How to take beautiful pictures of your dog
No matter what type of camera you use to take photos of your dog, be it a ‘proper’ camera or your phone, the most important thing about dog photography is your subject, not your equipment.
Whether you are using your phone, have a DSLR or a mirrorless, the last thing you want to take is an image of your dog looking stressed. All too often I see people sharing photos of their dogs looking stiff and stressed. There’s little point jumping into the technicalities of taking a good shot if your subject wants to up and leave every time you point your camera at them.
For this article, I will concentrate on ‘proper’ cameras as opposed phone photography.
Getting your dog used to the camera
The first thing to remember when photographing your dog is they have no idea that a camera is not going to hurt them. When trying to take a headshot of your dog with eye contact, it is quite common for them to stress yawn and lip lick at you. If you can see the lens on your camera from your dog’s perspective you’ll notice that it looks like a huge eye! Not something that most dogs are comfortable staring into.
So how can we take beautiful images of our dogs looking relaxed and at ease? The first thing to do with a dog that is uncomfortable with the lens is to get them to associate the camera (and the strange shutter sound) with good things. A little like clicker training, I point the camera away from the dog, press the shutter and give the dog a treat. This can take a bit of time, and a few sessions, but your dog should become more relaxed with the camera. Once they become relaxed with the noise you can continue to gradually point the lens towards the dog. This is the exact same process I took when my whippet, Layla, was a puppy but I popped the flash up as well as I knew she wasn’t light sensitive. For some dogs, this process can take a matter of minutes, but for dogs of a more sensitive nature, it may be days or more until they are truly comfortable with your lens.
not in focus…but then that was never the point!
What settings should you use?
For stationary dogs, you want to use Aperture Priority mode (ignoring manual settings for the sake of ease). This is denoted as AV on your camera’s dial. It allows you to choose your aperture (f-stop number) which in turn controls your depth of field. The aperture, basically the adjustable opening within the lens, controls the amount of light you let into the camera through the lens. Depth of field is the amount of distance (closest to furthest away) in the photo that is in focus. Broadly this means an aperture/f-stop of 3.6 would be used if you are close to your dog and want their eyes in focus, but their nose out of focus. An f-stop of 18 would be used when you want most of the picture in focus, ie when you want your dog and the landscape in focus as well.
Aperture Priority will leave the camera to control the shutter speed based on its calculations to give you the best exposure for your picture. Due to this fact, it is not a good setting to use in low light as the camera will reduce the shutter speed to allow a longer time to let the light in – this will lead to blurring. On average it’s difficult to hand hold a camera and get a sharp picture below a shutter speed of 1/80 (even if the subject is stationary)
For dogs in motion
When you want to capture your dog in action you’ll need to use Shutter Priority. This is denoted as TV or S on your camera’s dial (dependant on manufacturer). This gives you control of the shutter speed and leaves the aperture calculations to the camera.
For most dogs in action it’s best to set shutter speed to no less than 1/800, any less usually ends with blurring of your image. Be aware though that your camera may decide that it needs to greatly increase your aperture (small f-stop number) to give you your required shutter speed. This means that this will reduce the depth of field making the area in focus really shallow.
So why do I shoot action photography?
Years ago I found myself at a photo session, in a studio, with my rainbow lurcher Purdy. Purdy was a rescue that had been dumped on the A14 and had obviously been beaten throughout her puppyhood (when I got her she was no more than 6-9 months old). With a lot of love and patience, she learned to trust me and she became my shadow. I was given a photo shoot as a gift so without a second thought we booked the shoot. When she arrived in the studio she was unable to relax and although she was happy to do as asked, the images that were captured show her stressed and panting. With hindsight, I look back in those images and wish I hadn’t put her in that situation.
With Purdy’s sudden passing 5 years ago I realised I had very few good images of her (thinking I had more years left with her than I did). Getting Layla propelled me to learn to use my camera properly and, with a whippet puppy as a muse, action photography became my passion.
Speaking of puppies, one of my funniest sessions has to be a chocolate Labrador puppy called Wilma. At the time of the shoot she was 10 months old and her hormones were starting to influence her wild child ways. Wilma was not interested in sitting down…not one bit! I managed to get a couple of posed shots towards the end of the session as she calmed slightly, but even then she only fancied sitting for less than 2 seconds before she was bounding off again on another adventure! Her wild abandon and exuberance for life was infectious!
Glad for my speedy whippet muse, I followed Wilm around the paddock, taking images as she found the river for the first time and took her first swim! It felt quite emotional capturing a first like this, especially for a breed like a lab. Her mum tells me that she now can’t take her out for a walk without her going in the water!
One of the benefits of action photography that I love so much is the expressions that you see with the dogs as they run past you and glance at the camera. Wilma was a prime example of this. At her age, she was that mix of exuberant puppy face with the occasional hint of the adult that was emerging. I captured everything from the utter joy of running, to gormless smiles and the still moments in between. I love dogs in action, I’m yet to see the variety of expression, or joy, from a dog on a lead, or sitting posing for the camera.
Anyone who has lost a pet knows that however much time we have with them, it’s never enough! Whether they are images taken on your phone or with a ‘proper’ camera, when they’re gone it’ll be these images that you treasure.
If you would like a professional pet photography session to capture your beloved furry family, no matter their age, energy, or location, then I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or please have a look at my website 4legsphotography.co.uk.