Tips for Photographing Dogs

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  By Jennifer Berube
Tips for Photographing Dogs

Dogs are simultaneously extremely fun and extremely difficult to photograph. They’re quick moving, unpredictable, and almost impossible to tell what to do. With any other portrait shoot you have ample time to plan, light, and pose until you get things right. When it comes to photographing dogs, your best tool might be your patience. However, here are a few tips to get you moving in the right direction and hopefully make your next doggy photoshoot more successful.

How to Take Pictures of Dogs

Get on Their Level

This is a technique used for kids as well as animals. Most subjects don’t look as interesting when shot from above and don’t properly represent their own environment. If you want to get the best photo of your dog, get down on their level. Don’t be afraid to get your knees dirty as you scoot across the ground and practice your yoga moves.

It’s best to use a lens that allows you to zoom in an out. This way you’re able to get up close face shots while you’re on their level but also zoom out to capture the same scenery that they’re seeing. With that being said, even standing up and getting great overall environment shots with your pooch in it can be interesting.

Photograph Dogs in Their Natural Environment

If you want to know how to photograph dogs, you need to be aware that dogs are animals that love to run, chase and play. For this reason, many dogs enjoy going outside for a walk or a game of catch. During your photography session, why not plan a trip to the local park? It is a great way to get the pet owner and the dog excited and stay busy. It’s a good idea to bring toys or props for the pet owner and their dog to play and run around. This will create lots of opportunities for action shots. Anticipate where the pet will run and lock the exposure beforehand. Doing so will help reduce the shutter lag and increase the number of keepers from your action shots. Using a camera with a high burst fps is a good idea when taking action shots. It will increase your chances of capturing the photo that you are looking for.

Shoot Like it is a Sport

Just like when you’re photographing cars or football players, dogs are fast movers that would rather chase a squirrel than sit pretty for the camera. Don’t be afraid to capture their tongue dangling out and ears flying.

You can shoot faster in several ways. Some cameras, including cell phones, will have a sports mode that raises the shutter speed and also takes several photos continuously. Turning your camera to sports mode and using a faster shutter speed will allow you to capture action without the picture being blurry. Even if some elements, such as the legs blur, the primary goal is to get the face in focus.

Know Their Personality

As with people, every dog is different. if you want to know how to take pictures of dogs, you need to know how to get to know them. If it’s not your own dog then be sure to ask the owner questions pertaining the dog’s personality. When are they the most or least energetic in the day? During what activities are they happiest? What is the goal of your photoshoot and what type of feeling of the animal are you trying to capture?

All of these questions are important to have answered before beginning your shoot. You wouldn’t take a lazy bulldog to a field of sheep and attempt to get images of it herding. If it’s possible, spend a “day in the life” with the owner and the dog. Follow them on their routine walk and capture moments of them together. This will allow the dog to become more comfortable with you being around and also the click of your camera.

Be sure to also bring some treats. Photo taking can be a great training activity as you or the owner practice Sit, Stay, and Lay Down. This can be a great chance for a dog to show off any special tricks they have as well. Ask if they know Play Dead, Roll Over, or Sitting Pretty. If it’s your own dog, this can be extra motivation to teach your dog some new moves in preparation for photos.

Photograph Dog Owners Interacting With Their Pet

What makes pet dog photography unique from other types of photography is the interaction between dog owners and their pets. The unique bond that exists between them creates a sense of loyalty, love, and friendship. Creating opportunities for photographing dog owners and their dogs is not as hard as it may seem. Dog owners will naturally want to spend time with their dog. Going on a jog with their dog, playing fetch or petting their dog are some simple yet highly satisfying actions that dog owners like to do with their dog. It is a good idea to ask the pet owner what they enjoy doing with their pet before the photo shoot or on the way to the location. Then when you run out of ideas, suggest that the pet owner do one of the things that the pet owner said they enjoy doing with their pet. Be sure to look out for the inevitable interactions between the pet owner and their dog between sessions too. These candid photos usually turn out great.

Play Dress Up

Pet owners love to dress up their animals. This is especially true of dog owners. There are even shops dedicated to selling clothing solely for dogs to wear in some cities! Ask the pet owner if they have any clothing that they have bought for their dog and to bring it along. Otherwise, accessories such as scarves, hats, or glasses can also do the trick. There’s room to experiment and have fun here, so don’t be afraid to try something new. Dressing up a pet dog is a great way to mix it up and bring some creativity to the photo shoot. Dog owners are often fond of personifying their pets through dressing them up.

Be Creative

Take advantage of your surroundings, any props at your disposal, and interesting compositional angles to mix it up! There are many ways to be creative on a photo shoot. Don’t forget to look around and see how you can incorporate your surroundings into your next shot. For example, if you are at a park with a playground – try to see if you can get the dog to sit in a swing or slide down the children’s slide. You never know how the dog will react. Dogs like the adrenaline rush and the feeling of the wind on their face. Capture that emotion on their face while they play. Either the photographer or the pet owner needs to engage the pet and keep him active and happy. The photos you capture will reflect the dog’s happiness.

Practice, Patience, and Persistence

Generally, dogs are happy creatures without a care in the world. But even the happiest individual has days that they don’t want to cooperate. Be prepared that you may struggle to get the perfect shot the first time, or even the 100th time that day. The best thing you can do is make the activity fun! Before you engage in photo taking, get out a rope and play tug or entice a game of fetch. Burning some energy may allow the dog to relax and sit still for a frame or two.

As with any subject, practice makes perfect. Take your own camera out daily to photograph activities with your dog. They will enjoy the extra attention that they’re getting from you and it will help build your confidence for when you photograph someone else’s pet.

Persistence throughout the day will award you with better shots. Don’t get discouraged if you want a more somber photo but the dog just wants to run. Let them burn off the energy, capture a few action photos, and then wait for a moment of rest to compose the shot you want.

Dogs are a joy to spend time with and photographing them shouldn’t be a chore. Although their fast movements can be difficult, it can also help you grow as a photographer and push you to better understand how to use your capture to freeze action moments. Practice, practice, practice!

Happy shooting!

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Before I became Editor-in-Chief of PHLEARN Magazine, I spent over five years specializing in Photography Writing and contributed articles regularly to sites like PictureCorrect, Sleeklens, and PhotoWorkout. Photography has always been a huge passion of mine; I may not be professionally trained in the art, but the knowledge and experience I have gained writing about photography techniques, interviewing some of the biggest and most inspiring photographers out there, and covering industry events has been invaluable!

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