This is going to be all about taking photos of dogs, whether it be your own or someone else’s. I’m going to go over my tips and techniques that I’ve used over the years as someone who has always had a dog and has taken photos of other people’s dogs at many shoots. Typically my tutorials are more focused on gear and the technology aspect of photography and I will save that for a separate post and I’ll have that linked here.
Time & Location:
The first step in planning out a photo shoot is going to be choosing a location and time. In general the easiest times of day to get great photos is during golden hour, but if this doesn’t work that’s no worry, the only real thing to avoid is harsh top-down light during midday, so shooting on an overcast day or in a wooded area will make exposing your photos a little bit easier.
When it comes to choosing a location the best answer is wherever the dog is going to be able to be most comfortable and safe. A dog park is usually a bad choice because there’s often too many distractions there and the same goes for a large public park with people. I recommend either their own property, a spot that the dog could be leash free safely and aim for a location that has enough open space without too many distractions.
Moving on to the next point though, just like when you’re taking photos of people, composition is incredibly important for your photos of dogs, but there are a few key things that will be different for photos of animals. The most common photo you’ll see of someone’s dog is one taken on a phone pointed down the pupper, and I don’t mean to insinuate all these photos are bad, but the majority of the time is just going to be a very boring photo.
So Get Low:
The biggest thing you can do from the get-go is get down to your dogs level, you would never take a portrait have a person when standing 5 feet above them so why would you do that with your pet. By being on your dog’s level not only will you get a more flattering angle of them and make them more comfortable, also you’ll be able to have a better background and include more depth to the image as your camera will be parallel to the horizon.
The Rule of Thirds
The next thing to keep in mind with regards to composition is rather boring but that is the rule of thirds, and if you’re not familiar with this the concept is rather simple. The rule of thirds is simply a 3×3 guide that most cameras have built into them as an overlay to help compose an image in a visually pleasing fashion. Most the time by default you subconsciously will often take a photo or crop them with the rule of thirds in mind. If you’re taking a photo in a portrait orientation it the most pleasing position to have your dog in is with their head on the top third and their feet on the bottom third.
At the end of the day though this is less of a rule set in stone and more of a guideline to keep in mind along with many others, being aware of composition is a very complex topic, however being able to understand the basic of the rule of thirds will help not only the consistency of photos you take, it will also help by giving you room to crop when you’re editing it.
The last key thing I’d like to suggest with regards to composition is having the dog pointing towards the larger side of the frame. If you can try to keep the dogs face pointing in the direction of the photo that has more empty space on it. To help demonstrate what I mean I’ll show you the same photo cropped in two different ways one with the dog on the left side of the image in one with the dog on the right. You can see while the dog is on the left side of the image the energy feels to be flowing outside of the photo and it feels there looking outside of the photo and your eyes are drawn to nothing whereas if you have the dog positioned on the left side of the photo the energy makes a lot more sense and the image will feel a little bit more logical in less disjointed. In no way is a requirement for a good photo and I don’t always take photos that abide by this concept either however it is a useful one to keep in mind especially while cropping your photos.
After thinking about the composition of your photos the next topic I want to briefly discuss is your behavior as the photographer and how the dog will respond to it. A positive mood and mindset is going to go a long way in helping not only make the shoot more enjoyable for yourself, but also for the dog and their owner. If you’re approaching this shoot very anxious and stern it is going to reflect in how the dog is going to respond to you as a photographer, the best way to get photos of a happy dog is to be happy yourself.
With that said, this also will depend on the dog, and there are many variables to consider. There are some dogs who are inherently shy and don’t want a stranger pointing a camera at them, while some dogs are little firecrackers who can’t sit still. The point I’m trying to make here is every dog is different and that should be taken into consideration, if the dog is energetic, be prepared to be taking photos as they’re running and if a dog is shy try and get photos of them playing with their owner rather than any posing. The best thing in my opinion that you can do as a photographer is capture the dogs personality especially while there interacting with their family.
Getting their attention:
Now that we have all these concepts in mind it actually comes time to be taking the photos, in order to do so you need to get the dogs attention or at least have them in a situation where they are looking towards the direction the camera and there are various strategies you can take in order to achieve this.
The first way to do so is to have someone help you, and it depends on the situation you’re in because if you’re at a family photo shoot and they have the dog with them in the photo, often the hardest thing to do is to get the dog to not look at the family or the couple that they are with. To get their attention its going to be dependant on distractions and attention grabbing things, this can as simple as whistling, making a funny noise, using a toy squeaker, really anything works and variety is key, dogs don’t like falling for the same trick multiple times, so, more items to distract them is key. If you can have someone help as well, that is ideal, because you don’t always want the doggo looking directly at the camera and you can focus more on getting the photos and less on what way the dog is looking.
Inevitably the next step is going to be bribing the dog, this can be done with either their favorite toy or treats. I usually use treats as a last resort though because if you give one, you need to give more. With that said though I’m always going to use treats because I want reward the dog for taking photos with me and to form a positive association with cameras for the dog. If I am not taking photos of my own dog I often ask their owner to bring treats along, just because I don’t want to have something that won’t agree with their dog, and if I have my own treats I’ll ask them first if it’s ok for their dog to have them. The important thing to keep in mind though is that once you do provide a treat for them it sets a bar that they will be getting treats for these photos in that can in itself be a huge distraction for some dogs, and for others it may also fill them up and make them less playful.
My last tip is going to be very simple and that is to ensure that you capture a variety of different photos. Try not to commit to just trying to get one photo or look, because there’s good chance the dog doesn’t want to be in that one specific photo and it may be a waste of your time. I know this might sound like I’m contradicting myself, considering I talked about all the prep work in this tutorial, but what I’m trying to say is to make sure you capture a variety of different photos, whether that be of the dog by themselves, the dog running about, or dog with their family, and by capturing a greater variety of photos your increase your likelihood of getting a great photo from the shoot because there’s a good chance over half the photos will be out of focus anyways.