“Say cheese!” It is not at all easy to get your dog into the right light on command and photograph it from its best side. Nevertheless, you will read here how you can pep your dog up for a photo shoot and which professional tips you should follow to get a successful photo of your dog.
10 tips for taking the perfect photo of your dog
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Why are photos of dogs so cherished?
Dogs have a firmly established place in their owner's life and that extends to having a place on the wall of family photos. We like to capture our loved ones with the camera so we can keep them in our memory, to take delight in the photos and to share them with friends and other family members. It is no surprise that dogs and cats are the most popular subjects for our photos after our own children, but dogs, like young children, have much better things on their minds than sitting still and hoping that the photo comes out well. Before the photographer behind the lens can snap the shot, the dog has already run away and the cute photo opportunity has been missed.
What is needed to take a good photo of my dog?
To take a beautiful photo of your four-legged friend, above all, you need lots of patience. Even the most tolerant person's patience can wear thin when the dog keeps on moving, the photos come out blurry, the light is too dim and only the dog’s tail can be seen in the final print or when the camera stops working just at the wrong moment and the memory card is full. So, before you throw the camera crossly back into the cupboard, read these 10 professional tips. There’s no need to worry, you don’t need to be an experienced photographer or have eye-wateringly expensive equipment to take the perfect photo of your dog. If you follow these tips on the correct preparation, suitable camera settings, good lighting conditions and the best angles and perspectives, you will be able to take superb photos of your dog yourself with just your smartphone or a small compact camera.
Tip 1: Good preparation
When we see our dog energetically chasing through the meadow, its fur majestically illuminated by the sunlight or when it fixes us with its irresistible begging look, we want to capture these moments straightaway with a camera. For this to work in the future, it is important that you prepare a little for your new hobby. If you need to first work out how to turn on the camera, where the right photo settings are or how to optimise the lighting settings, you will miss the cutest moments. It doesn’t matter whether you want to photograph your dog with a single-lens reflex camera, a small compact camera or even your smartphone, it is important that you are familiar with the basic settings of your camera. The best and most expensive camera is no use if the photographer can’t use it properly.
Those who don’t want to use only their phone camera but prefer to use a digital compact or single-lens reflex camera should at least know where the various settings, such as portrait mode, sports mode or burst mode, can be adjusted. Those who want to take it one step further, should get to know the technical terms, such as shutter speed, ISO sensitivity and aperture. It may seem complicated at first but with a little practice it isn’t so difficult and can add the perfect finishing touches to your photos. Even when you only have your phone to hand, it is worth having a look at the different features of your phone’s camera. If these features are too limited for you, there is a range of apps which can enhance your photos.
Tip 2: Location scouting
Deciding in advance how and where you want to capture your dog is just as important as a basic knowledge of using a camera. Those who want to improve their photography craft should have planned photoshoots with their dog in order to try out the different camera settings, various angles and formats, as well as taking lots of snaps with their phone in everyday life. In addition to this, it is best to start off in a secluded place where you and your dog won’t be disturbed by cars, motorbikes or other people or dogs. A large, empty meadow, an open field or a riverbank will make a good backdrop for your photos. Even though your dog is the main focal point, the background is also significant. A busy background with cars, people, an unsightly high-rise block or power lines can ruin an otherwise successful shot of your dog. Those who prefer to take photos of their dog at home should, where possible, do so in the garden and photograph their dog in front of a green hedge. Taking snaps inside the house is harder due to the lighting conditions and requires more practice.
Tip 3: Encouraging your dog and choosing the right moment
You have found the perfect location for your first photoshoot, you have travelled a few miles out of the city and now your dog has decided to go on strike. This type of situation isn’t rare because how many dogs are really interested in taking good photos? It is certainly much more exciting to sniff around this new place, to scamper around the field or to chase that hare. Those of you who have a dog that knows basic commands like “sit,” “heel” and “down” will have a much easier time. In any case, your dog’s expression in the photo will reveal whether it actually wanted to be doing something else and only reluctantly followed the command to “sit.” To avoid a peeved expression, you should bear the following points in mind:
- Before the photoshoot, let your dog do its business and allow it to let off some steam, of course not so much that it then lies around panting in the photos, but just enough to burn off some energy so it can concentrate and take an interest in the task at hand.
- Allow your dog a break after eating so it can digest in peace and have a little nap so postpone the photoshoot to a later point.
- Keep in mind that if your dog is physically and mentally engaged and knows that you are taking it seriously and offering lots of variety, the more it will be prepared to work together and try to please you.
- You should have a few treats or a favourite toy in your pocket so that your dog still has fun after the tenth photo. Show your dog that it will be rewarded with treats, strokes or its favourite toy for good participation and it will surely pose more enthusiastically in front of your camera.
- End the photoshoot as soon as you realise that your dog isn’t having fun anymore or is being worked too hard. Praise your dog frequently and give it a treat for having participated so well. This means that your dog will also be happy the next time that you pick up your camera.
Tip 4: Lots of light
The right lighting is really the be-all and end-all of photography. Many shots fail because there isn’t enough light. For beginners, it is recommended to take photos outside in the open which also produces nicer and more natural photos than those taken inside at home. The sunlight outside brings out the colours in nature and illuminates your dog’s coat. Most of the photos will come out sharper even when your dog is moving about because the natural sunlight allows for short shutter speeds. But be aware that sunlight that is too bright, such as the midday sun in summer, should also be avoided. It is not only too hot for your furry friend, but the lighting is too strong for most cameras. The colours in the photos then often look lifeless and the extreme lighting creates unflattering shadows.
The best time to take photos in the open air is in the early morning or towards the evening when the light is softer and the red component brings out warmer colours and softer shadows.
Of course, shots taken when the sky is cloudy or when it is foggy or stormy can also produce interesting results. The darker the sky or the surroundings are (this includes photos taken in a shady forest), the more light the camera needs to able to pick up. If you are using a good compact camera or a single-lens reflex camera, you should try to increase the shutter speed (for example, 1/320), increase the aperture (for example to f2.8) or set a high ISO value in this case. If you are unsure, you can simply try out different settings. With a little practice you will quickly find out which mode gives the best results.
Tip 5: A clear face against a blurry background
Dogs have an irresistible way of looking at you and we want to see this in the photos. It is particularly important when taking portraits that the eyes are captured in high-resolution. A light reflection should also be seen in the eyes so the dog should ideally be looking towards the light. When taking portraits, you should get up nice and close and focus on your dog’s eyes with the camera lens. Your dog’s cute face and expression will come into its own when the background is blurred. Expert photographers will set the aperture as low as possible (A or AV mode). When the aperture value is between f2.8 and f3.2, the lens is open wide and so the depth of focus is lower. The result is that the background will be blurred while your dog will be in sharp focus in the foreground.
For those who haven’t yet ventured into manual photography but still want to take nice portrait photos of their dog, it is recommended to use the portrait mode that is easy to set on most digital cameras (it is often shown by a symbol of a head). Some smartphones can also take this type of portrait photo with an out of focus background. If your phone doesn’t have this feature, you can download apps that reduce the depth of field. Alternatively, you could make the background less sharp with an image editing programme or an app after the photo has been taken.
Tip 6: Getting down to your model’s eye level
If you don’t own a Great Dane, you are probably much bigger than your canine companion. This means that if you stay standing up while you take your photos, you will inevitably capture your dog from above, that is to say, from a bird’s-eye view. This perspective isn't recommended for taking these kinds of photos because good photos of animals are particularly striking when they echo the animal’s perspective. The photo is centred on the dog so you should absolutely get down to your dog's level. To do this, you can sit down, kneel down or even place your dog somewhere up high, for example, on a tree stump, on a rock or on a slope.
In a horizontal shot, your dog’s proportions will hardly be distorted. For some small dogs like Chihuahuas, you can also try out the worm's-eye view where you lie on the ground with your camera and photograph your tiny dog from below. This will make your little guy look like a giant in the photo!
Tip 7: Taking a successful portrait
Getting up close, getting down to eye level and sharply capturing your dog’s expression while the background is blurred are the main tips described in points 5 and 6 and are particularly important for portrait photography. A low depth of field through a wide aperture (shown by having a low f-number) is a highly popular effect in portrait photography because it pushes the model, whether animal or human, further into the foreground. The corresponding manual settings (for example, f1.8) or the portrait mode will help you with this. In principle, eyes, ears and snout should all be clear in a dog’s portrait and everything else can be blurred.
For a photo to be a real winner, the dog should be looking directly into the camera so it's innocent expression can be captured. This is obviously easier said than done because curious dogs tend to look all round instead of just into the camera. That said, there are some tricks that you can use to get your dog's attention. If your dog follows basic obedience training, you can use certain commands, but it isn’t always guaranteed that your dog will look directly at the camera when told “sit” or “down.” Treats can help when you hold them behind the camera lens but some dogs are so taken by them that they run drooling towards the camera and of course we want to avoid that. In this case, making a noise that your dog isn’t familiar with and which can grab its attention works best. The noise could be an unknown animal sounds which you either imitate yourself or play from your smartphone. When your dog hears the strange noise, it will turn its attention to that direction and then you just need to snap the shot at the right second.
Even if your dog isn’t looking directly into the camera, portrait shots can come out successfully. Photos where your dog is looking sideways on into the distance can be very interesting and elegant. In any case, you should make sure that there is a good distance between your dog’s eyes and the edge of the photo. There should always be more space in the direction that your dog is looking in than the other side of the photo. You should make sure that your dog isn’t directly in the middle. Photos are more interesting when the subject is in the foreground and slightly to one side. Theoretically, your photo can be divided by two horizontal lines and two vertical lines which gives nine equal sections and some cameras have the option to display these lines. When taking a portrait, your dog’s face should be approximately where two of the lines cross.
Tip 8: Photographing your dog in action
Photos in which your dog is running or jumping look particularly dynamic. When a photographer manages to capture the face of a dog that is running towards the camera, we discover expressions that would otherwise pass us by. That said, clearly photographing a moving dog is notoriously difficult. Lines quickly become shaky, the picture becomes blurred or the perfect moment when your dog is jumping through the air has already passed.
In order to capture quick movements precisely, it is important that the shutter speed is as fast as possible. A camera set to a high f-number (between f3.2 and f4.5) reacts straight away, whereas a camera normally requires a moment to capture the surrounding light, to focus and to snap the photo. The problem is that, as a result, there isn’t much time for light to get into the camera. You will probably have to adjust the ISO setting on your camera to regulate this problem. Sometimes it takes some time and practice to find the right balance between the aperture and the ISO to produce the perfect moving shot.
Fortunately, most digital cameras and smartphones have a setting that makes taking photos of movement much easier nowadays. You can, for example, set the sports mode at the same time as the burst mode. While your dog is playing around and frolicking in a field or play area, you just need to have your camera at the ready. Even though you will then have to spend some time sorting through all the photos, it is worth it because it is guaranteed that out of so many pictures there will be one which has perfectly captured your dog in action.
Tip 9: Styling your model
We all like to look good in photos and the same goes for our pet models. A dog whose fur is uncombed and hangs lifelessly, who still has sleep in its eyes or who still has the remainder of lunch around its mouth isn’t a particularly charming model. Before you pick up your camera, reach for a brush and a cloth. Clean your dog’s face, wipe away any slobber or mess and brush its fur. This will give long-haired dogs a particularly shiny coat which will then be seen in the photos. At the same time, you can take off your dog’s collar and replace it with a nice dog bandana. Pay attention to the details and have a think beforehand about how you want your dog to look, whether this is in all of its natural beauty or perhaps with the addition of some adorable accessories. Test out which style you prefer and what suits your dog’s nature best.
Tip 10: Practice makes perfect
Now you know some tips for creating the perfect setting for your dog’s photos but it is, of course, not always that easy to put theory into practice. But don’t give up straight away! Don’t forget that no one is born a master. Sometimes it only takes a few attempts to get the photo quality you are aiming for, depending on your prior knowledge, talent, photography equipment and your canine model. Don’t put too much pressure on either yourself or your dog. In photography, the most important thing is to have fun and this will show in your photos, making them all the better.