Here's how to set up the perfect shot with your four-legged family members

‘Tis the season for holiday cards and family portraits. And since pets are as much of the family as everyone else, setting up the perfect group picture includes photographing your furballs from their good sides, too.

Want to take better photos this year – and avoid ending up with one of these awkward shots? We gathered some ideas from the pros for getting better results behind the camera. Here are five suggestions you can put to use when you’re snapping pictures at your holiday gatherings:

1. Know your camera. Look at the manual and go through the various shooting modes. “You’ll want a fast shutter speed, so a ‘sport setting’ will work well for this,” says Heather Bohm-Tallman, a professional photographer and pet lover based in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. And be sure to let your pet adjust to the camera and its sounds. You might even want to let him take a sniff!

2. Location, Location, Location. Stick with what’s familiar to your furball. “You pet will look most like himself in the photo if you chose a location he’s comfortable in,” says Mark Rodgers, a San Francisco-based pet photographer. It’s best to be somewhere – the local park, the backyard or even the living room, if your pet is more of an indoor creature – where your pup or kitty is comfortable and can be safely off-leash.

3. Set the scene. If you’re going to outfit your pet in reindeer antlers or a Santa suit, let him wear it beforehand to get used to it. But simple backgrounds – such as a wrapped package or a holiday wreath – add flair without the fuss.

4. Strike a pose. Position your pet however she looks natural for the photo. “Some animals look their best when they’re sprawled out on the couch, while others look the best standing upright,” says Andrew Darlow, author of Pet Photography 101: Tips for Taking Better Photos of Your Dog or Cat. First and foremost, you should aim to capture your pet relaxed and in her element. To get your pet’s attention, have a squeaky toy or treat handy.

5. Be patient. “Work at their comfort level and don’t force them to do anything,” says Bohn-Tallman. Unlike humans, animals aren’t trained to smile when someone yells, “Cheese!” So be prepared to take lots of photos, and to do so in 10-15 minute intervals. And remember that not every shot has to be staged. Some of the best photos are also the impromptu ones!

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