I love photographing dogs on their own, with other dogs, and within family shoots. Dog photography involves being ready to capture the action (as well as the quieter moments) as and when it happens. The element of a totally spontaneous creature with boundless energy takes creativity to a new level – and when shooting in manual mode, a degree of technical competency needs to override the inevitable organised chaos! Over time I have collected some practical and technical ‘top tips’ for capturing pets in action. I hope you will find them helpful – whether you are preparing for your pet dog to be on a photography shoot, or attempting to go out and take the photos yourself:
Dog photography – practical tips
- Be safe and find an area that is enclosed and free from any dangers to your dog. You need the dog to be free to run and roam while you concentrate on capturing (or being in) the action. This will also allow the lead to be off – which will save time in photoshop (for removal) and allow a more aesthetically pleasing shot.
- Make sure that your dog is not full of energy and go for a walk before you attempt to do the shoot. Dogs running around like lunatics are fun to capture, and a good challenge – but it’s also good to get some calmer moments where they are sitting or lying down (particularly important for family shoots).
- Clean your dog up as much as possible before the shoot paying particular attention to any gunk in the eyes and mud on the coat.
- Move around and get down to their level. This is not the time to be wearing your best outfit, if you want to capture expression and take shots from an engaging perspective then getting down onto the ground is all part of the deal.
- Have the necessary equipment to clean your camera lens to hand and try to keep your lens well out of the way when a dog gets too close, a lens splattered with mud is going to ruin your shoot faster than you can know (until it happens)!
- Take treats or a ball to encourage recall and allow for greater control when trying to guide your dog to the ideal spot. This is also about it being fun for the dog – and interaction with a favourite toy means they are paying attention to you and not the squirrel up the tree. Choose toys that are neutral in colour and that won’t distract from the shot.
Dog photography – technical tips
- Dogs move fast – anticipate the action and adjust your manual camera setting to keep up! Use a fast shutter speed (1/500 sec or more) to freeze motion and nail that focus using Al servo / continuous focus mode on your camera (ideally in addition to back button focus). This combination will guarantee you a far greater number of sharp and in focus shots.
- Use a longer focal length and try to keep closer to the subject than the subject is to the background (allowing background blur and separation). A 70 – 200mm Telephoto lens will allow greater creative flexibility although I find either an 85mm or a 135mm prime lens to be less heavy and cumbersome while running around.
- Top shade for dogs is preferable (especially for dogs with dark coats). When photographing humans and dogs in tandem, top shade is a must and so on a sunny day head straight for the nearest tree or available shelter. Clouds offer greater flexibility – or time your shoot for the golden hours that occur early or late in the day.
- Be aware of the colours and textures around you and look for areas of interest that highlight the features and colouring of the dog that you are photographing. Even an old shed proved a beautiful prop on a recent shoot, using a wide aperture to blur and soften the complimentary background colours.