Updated on June 14, 2019
You love your dog. You love cute photos of your dog, but do most of your dog photos come out blurry and/or you need an army of helpers to get your dog to stand for pictures?
In this article, we’ll give you a few tips to up your photo game when it’s just you and your dog.
There’s a photographer’s saying “the best camera is the one you have”. Use what you have and know best: your phone, a point-and-shoot, a DSLR, a retro film camera. There’s no “best” camera, just personal preference. Get used to carrying your phone/camera on every walk. You aren’t going to get that killer shot if you’ve left the camera at home.
Make sure the battery is charged and that there’s space in the memory or film in the spool and all are in IN the camera (don’t laugh; I tend to forget memory cards).
The aim here is to use settings that will give you the best chance of capturing the action and that will not draw your dog’s attention. If you have an electronic shutter turn it to silent. If you have “burst” mode turn this on. Set to “sports mode” or “shutter priority” to pick a fast shutter speed 1/500th or higher.
Depending on your phone model, the basic camera app may not support shutter priority but there are downloadable apps for controlling camera settings.
To make things simple set your aperture and film ISO to auto (if you are using sports mode these will be automatically set for you). The side-effect of using a fast shutter is that the camera will have to compensate with increased aperture which will give you beautifully soft focus backgrounds in all but the brightest light.
Some phones have a “portrait mode” that digitally blurs the background. I don’t suggest using it for dog photos as unless you have a smooth-haired self-coloured dog the software can have issues finding edges for the blur zone and the dog’s hair can end up looking like a weird blurry halo.
Finally please turn OFF the flash, you wouldn’t enjoy a bright light going off in your face, so neither will your dog.
Now let’s go photo walkies! Grab your usual dog walking gear, a few extra dog snacks and/or their favourite toy, and a long leash if you are still working on recall. I’m saying go outdoors as although outdoor lighting is changeable, most dogs will be their most relaxed, crazy, happy selves outside. If you have a nervous dog then of course stay inside or stick to a garden area where they feel safe.
Let your dog get over their initial crazy “we’re outside” excitement. Also wait until they’ve had time for a toilet break as juggling your camera and the poo-pick up isn’t fun!
Start looking for suitable photo backdrops: bright flowers, a building with interesting architecture, colourful graffiti, a local landmark. Be prepared to get down low or look for rocks, benches, logs or steps you can stand your dog on. By taking photos from their eye-level you will create beautiful in proportion life-like shots.
Position yourself with your back to the sun as unless you want silhouette portraits you need the light source behind you, but watch out for your shadow falling into frame.
Take a photo of the area WITHOUT your dog: does it work? Is there a sticking out tree branch or an annoyingly placed waste-bin? Move slightly until you get a frame you like. I have a friend who will move the bins if they are going to spoil her shot. I’ve never done that (yet) but it’s worth checking the background.
Now get your dog’s attention. Bring them to the spot you’ve picked out. Ask them to “stand”, “sit”, “stay”, or “down” if they can hold a stay. Walk back and take the photo! Done! But wait? Your dog won’t stay as you are clearly doing something VERY interesting… Don’t worry, my dog rarely stays for photos either.
This is what works for me.
Get in position to take your photo. Throw a snack/their toy to the spot where you want your dog to pose. Let them go find it (on a long leash or offleash depending on their recall). They will eat the snack/sniff the toy. They won’t be looking at you but that’s ok, just wait, and then as their interest in the snack/toy begins to fade make a noise/call their name. They should look up and towards you. Focus on their forehead/eyes. Start shooting (ideally in burst mode, if not then keep clicking that shutter).
If you are lucky you’ll get a sequence of photos as they walk towards you. If you are REALLY lucky then one or two should be in focus.
If not, try again, practice makes perfect! This technique (but with snacks, not a toy they can fight over) also works for photos with multiple dogs. Please don’t continue past the point your dog is bored and hunt the snack/toy isn’t a fun game anymore. Move along to another location and try again.
To bring a pop of colour (especially on a self-coloured dog) invest in some bright accessories. A colourful bandana or collar and leash can add an extra flash of colour. For that super professional looking snap plan your walks around sunrise or sunset to make the most of the colourful lighting.
Running and Playing
Posing is all very well but some dogs are always on the move. Again, get down low. Keep focusing on the dog’s head (the whole image will appear well focused and composed if the head is in frame and in focus!). Call your dog/squeak a toy/throw a toy to the side of your position (anything that will get their attention towards you). As soon as they are looking your direction start taking photos. Keep shooting as they sprint past. Some of your photos will be out of focus but hopefully you’ll get a few good ones.
Open your photo in the app of your choice (for phone editing I recommend Snapseed or Lightroom, both free to download). I always use the selection tool to focus on their eyes and selectively up the saturation and brightness to make the eye colour pop. Then I up both contrast and sharpness on the dog’s fur very slightly. Play around until you find a style you like. There are no right or wrong ways to edit! Remember to regularly back up to iCloud, Google Photos or an external hard-drive. Don’t lose your precious images if you lose your phone/camera card.
Once you’ve edited your photos, you shouldn’t let them hide away in your phone/hard drive. Post to your social media for your friends to enjoy, or consider making your dog their own Instagram! You can also get your favourites printed as wall art, or on mugs, tablemats etc. If you have any photos you are especially proud of, consider entering them in photo competitions.
The UK Kennel Club run the world’s largest annual dog photography competition. It’s free to enter and you don’t even need a fancy camera to enter (they accept phone photos). Entries for this year have now closed, but you can browse the galleries of past winners for inspiration and keep practicing to take that killer photo for next year.
Get Professional Help
Maybe you’ve been taking photos of your dog and your photo skills have improved, but you feel that you’re still lacking that professional quality image and/or you’d like images that capture your relationship with your dog?
Google “dog photographer” in your area and it’s likely you’ll find several people who specialise in pet photography. For your shoot bring toys and snacks and bright dog accessories. If you are going to be in the photos alongside your dog then dress in bright block colours that will compliment your dog’s fur and show up against a range of backdrops.
If you decide to book your own photo shoot then be sure to ask beforehand what’s included. Do you get any prints/rights to the artwork or is the fee purely for their time?
Many pro-photographers love to teach photography, you may be able to request a shoot that combines professional images with photo instruction. Also be on the look-out for pet photography workshops where you work on your camera skills while your dog is taught how to pose. Just remember to keep it fun. If you don’t get that stunning shot then it doesn’t matter, you can try again tomorrow. Happy shooting!
The TLDR version
So to recap: how to up your dog photo game
•Always carry a camera/phone on your walks
•Sound, flash and portrait mode OFF
•High speed/burst mode on
•Scout out your locations
•Get at doggy eyelevel
•Throw a snack/toy to place them
•Practice makes perfect
•Edit and share and BACKUP your photos
Any more photo tips or tricks you’d like me to share? Contact helloBARK! or come say hello on my dog’s Instagram @scotlandwithfluffywolf. Any camera or dog related topic I’ll be delighted to chat with you!
About the Author
Claire worked in a zoo before obtaining a Biology PhD; after that she spent time as an aquaculture geneticist (think high-tech dating agency for salmon). She’s now a freelance science educator and trainee pro-photographer plus full-time dog mom to Sally the Samoyed. Claire doesn’t do social media as it’s all gone to the dogs, but you can connect with Sally on Instagram @scotlandwithfluffywolf!