Tips for photographing dogs
By Laure-Anne Visele, written Oct 2012.
From red eyes to poster quality
So you can sum up your photography technique with: ‘Sports’ for actions and ‘Portrait’ for close-ups. But guess what? You’re ten tips away from blurry hell to picture perfect.
I’ve graduated from blundering amateur to professional quality learning from my mistakes, entering contests, and following courses.
Let me share some of the good stuff with you.
1. Get down on your knees
Take the picture from the dog’s eye level, not towering on up above.
2. Give the dog space
Use the zoom a little, don’t invade your dog’s personal space.
3. Give the dog some time
(for planned sessions) Let your dog explore first. Wait until he’s relaxed. Take your time, don’t work under time pressure.
4. ALWAYS have the camera handy
Handy, … and charged. Do not miss that great shot because you’re fiddling with batteries.
5. Repeat shooting
If your dog is playing or running, set your camera to repeat shooting. That impressive mid-air jump WILL BE THERE in the middle of the million trash ones, I promise.
6. Focus on the eyes
The eyes must be the sharpest point of the picture.
1. Point at one of the dog’s eyes.
2. Half-press the shutter button
3. (when camera ready), Full-press the shutter button
Cherry on top: that sparkle. For an even more special shot, place the dog so that you capture a sparkle of light in his eyes. The picture will burst with expression.
7. Play with light, explore manual settings
3 settings fight it out for how dark or light the picture will be:
Wide aperture = shallow depth of field = blurry background/sharp subject:
A wide aperture shrinks the focus around the subject, leaving uninteresting stuff blurry. And, a blurry background, my friends, separates the professional photographer from the well-meaning amateur.
The lower your ‘F number’ (e.g. F 2.8) -> the wide the lens -> the blurrier the background.
Wide aperture = more light:
The lower the F number, the lighter the picture. It’s like the human eye: wide pupil let more light rush in.
When not to use a wide aperture (low F number):
- Long-nosed dogs: You could end up blurring out important facial features on portraits; and
- Action shots: You’ll accidentally focus on the wrong depth if it’s a moving subject.
Long exposure time (i.e. shutter takes long to snap shut) = lighter picture AND richer details.
So slow speed is always a great idea, right?
Wrong. It’s not so clever for pets (those of the living persuasion, that is). News flash: Pets – Move.
Even if your pet is resting, don’t got slower than 1/90 sec without a tripod. Your slightly shaking hand would blur the shot.
Moral of the story: faster = darker, but less blurry. Faster is often a safer option for pets.
ISO value aka light sensitivity.
Higher ISO (e.g. 16000) = lighter photo BUT thicker grain (the pixels you see).
Very grainy pictures can work for arty stuff, like a tough black and white bulldog, but they don’t make for technically great photos.
Only crank up that ISO in desperation. It’ll loose the finer details, and it’ll look amateurish.
Choose your location carefully instead, leading me right to…
8. … Best light conditions
The best conditions are:
- Slightly overcast sky or after sunrise. The light is nice and soft then.
The worst light conditions:
- Too sunny: Hard light at best, grossly overexposed at worst (those horrible white blotches).
- Too shady (or cloudy): Loosing a lot of colour at best, grossly underexposed at worst (those horrible dark ones)
- Too blotchy: The worst of the worst is a forest on a bright day. The sun shines through the canopy in spots, confusing your light sensor.
9. Watch that background
A pylon coming out of your dog’s ear ruins that perfect shot.
Before you click, make sure the background is ‘clean’, unless you know how to Photoshop it away – which is fiddly as hell.
The easiest background is the beach. What’s cleaner than a line of sand, the sea, and the sky? Nothing to erase away.
If you’re shooting at home, remove any ‘noise’ behind the dog.
Having said that, you can also use the background. The key is that it’s reasonably uniform and that if it distracts away from the subject, that it adds an incongruous touch by doing so (see daisies on dog peeing).
10. Play around in Flickr
Go loose yourself in the gazillion professional pet photos on Flickr. Upload your own stuff and ask for comments. Participate in contests.
I am forever going through pet photographs on Flickr, to pick up inspiration and to learn from others. (This is me on Flickr).
Forget everything I’ve said
Now go out and play. Crank up that ISO, play with these backgrounds, break those rules.
Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Les Chiens – ISBN: 1863333142, 9781863333146
Nick Ridley, How to Photograph Dogs – ISBN: 1 86108 332 7
Paul Walker, Pet Photography now – ISBN: 10 1-905814-33-X
I love to read your comments. Particularly if you are a photographer, or a wannabe pet photographer.
- Have you tried my tips and do you like them?
- Want to send me one of your pictures?
- Do you have tips to share?
- A book to recommend?
- Hot dogs – Quick poll about hotly debated dog issues (e.g. leash/no leash, treat/no treat, etc.)
- Dogs, my philosophical position – My position on debated dog issues
- Does your large dog scare people? – Article about more intimidating dog breeds
Dog training and behaviour
- Separation anxiety – a treatment protocol
- Treating dog-dog aggression – some advice
- The perfect recall – fool-proof guide to getting your dog to come back when called