Training your eyes to really “see” backgrounds for your pet photos is probably one of the first skills you’ll need to develop as a photographer. The background can make or break your photo, setting the mood and enhancing the overall story.

Let’s chat about two of the main types of backgrounds I like to work with. Read on to learn how (and when) to use each one, and how each can change the vibe of your images.

Open Sky Backgrounds

Example of an open sky background and how it can be used in your pet photos. Sun rays glisten through fluffy clouds with the model featured standing on a rock staring off into the distance.
Example: Open sky backgrounds are perfect for moments like this – the sun’s warm rays shining through the clouds.

As the name suggests, an open sky background features a vast expanse of sky with no trees, or with minimal other obstructions. This background is fantastic for capturing the beautiful colours of dawn or twilight, dramatic clouds, or even rainbows.

When it works:

Open sky backgrounds shine in pet photos when there are interesting sky details to capture, like vibrant sunset hues or stormy clouds, but on grey or bright days, the sky can become a flat, unattractive mass of white, blue, or grey.

This lack of contrast can draw attention away from your pet, so be sure to aways expose your photo for the sky to keep the highlights intact and avoid blowouts.

Solid Backgrounds

Example of a solid background used in a pet photo, showing a blurry, buttery bokeh and a wall of pine trees behind the two models.
Example: In a photo with a tree-filled background, a longer lens will squash the background, turning light spots into beautiful bokeh, enhancing the focus on your pet.

If you’re here because you love dreamy pet portraits with buttery bokeh in gorgeous forests (welcome – you’re in the right place 😌), then solid backgrounds just might be your jam.

Unless you have a specific reason to include the open sky, I find that a solid background can provide a more controlled and often more appealing setting for your pet photos. Solid backgrounds can be trees, bushes, rocks, or even buildings.

Things to Consider: Solid Backgrounds in Pet Photos

Solid backgrounds help to block out or filter the sky, adding texture and depth to your photos. The background also has a dramatic influence on the mood of your image.

When working with solid backgrounds, your lens choice will make allllll the difference.

Choose a wider lens to show more of the background with smaller bokeh spots, or a longer lens to compress the background – creating larger bokeh spots and more blur.

Same location, different lenses.

Choosing the Right Background in Your Pet Photos

Selecting the right background for your pet photos involves understanding how different settings will affect your final image. Train your eye to recognise the impact of backgrounds and how they can enhance your subject.

Practical Tips:

  • Always be aware of the background when framing your shot. Use it to help tell your story – don’t try to work against it! Where is the light? What shapes and textures are in the background?
  • Use different lenses to see how they affect the background, blur and bokeh. As with any art, the key is to experiment, experiment, experiment!!!
  • Learn how to adjust your settings based on the background and lighting conditions.

One of the exercises I’ve given my Learning Journey members is a bit of an interactive quiz!

I took some photos of the background in focus, and asked them to try and imagine how the background would look if the dog was in focus.

Have a go! I’ve included an example from the lesson below! 

Ps. My 135mm f/1.8 lens was attached, and I was shooting at f/1.8 This should help you imagine how the background will look. 

DSC04573 DSC04566

Use your phone to see the background as your camera will see it!

Professor Snoot Says: 

One tip we’ve shared in the Learning Journey is to use your phone when out location scouting, exploring, or going for a walk!

Simply put your phone onto camera mode, get down low and point it toward the background you’re wondering about.

Then, hold your finger or your hand up close to the lens, so the phone focuses on your finger.

Due to the depth of field being narrow, it will blur the background, giving you a sense of how it MIGHT look through your lens!

Let me know in the comments below if you use this tip, and how it goes!

The Wrap-Up

Backgrounds play an extremely crucial role in pet photography, setting the mood and enhancing the focus on your model. Take a walk around your local area and see if you can spot (or scout) some open sky and solid backgrounds.

Finding a location with a great background can be extremely challenging, especially for those of you living in more urban or industrialised areas. Over the years I’ve coached loads of budding pet photographers on photo walks and via my Learning Journey memberships, and I’m always recording new “Bitesize Location” and “Location 360” videos to help give my members more tips and tricks for finding great locations for photos. 

If you’re eager to learn more about backgrounds & the impact they have on your photos storytelling, I’ve published hours and hours of lessons on the topic, including in-depth tutorials and workshops to perfecting buttery bokeh – if that’s your thing wink

Getting access is easy, and members have a treasure trove of educational goodies at their fingertips. Simply head over here to get started, and start your own Learning Journey (heh) today!

See you there!

A self portrait of Emily Abrahams pet photographer with her two border collies, holding a camera
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