The second instalment in our occasional series on dogs zooms in on the tricky business of photographing man’s best friend.
1. Know Your Dog
A photograph should capture your dog’s personality so it’s important to take time to think about what makes your dog tick. Is your dog an action dog, a sneaking-onto-the-sofa dog, a bone-burrier or a ball chaser? Thinking about your dog’s personality also gives you clues to where, how and when you should photograph them. A photograph that shows your dog “just being themselves’ will have a strength and truth everyone can recognise.
2. Natural Habitat
Aim to photograph your dog in their natural habitat, where they are happy and their personality can shine. Or somewhere that is special to you both. Perhaps he has a favourite walk or, nothing makes your dog happier than getting into bed with his toy.
Don’t rush your dog. For example, if you want to snap your dog playing happily with a ball in the park, choose a time you know his energy levels will be high. Play with him a little before you start snapping, rather than rushing to take pictures. Mid, or post-play contentment states make for much better images than when your dog is over-wrought and over-excited. If you want to show your dog in a relaxed pose choose an appropriate time of day after he is exercised, fed and happy to chill out.
It takes time to get a decent shot. Instead of going to great lengths to ‘pose’ your dog, keep your camera to hand so that you’re ready when the natural opportunity presents itself. Dogs are unpredictable and move fast. Choose a fast shutter speed, ‘shutter priority’ or ‘sports’ mode for action shots, or if you’re using a ‘point and shoot’ (e.g. a phone camera) then select the burst mode that will take lots of fast shots in succession. Be prepared to wait days for the ideal shot.
5. Close Ups and Framing
Try lots of different shots; expressive close-ups, three quarter body and whole body shots. Feel free to experiment with zooming in on whiskers, beards and particular characteristics. There will be lots of shots that don’t work but you may end up with something magical.
Keep background simple and uncluttered. You want your dog to be the star of the show.
7. Props and Toys
Toys can work well. It all depends on the personality of your dog and the type of picture you want. Your dog captured in an intimate tussle with a favourite toy might be the perfect way to demonstrate your dog’s inquisitive and playful nature.
8. Pet’s Eye View
To put yourself, and therefore the viewer, in the heart of the shot, try getting down to your dog’s level. This immediately creates a connection and greater feeling of intimacy than the usual elevated human perspective looking down on your dog.
For anything other than professional, or skilled amateurs, shooting in natural light is best. A flash can distract your pet. Outdoors is ideal, in diffuse sunlight rather than bright sunlight which is liable to create shadows. If shooting indoors try to aim for an evenly lit area close to natural daylight.
10. Candid Shots
Some of the most special images of dogs are the ones that catch them unawares. If your dog gets used to you using your camera they’re far less likely to be distracted by the sight of you behind the lens. With patience you may end up with a true ‘secret-lives-of-dogs’ shot to treasure forever.
For more technical advice on using DSLR cameras to photograph pets see How to Photograph Pets, by Darren Rowse.
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