Photography tips

We all love our pets and dogs have a special place as ‘man’s best friend’. Through Covid more of us have learnt the importance of that relationship.

So many people have found invaluable support from their four legged friends during a year when mental health has never been so prominent. When we feel isolated but we have those hairy sofa cuddles, sloppy kisses and a reason to drag ourselves out for a walk … it can make the long days feel just that little bit better.

Behind the scenes, dogs have been doing this for years. Research has shown that cancer patients who spent time with therapy dogs reported improved emotional and social well being. So I think it’s a great time to celebrate our best friends while helping to raise money towards the fantastic cause that is Cancer Research.

As a pet photographer I can’t wait to see all your photos. I’d like to help you capture that cracking shot by providing my 10 top tips for dog photography.

Shannah Wills

Personality

Focus on your dog’s personality. You know your dog, if they have some quirky characteristics that you like, don’t try to hide it in the photo. If you like their lip curl…keep it in! It’s all about capturing character, that is what will make your photo stand out.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Focus on the eyes

Focusing on your dogs eyes is a simple yet significant technique. It transforms your photo from an image of a subject to a powerful portrait. This little detail makes your dog so much more relatable in a photo – as eyes convey expression. The top two ways to make your dog’s eyes pop in a photo are to make sure they are sharp and achieve catch light in them. Catch light is where you have a spark of light (caused by reflection) to draw your viewers’ attention to your subject’s eyes. The best way to achieve this is to have your light source in front of your dog. In the studio I put my flash in front or to the side of the dog, out on location it’s the same with the sun – it doesn’t have to be direct sunlight, it could just be a bright sky or light through a window.

Make the most of natural light

I touched upon lighting in my previous tip, but there’s a few more points you can implement to help. While I’m mainly a studio photographer, the chances are most people will be using natural light, so here are some of my top tips for that.

When you choose to take your photo can have a big impact on your final result. A great time of day to shoot is ‘The Golden Hour’ (after sunrise or before sunset) as midday sun can be too harsh causing unflattering shadows.

Alternatively, make the most of a cloudy day. This is actually my favourite time to shoot as it gives me the flexibility to let my subject move wherever they like without having to worry about the impact of the sun. You’ll achieve a nice, flattering lighting.

If shooting inside, do it near a window to utilise the natural light source. Natural light is preferable to artificial as it creates a softer, more even effect.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Simple background

If you want your dog to be the focus of your photo, try to create a simple background that doesn’t detract from your subject. I work in studio mostly with a black backdrop, but out on location a beach can make for a brilliant clean background. Urban areas also have lots to offer, just choose somewhere that’s not overly busy.

Alternatively, if you can’t find a simple backdrop you can make one by blurring the background around your pet. If using a camera (dslr) you can use a low aperture for background blur – similar can now be achieved on your phone in aperture mode or by editing afterwards. The lower the aperture number, the more background blur you get. Just make sure your dogs’ eyes are kept sharp!

Play around

Experiment! There’s nothing to say you have to be rigid in your approach to getting photos of your four-legged friend. Have fun with it! Some great ways to achieve fun portraits are to play around with different lenses such as wide-angle. It’s an investment if using a dslr so make sure it’s a direction you want to go in before spending lots, but if you’re using a phone you can purchase relatively affordable lens kits online that just clip over your camera… fish eye can be fun!

You may prefer to capture your dog on the go, this is known as an action shot. If using a camera you can use focus tracking to keep dog in focus, with a high shutter speed to freeze their action. On a phone you can use burst mode for continuous shooting (often achieved by holding down the shutter), you can then chose the photo you want to keep afterwards.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Get down to your dog’s level

This one is a really important one for me. Firstly, it calms them as you’re no longer imposing and it also helps to create a more approachable photo. We so often view our pets from above, but if we get down to the same level you find you unlock a whole new world of expressions from them which can make for much more striking photos. I spend most of my time on the floor during photo shoots – it often results in sloppy kisses. If you’re at home, grab a cushion to lay/kneel on and if you’re out and about and worried about getting dirty, just take a bin liner along.

How to get your dog’s attention

Here’s some of my top tips for how to get your dog engaged in the session. Use treats, a ball, squeaky noises, a rustling crisp packet. Anything and everything… as long as your dog is comfortable with it. One of my favourites when doing a studio shoot is to get someone to go outside and make noises such as knocking on the wall.

These techniques will help you to achieve those happy ‘ears up’ photos. I find the ears are one of the most important aspects of your dog conveying a happy expression – if they’re back, they may look anxious.

A great option is to download an app on your phone of sounds that dogs will like. There are plenty of free options out there. This is always a winner on a shoot and my clients are surprised by how well their dog reacts. If using squeaky noises, you may even achieve that cute little head tilt.

Don’t overuse these tricks though because your dog will soon bore of them and you’ll lose that initial intrigued reaction. Equally, if your dog is ball obsessed, I would suggest leaving that particular item as last resort as they’ll just get too over-excited.

It’s an idea to try and get the posed/sitting shots (if you want them) at the beginning of your session as after a while if your dog is excited or stressed it may result in them panting or looking out of breath which can be unflattering.

If you find your dog’s attention isn’t there anymore, you can let them do their own thing. Have them play quietly while you set up your shot. When you are ready you can call them or use one of the previously mentioned tips and CLICK! Sometimes animal photography is about taking endless shots until you get the right one, while other times its about getting it all prepared for that one moment.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Get some help

Sometimes I find that dogs engage best when it’s just one on one, but more often than not it’s a great help to have some assistance. If you’re behind the camera and haven’t got that eye contact it may result in your dog losing attention. You could have someone stand behind you holding a treat just above the camera lens or whichever direction you want them looking. For a good portrait your subject doesn’t need to be looking straight at the camera, you can create something equally as powerful with them looking elsewhere, just make sure the eyes are still the main focus.

Don’t over edit

I love editing my photos, it can really help to make them pop! But make sure not to over-edit. Use simple things like exposure to increase the brightness of your photos. There are plenty of editing apps to download through your phone, so have a play around.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Patience

Now for the most important. Keep calm and be patient. Go at your dog’s pace and don’t confuse them with constant demands. Reward throughout so it’s fun for them – how you do this is up to you, whether it be treats, toys, cuddles or breaks for running around.

The good old saying ‘never work with children or animals’ gets thrown my way a lot. Yes, it can be challenging, but that’s what makes it all the more rewarding.  Above all else the best thing you can do to achieve the results you want is show patience and always put your pet first. If your dog is stressed, you’re not going to get a nice photo, so take a step back, have a break and come at it again from another angle that suits your dog.

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