Number One- Focus on the face. While this tip is not necessary 100% of the time, more often than not, it is very handy. When photographing people, it's okay to have a shot of your subject without much focus on the face. However, with animals, the face is very important.
For example, look at these self-portraits I did recently.
You can't see my face, but the pictures still look good. Now, compare these headless shots to this headless shot of Julio- one of the cats in the shelter.
This picture just looks goofy. So, let me repeat, focus on the face. (FYI: Tommy is the handsome kitty in the top picture, and Kate is the beautiful lady in the bottom picture).
Focusing on the face is especially important if you take not only artistic photos, but useful photos as well. I do some of the photography for my local Animal Control, so it is very important that the public be able to see what each cat looks like. While getting a good look at the body is valuable, it's not nearly as important as seeing the face.
If Domino were up for adoption, the picture of him lounging in front of a window would not be good because it's hard to tell what he looks like. So when I photograph cats specifically for the shelter, I make sure to focus on their face like I did in this photo of the gorgeous kitty named Luna!
Little Side Note- As mentioned before, you don't always have to focus on the face. You can still get good shots of an animal without seeing their face; it's just a bit trickier to do.
Number Two- Separate the animal from the background. In other words, don't always have your subject lying immediately on/against the background (as Tommy is doing in the picture above). I typically use my camera's settings to achieve a nicely blurred background. If I have to, I will use Photoshop to manually blur the background.
Here are two examples so that you know what I mean. (Robin is the pretty girl in the top picture, and Kingston is the lovely fella in the bottom picture, in case you were wondering).
Little Side Note- Don't be afraid to put/have other objects in front of your subject.
Number Three- Avoid the "posed" look as much as possible! Try to make sure that your subjects look as natural as they can. Every now and again, having your subject pose isn't so horrible- notice the picture of Lacy, my puppy, at the bottom of this post. However, if every picture that I took of her were to look that set up, then we'd have a problem. The more natural your subject looks, the better.
For example, here is a picture of 5 month old Jekyll. His stance looks very artificial, but that's okay because his picture is not meant to be artistically appealing; it is just meant to give adopters an idea of what he looks like.
These next three pictures of Pixie also help illustrate this idea. The top photo is meant to show adopters what Pixie looks like. The bottom two photos are more like close-up beauty shots.
Number Four- Capture their personality. This one is pretty difficult, but don't worry- you don't have to do it all the time. I just use this technique every now and again for fun, for an additional challenge, and to add some interest to my portfolio.
What do I mean by "Capture their personality?"
Try to use your pictures to tell people something about your subject- such as their favorite activity, what they spend most of their time doing, or your subject's reaction to something that they just absolutely love
For example, my boy Domino loves to watch/stalk birds. He spends most of his time in front of a window, and he gets so involved whenever he spots a bird, so I made sure to get a picture of him while he was stalking a bird.
Another example is this picture of Lacy. Lacy is literally always happy. Since she is constantly so ecstatic, I made sure to get a picture of her smiling.
Try to make your pictures stir up a feeling in their audience. When people look at my pictures, I want them to feel something- whether they feel the intensity in Tommy's bright, bold eyes; or they sense Domino's passionate concentration while stalking birds; or they perceive the happiness in the picture of Lacy smiling; or they feel the calmness and laziness in the picture of Domino sleeping. Point is, I want their viewing my pictures to be an experience.
So I hope these tips have helped you in some way. Be sure to practice these techniques and develop a style all your own so that you can share your advice with others, too. If you have any questions or would like to know anything else about me/my photography/these pictures/etc., just let me know! :)