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If you have a great dog (and we all do,) you can make great dog pictures.
Here is the secret to great dog photography: be smarter than your dog. At my house this takes focus, hard work, a polished plan of attack and a well-developed sense of humor. Here are a few tips, tricks and hard fought lessons that might help you make some pictures of your best buddy worthy of framing, displaying on your desk at work, or sharing with complete strangers in line at the grocery store.
Equipment, Part I – Almost all cameras have a “Portrait” setting. If you can find the little picture of a human head on the dial on top of your camera, you’re good to go. The little picture of a sprinter is best if you want action shots or they tend to happen unexpectedly.
Timing, Part I – When is your Boxer most likely to pay attention to you for ten consecutive minutes? Are they a morning dog or a night… uh… owl? Schedule your photo sessions for whenever they’re awake but not necessarily up for a jog.
Location – You have enough pictures of your Golden Retriever playing in the pool. Go to a park for your photo shoot. Go to a National Park. Go anywhere and make a day of it. Good dog photography is about documenting good memories with your best bud – get off the couch and go make some.
Perseverance – Don’t expect great dog pictures from a single session. Going back several times to the same location at the same time of day will create some familiarity for your German Shepard. When they’re familiar with the area, accustomed to seeing a camera in front of your (and their) face and comfortable with what’s happening, you’re much more likely to get the results you want.
It’s not always about the dog – Sometimes, it’s about the background. Your dog is cute enough to ensure beautiful pictures but ALWAYS pay attention to the background because cute pictures don’t count when your Terrier has a flagpole sprouting from their head.
The center of the universe – Once you’ve found a good location and have mastered the suggested camera settings, put some distance between your Weimaraner and the background. The result will be an image where your dog is in focus and everything else is nicely blurred.
Creative direction – Who has ultimate authority at this photo shoot? Not you. The images you’ll value most are the ones that catch your Pitt Bull’s patented look of exasperation (two minutes into the shoot) or that look of bliss as they curl up to take a nap (five minutes into the shoot.) They know what makes them cute… your only job is to pay attention and execute the shot.
Pace yourselves – Don’t break out the treats too early. Favored snacks will help you regain your buddy’s attention later in the shoot, but do your best to capture your pics when the dog is interested in what you’re doing rather than what’s in it for them.
Timing Part II – Photographers talk about the “Golden Light” that appears shortly after dawn or right before the sun sets when, oddly enough, sunlight takes on a golden tone. If your dog is naturally relaxed at these times of day then you are, as they say, Golden. Otherwise, avoid shooting at midday if at all possible.
The shotgun theory of effective pet photography – Even if you can get your dog to sit still at that defining moment, perfectly quaffed and posed (or for your dreamers out there, with their
tongue in their mouth,) 90% of your shots won’t be as good as you thought. Digital “film” is free. Use it all.
Equipment, Part II – For those that have expensive cameras or want to take more control over the results (either one of you,) use Aperture Priority, f/5.6 with an ISO of 400 or 800. Then experiment with different settings to see what changes give what results. You may well like your mistakes better than your “best shots.” This phenomena happens all the time for professional photographers. We just don’t admit to it…
Respect the dog – Treat your Beagle as though he were a Buddhist Monk. Keep your camera/eyes at the same level as or lower than theirs. They’re not used to seeing you down there and you’ll likely capture their “curious face” among other expressions you’re not familiar with but will love in a framed 8×10.
Prepare the field of battle – Small dog owners who treat their Pomeranians like Buddhist Monks will find themselves splayed flat out on the ground. If you’re shooting in the back yard, be kind to yourself and pick up the various messes before starting. The penalty for not performing this maintenance is a very dirty shirt – and a dog laughing uncontrollably at their silly human. This goes double for shooting in parks. Trust me, you won’t regret this little bit of extra effort.
OK, the truth is that you aren’t likely to ever be smarter than your dog – especially if you have a rez dog. No dog photographer ever is. But if you follow these guidelines and pay attention to how your Collie poses naturally, you’ll have a leg up on other photographers. So to speak.
We always welcome comments and suggestions about the blog. Is this the kind of content you’d like to read about? The longer you let me go without guidance, the more insane and odd my posts are likely to get. Seriously, give me direction now or you might end up reading about how strays in Moscow take the train into town every morning to beg and return home on the same route to sleep in the suburbs (where they’ll be much safer.)