12 Helpful Tips To Get Great Photos Of Your Dogs
Believe it or not, most dog lovers are perfectly capable of taking great photos of their dogs but don’t realize it. Some say “I don’t own the right camera” or “I don’t have the knowledge or the patience”. Sound familiar? As a professional dog photographer I have faced these and other challenges only to discover that taking great dog photos is not really that hard. With some basic steps of preparation, perseverance, practice, and yes some patience you could soon see a masterpiece photo portrait of your dog hanging on your wall. Below are 12 helpful tips I have put together to take some of the mystery out of getting great photos of your dogs.
#1. The Camera - “Set it and forget it”. If you use the “auto mode” setting for most, if not all of your photography that's good because “auto mode” will cover a good portion of the light conditions you will encounter. “Just set it and forget it”. For those of you who shoot with more advanced settings, “manual mode” is recommended. Which ever way you choose stick with it. Make sure you have chosen the highest quality .JPG setting as the file format to record your photos or choose RAW. This will guarantee the appropriate file size for high quality print reproduction purposes. If you are not familiar with confirming and or changing the image quality setting in your camera consult your operators manual.
No manual?...just look it up on the internet.
#2. Camera Fright - Your dogs comfort with the camera is important. Many dogs are spooked by the appearance or the sound of a camera. If there is the least bit of curiosity, take some time for an introduction. Smelling is usually first. If they seem OK then without pointing the camera at them rattle off a few shutter releases to see what their reaction is. Most of the time it will not be an issue but there are some dogs that simply see your attempt at taking photos as a direct threat and will become so spooked that it will be impossible to get natural photos. Some times a mom or dad figure (a dog handler) needs to be present for complete comfort. If that is not you it may be necessary to have that person present during the whole shoot. Otherwise puppy will constantly be looking for mom or dad and you will quickly lose their attention.
#3. Practice, Experimentation, Repetition - This is probably where most people give up on getting great photos of their dogs because it may seem beyond their skill level. All I can say is “It’s not” and “Don’t give up”! Like anything else it requires practice, experimentation and repetition. Think of it as your first day on the slopes or learning to ride a bike. It is no different. Most of all it should be fun. Once you have had some positive results the anxiety of failure will soon subside and pure fun and exhilaration will take over.
#4. Best Light of Day - Usually the best light of day is early morning or late afternoon when the sun is low in the sky. (30 min after sunrise or 90 min before sunset) Horizontal light from the sun is filtered through a more dense air mass which creates a softer, more appealing source of light. Time of day shooting is also dependent on whether your dog has more energy early or late in the day. Look up the exact time of sunrise and sunset to plan your photo shoot. (You can find a link on my web site) White cloud overcast days are especially good too. Its like a giant soft box overhead.
#5. Outdoor Shooting - During the warm months of the year I tend to shoot more in the back yard domain (BackyarDography) where a dog is completely comfortable. There is good natural light and beautiful landscaping to use as back ground and/or foreground. If you are fortunate enough to have a yard with this kind of appeal use it to your advantage. Take some time to walk the yard and break it into photo spot segments. I will usually pick out 4 to 6 spots, depending on the yard size and time of day light to create a series of photo stations then lead the dog from station to station. Add back ground color by choosing a spot with flowers, hanging plants, colorfully painted chairs, benches, brick walled planters, grassy tree trunk, etc. If this doesn’t work go to a favorite park. This will be more of a challenge as there will be people and other dogs to deal with but you will be in an appealing environment for great photos.
#6. Indoor Shooting - Some of the best photos are taken indoors but are more challenging. One doesn’t always need a flash but it can help if used properly. Bouncing light off the ceiling with an attachable flash is the best way to illuminate a room. In most situations this illuminates the top of the head, the face and under the chin and keeps flash shadows to a minimum...The killer of any great photo. If you don’t have an attachable flash, assuming you are shooting during the day, you can brighten up a room by turning on nearby lights, raising widow coverings. Spreading a white sheet or a mostly white quilt or blanket on a bed or couch for the dog to lounge on is also helpful
as it will reflect an acceptable amount of light on your subject for available light photography (non-flash photography). Then crank up the ISO on your camera to at least 400-800. Consult your manual if necessary.
#7. A Clean Yard - It is not necessary but a clean, uncluttered well groomed back yard adds appeal to a great dog photo. Or simply choose an uncluttered area of the yard for the majority of your shoot. After reading the next tip you will also want to make sure the yard is free of dog waste too.
# 8. Enter Their World - To get great photos of your dogs you will have to enter their world...That means either getting down on the ground with them and rolling around or bringing them up to you for intimate close-ups. Following this tip will vastly improve the composition of your photos for close-ups and personal appeal.
#9. Grooming - A well groomed dog can make or break a great dog photo. You wouldn’t go to a family portrait session without brushing or combing your hair or getting it cut first. Same applies to a dog photo shoot. What you see is what you get. Even a good brushing can make a big difference in the final photos.
#10. A Clean Mug - Even though the appearance of bubbly dripping drool and/or turf tongue brings a chuckle or two, (Turf Tongue= grass on the licker) it will ruin a good photo. Keep a couple of damp towels in your back pocket to keep the face and mouth clean during the shoot, especially if your dog is a natural drool-er. Better yet, ask some one, a designated dog handler, to do this while you are dangling toys, throwing a ball and handling the camera or you will soon find out how quickly the drool and grass finds its way to your camera....and you could end up with turf tongue too!!
#11. Getting Their Attention - Out of all we have covered, getting a dogs attention by far is the hardest part of getting good photos. There are many schools of thought about this but I have found the use of doggie treats to be the best way for ME to keep a dogs attention. More because my shoots are with unfamiliar dogs and I am not a dog trainer. I only have an hour. No time for training. A favorite toy sometimes works too. Only you will know. With the use of treats a dogs attention span will be long enough. Put a good supply in your pocket and hide a treat in your free hand and just let them smell and lick it between the fingers. This adds a sense of playfulness and excitement to your interaction and challenges the dog to earn the reward. Although a little frustrating at first it helps unlock its personality which is vital to getting a few great shots. It also signals the classic “Pavlov conditioning response” where your towel will come in handy for your dog...maybe you too. Eventually I give up all the treats to keep them interested and rewarded. You may have an entirely different approach to this, that's great but the key is to maintain their attention. Some dogs respond better to just the attention they are getting or to fetching a ball, etc. It is also a good idea to prevent distractions such as kids playing in the yard, fellow dogs, unfamiliar humans. The setting should be distraction free as possible with just you and your dog(s) and the necessary mom or dad figure.
#12. The Shoot - OK, you have prepared as best you can and are ready to shoot...now what? With camera in one hand, treat in the other, lead your dog to the first station, get down on the ground get their attention with the treat and take a few shots to make sure the exposure setting and auto focus are correct by examining the photo on the camera’s LCD screen. Be sure to put the camera in shade before looking at the LCD. Zoom in on the photo to check focus. Go indoors if unsure and even take the time to upload to your computer for further examination. If all looks good keep shooting. Remember, you only have 45 minutes to an hour. Shoot lots of photos, hundreds. I shoot as many as 300-400 per session and no flash unless absolutely necessary! A rule of thumb I try to follow is no flash unless the sun is directly behind the subject. This is called fill flash and can be very effective but be sure the dog is well away from any vertical object like a wall, fence, even a dense bush or tree trunk where a shadow will be cast. Keep shooting. Wait for the dog to freeze. Here's what I do. The dogs attention should be on the treat and will be concentrating on your hand most of the time. I will show that I still have the treat by opening and closing the hand to keep the dog interested. Move the hand around. The dogs head will follow. Make the dog look directly at the camera by placing your clenched hand directly above or below the camera lens. Watch and focus between the eyes and fire away. You will get better at this with every shoot. And yes I am implying multiple shoots. A favorite toy works well too but if it is too big and blocks the lens then switch to treats or whatever you think will work. The process will evolve from here and move to the other stations. By moving to the next station you will see the effect it has on exposure and position to the sun. Use your back grounds. There are plenty of ways to pose your dog. Use your imagination. Be creative. Most of all don’t give up. All of this will take some time but with preparation, perseverance, practice and patience you will soon see a great photo of your dog hanging on your wall.
If you would like to talk with Rich about your photography and any issues you may be having he can be reached at 303-229-6481 during normal business hours 9:00-4:30 Mon thru Fri.