount of people and other animals — both on set and in the photo. “If you’re capturing pets and people together, it’s good to instruct the humans to focus fully on the camera, letting you — the photographer — get the attention of the pet,” she says.

Lacey also keeps food out of sight at the beginning of a shoot. "Treats can be a great way to keep the pet focused, but they can also increase excitement,” she says. “Once they’re in the frame, use a squeaky toy to distract the pet at the exact moment that you’re ready to take the picture. This typically only works once, so be ready to snap!"

Speaking of excitement, Lacey always suggests that a dog get a ton of exercise before coming to a photo shoot: "A long run or playing in the park makes for a happier, calmer dog, who will have an easier time sitting still and focusing on the camera."

5. Even the Eye Level

Dog in grass

“For truly engaging photos, I keep my camera at or below eye level to an animal," says Lacey. "Lie on the floor if you have to!"

For people-pet portraits, she advises sharpshooters to position both sets of eyes at about the same level, so you don’t have to pull back to fit them both in the frame. "Have the dog sit on the person’s lap or stand on a tree trunk," she suggests. "Another good trick is to have them both lay in the grass and then photograph them from above."

Plus: For more tips on taking great pet photos, check out 5 Tips for Perfect Holiday Card Pet Snapshots.