lighting tips

We cover this more thoroughly in the webinar, but here is the lighting diagram showing the typical natural light shot that I use for photographing dogs and cats.  NOTE: This is designed to maximize the effect of natural window light, but if you’re using a camera with an automatic pop-up flash, it will still work.  Repeat after me: THE BIGGER THE LIGHT SOURCE, THE SOFTER THE LIGHT!

Plan to use this set up at the brightest time of day! You want as much window light as possible (without direct sun) and the biggest reflector you can find. Remember a reflector can be a large sheet of white styrofoam (preferred) or a big white foam core poster board or even a big sheet of silver-covered insulation from the local building construction store.

Stay close to your subject, especially with a black dog!

lighting diagram for pet photography


    1. Directly opposite the dog, in between the window and the reflector. I guess it was understood – so maybe I need to revise this drawing to make it more obvious. Thank you for you comment!

  1. You mentioned the on-camera flash – two questions:
    1. What’s your take on the advice going around against using on-camera flashes close to animals because it can hurt their eyes?
    2. How does one avoid the dreaded dog version of red-eye with an on-camera flash?

    Thanks for inspiring so many to take camera in hand and help save many precious lives.

    1. Thanks, Bert. I don’t feel that the short time during a session that the dogs are exposed to the flash is considered harmful. My friend and shooting partner is a veterinarian and never expressed a concern.

      We have lots of different ways to deal with red eyes. -including the short video on this blog showing how to diffuse the pop up flash. join us for the next webinar and we’ll discuss it in more detail


      1. Use an attached flash and bounce it with a reflector attached, that is what I do and get great results when using a flash. Pop up flashes do not work well. no red eyes and it does not scare the cats/dogs etc, Otherwise I use my studio lights!

  2. I just took your webinar on petfinders and am very interested in your indoor lighting advice. I struggle with it but prefer not to use a flash. I want to find out what you mean by diffusing the pop up flash. I use a Nikon D3100 on Manual with no flash. But I struggle in certain places in the shelter to get enough light for an attractive photo. I have used a floodlight, dragging it all over the room to get pictures of the cats but just used a regular light bulb. Where do I get a daylight bulb? Struggling for an answer I just bought a small flash attachment that I can bounce the flash off the ceiling but I really don’t like that effect either. I much prefer continues light. Can you direct me where I can get some suggetions.

    1. There is a tutorial video on this blog about diffusing flash…so that would be the place to start. Any photography suppy company will sell daylight bulbs ( like ) for about $50 each — but you might need more than one to really make a difference. You can buy a daylight floodlight bulb at any Home Depot store (on the light bulb aisle). Not quite the same, but much less expensive. The real solution here is to photograph these pets next to a big window or light source instead of trying to bring the light to them, try bringing THEM to the LIGHT! Preferably a spot with a white wall opposite or adjacent to the window. IF you can’t make that work, look for a big doorway where you can open the door to let light in. I’ve done some really cool portraits standing outside and shooting in to a doorway. Hope that helps!

  3. Thank you for your prompt reply. However I can’t find that video you mentioned about diffusing flash. Where is it? I am new to these darn blogs and don’t see any video link here. Our shelter is small only about 20 to 30 cats in a private home so there is no place to set up a little studio. Darn. And yes I do know about looking for the light from windows and take advantage of it when a cat is in the right spot. . It is not always possible to bring the cat to the bright window they don’t always cooperate as you know, so I end up using no flash and fixing it in my Paint Shop Pro. And if I open a door all the cats will run out so that is not possible. I have yet to try the difusser that came with my little bounch flash so I will experiment with it soon. I still don’t find that using window light gives me the excellent photo’s that I saw on your webinar. I so want to learn to create master pieces. is where you will find some of my photo’s. And gosh I have never seen a daylight bulb in the bulb isle but then never really looked. I will look around online at photo equipment. I would like a stand to attach the continus light on. Can that be purshased at a photography store or online.

    1. The video is part of a blog post from 2011. You can watch it here:
      Youtube is a huge resource for photographers. If you go there, just google any photo topic and you will be amazed. Light stands can be purchased at any photo supply store.
      Cats will migrate to a window on their own if you create something interesting on the outside…. like a bird feeder? They will hang out on a window sill for hours. Or try leaving treats on a table or chair next to the window….

      good luck!

  4. Thank you so much for the link. And thanks for the tips. Time is usually an issue and I can’t always wait for the correct cat to make his way to the best spot but I will certanily try your tips.

  5. I was hoping you could give me some tips. I shoot at the shelter in Manual, shutter 125, Apeture F4 which is as wide as my lense will go, with an ISO of 100. Are there any other settings I can get better shots with?

  6. Lynne, Sounds like you might need to take a class which gives you more experience with the manual settings on your camera. I would certainly bump up the ISO. I often shoot indoors at ISO 640 or even 800. IF you can go that high, you probably won’t need flash, just some reflected light, like a white wall.

  7. Teresa thanks so much for your kindness and advice. Our shelter is Kings Harvest Pet Rescue and we take in animals from the homeless and low income people in our community. All the animals I photograph would be in danger if we did not help. I would almost give my right arm to get the shots you do. Since we have no open hours our only adoption tool is petfinder and our facebook page and I know the pictures need to make people fall in love. Since I was lucky enough to find Kings Harvest and be able to take over the photo’s I have noticed our adoptions have increased. It amazes me that I can put up some good shots one day and we get adoption applications the next. But I am not satisifed till I can get shots like yours. Do you happen to know if there are any online classes that will help. The local College does but I am not sure if it is what I want. May be too much of a beginner class. I am always at a lose as to what settings to use in certain situations. My camera will go to ISO3200 but I remember with 35mm film the lower the ISO the clearer the shot. I am going to the shelter Friday and will bump it up to ISO800 and see what I get. I would be curious to know what sutter and apeture you used to get some of the great shots you posted in your webinar. And you said in your webinar to use a darker background on lighter animals but your shots of the white dogs on the white couch are stunning. When is your next webinar? I got in just in time as I noticed that the link for your last webinar has been removed from petfinder. Bless You Teresa.

    1. Lynne
      You can buy the download of the full webinar any time! It’s available on this blog. It’s an instant download and allows you to play it over and over whenever it’s convenient for you. HOWEVER, we don’t teach professional studio photography in the webinar. We don’t talk much about shutter speed and aperture because most volunteers are using point & shoot cameras. We talk about finding the light, using reflectors and managing the animals. If you are interested in learning about studio photography with studio flash (which is what 90% of my animal adoption photos are) you would need to either buy the Dog Shots book (a professional guide available on this blog) or attend one of the Unleashed Workshops.

      There is no way to teach you how to use studio equipment and duplicate my results via email!! So glad you are motivated to try, but if you can’t attend one of our live workshops, perhaps you can find something in your area that comes close. And the high ISO is only a problem if you don’t have a good processor in your camera or not enough megapixels. Many professionals shoot all day long at 800 ISO. So you see, there are too many variables to adequately explain via email.

  8. Teresa I want to pass on a tip that the wife of a well known local retired professional photographer told me today. She said they would always put a pretty cover down over something and then put a heating pad under it. Then when you put the cats on it instead of running away they would find it warm and snuggle in and do the creating biscuit thing. Then her husband got great shots of cats. I am going to try it and thought I would pass it on in case you had never tried it.

  9. Thanks for being so clear. My camera is a Nikon D3100 14 megapixels. At the shelter today I did use a ISO800 but did not find the shots any better than at ISO100. Also the new bounch flash I got either gives me shadows or slightly glowing eyes even with the difusser. I think I have the best luck using a continous light source. I am going to look into to mounting a floodlight on a light stand that is movable. And then try to bounce that light onto the subject. I would love to find a mentor rather than take a class and am like a sponge needing knowledge. Is the webinar on your blog to buy? Is it the same as the one I took on petfinders recently? Teresa I am so excited about some of the shots I got today and would love to have you see them. Is there a way to post a photo on this blog?

  10. Just let me say again — most of my shots are done with studio strobes IN THE STUDIO. So working in a shelter, your shots will always be different. They will NOT look like mine unless you use the same lights and lighting ratio. Check out — they are a national organization of artists and photographers. They may have someone signed up to mentor people in your area. If you would like to purchase the webinar, scroll up to the top of the page, click “The webinar” and read more about it. It is an expanded version of the webinar I did for Petfinder. I’m sorry, but at this time I’m not able to do one-on-one help. Join Heartsspeak!

  11. I went to heartspeak and it looked like they want photographers to join to mentor shelters. I did not find a place where I could get someone to mentor me on learning better pet photography. I won’t be buying your webinar either. And won’t be bothering you anymore. I wanted to show off my photo’s but you are not interested so I won’t be back to any of your webinars.

  12. I spent over 4 years working for a humane society and developed a knack for photographing the cats. However, time and space constraints meant that I had to photograph them while in their kennels. I got a lot of great shots using a Canon PS point-and-shoot camera. However, the animals that were not housed near windows were difficult to capture. In the absence of nearby natural light and with limited space, what’s the best way to light an animal? I was considering making some sort of caver’s head flashing contraption. I avoided using the flash due to the eye glare it causes.

  13. I spent over 4 years working for a humane society and developed a knack for photographing the cats. However, time and space constraints meant that I had to photograph them while in their kennels. I got a lot of great shots using a Canon PS point-and-shoot camera. However, the animals that were not housed near windows were difficult to capture. In the absence of nearby natural light and with limited space, what’s the best way to light an animal? I was considering making some sort of caver’s head flashlight contraption. I avoided using the flash due to the eye glare it causes.

    1. I agree that pointing a flash into a crate or kennel is to be avoided. I have been very fortunate in that the shelters I work with are all willing to remove the animals from their crates (they usually have a volunteer or employeed assigned to partner with me) and we move the cat or dog to an isolated area with better light. I would simply work with a rescue group instead or work with a shelter that would allow me to remove the animals from their crates. If they see what remarkable increases to their adoption rates they can effect by having better photos, surely they will be more cooperative? Beg them to try it for thirty-sixty days and when they see how much faster they can move animals out, maybe they will be more helpful!

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