Pets make great photos: They're practically always around, especially when they suspect it's getting close to mealtime, and with a few notable exceptions, they're pretty cute.

But as experience may already have taught you, coming up with a haphazard snapshot is easy; coming up with a really top-quality photo can be hard. Here are a few hints:

First, use the right equipment: It's hard enough with quality equipment; it's next to impossible to do a predictably good job with a non-adjustable camera.

Set your camera's shutter-speed control at 1/50 second or faster when shooting in available light. Using a 400 ASA film will help. Or use electronic flash, even outdoors.

The thing you want to do is freeze the action so the shot comes out sharp. Try taking a photo in available light with a slow shutter speed -- even of a sleeping dog -- and, invariably, the animal will suddenly lift its head at the instant you snap the shutter, ruining the shot.

If your camera accepts interchangeable lenses, fit the lens to the animal. Normally, you'll find a short telephoto lens best for bringing the animal in close while still allowing you the distance necessary for maintaining your pet's composure. Some smaller animals can best be captured with a macro lens. Don't make the mistake of using a normal or even a wide-angle lens with a large pet, though: One photographer I know crept closer and closer to her large, friendly hound until she finally stopped just inches from the animal's nose. Before she had time to snap the shutter, the beast decided he had to know what the front element on a lens tasted like.

If possible, get your pets used to seeing you hanging around with camera in hand. Skittish pets may even require several days of "dry" shooting, listening to the empty camera firing -- possibly even electronic flash going off -- before they get comfortable in front of the camera.

Often, high-strung or standoffish animals can be coaxed into posing on a full stomach. Get your pets used to a regular feeding time and do your shooting right before, during or after.

Provide suitable props -- yarn for a kitten, a big bone for a little puppy -- if you know the pet, you'll know what's best.

Nothing bothers me more than watching people photograph their pets from a standing position. You wouldn't climb up on the roof to take a photograph of your husband or wife standing down on the ground, would you? Then why not shoot an animal from animal level?

Don't be afraid to get down there to where things are really happening. You'll be amazed at the new perspective. You'll see expressions you never saw before -- and nostrils, inner ears, chins, whiskers -- all kinds of things that look totally different from a low camera angle.

So slip into some grubby clothes and try it. There are a lot of good pet shots just waiting to be taken.