Category Archives: dog photography

More on photographing dogs

The other day my pet photographing skills were put to the test again. I wanted the dog to pose in a specific way for a portrait painting I was planning. Since I don’t do this on a regular basis (many clients have ready photos for me to paint from) I tend to forget how important it is that the animal is relaxed. This usually doesn’t just happen, even if you take the photos in the dogs own environment. Dogs have a very keen sense on what’s going on around them. They behave different in the presence of a stranger (with me being the stranger) and are highly tuned into the inner workings of their owner in this situation. Of course most owners will be a little tense themselves, maybe feeling put on the spot trying to get their dog to perform to the expectations of the photographer.

Have the camera ready should some photo ops come up but plan on some time to get acquainted with the dog before you shoot. It is equally important to get the owner relaxed and not frustrated if the dog does not act like the perfect photo model.
Playtime off leash and on leash, trying different strategies to get to your desired pose off camera can be helpful. Once the dog feels the owner relax, he will soon relax himself and be more cooperative.

If you want to get more than just good snap shots or desire detailed close ups of an animal I recommend using a digital SLR (single lens reflex) camera. These cameras are improving rapidly, and even lower end digital SLR’s are a huge step up from a point and shoot, providing similar ease of use and are starting to be more affordable. One of the biggest advantage is that one can exchange lenses.
I use a Nikon D 40 with a 18 to 55mm and a 55 to 200 mm zoom lens (dreaming of a 300mm zoom) with a 2 GB memory card. There are several other brands out there that have similar good reviews, one being the Cannon Rebel. I usually have the setting on continuous shoot to capture a moving dog. Unless you are a professional with experience in photographing animals be prepared to shoot a lot. I like to take at least 200 photos knowing that usually one third will be too blurry to use. Another third are commonly just bad poses with the rest being usable. Within that last group I’m lucky to have a dozen or so come out exceptional.

Although it may sound like a lot of work, the whole experience is immensely gratifying and fun, giving me the opportunity not only to get the perfect photo for my painting, but to steel some quality time with the most remarkable creatures up front and close.

Point and shoot cameras work best in indirect light

Point and shoot cameras work best in indirect light

Close-up with SLR camera

Close-up with SLR camera


Photographing your dogs portrait

As a pet portrait painter I rely mostly on using photos for my paintings. I have yet to meet the dog (or cat) who can sit for me during the long hours it takes to complete a painting. Because dogs are moving targets it can be difficult to get good quality close up photos of their face, preferably looking straight at you. Unless your dog is really well trained and can sit and stay put at a distance from you while you are holding up juicy treats and making funny noises to get his ears pricked and his eyes flashing, all you’ll get are extreme close ups of his nose (trying to get the treat or lick your face because he thinks the noises you make are so cute).

Over the years I have learned a few tricks that work for me.

First rule; restrain them. Put pooch on a leash and if you don’t have someone to hold him, tie him to a table or chair on a loose leash. His face and your back should face a window and you need some distance between him and you so he can’t reach you on an outstretched leash. It’s better to be a bit further away and zoom in, but make sure the light from the window still hits his face. With a point and shoot digital camera you probably want to avoid direct sunlight because features may wash out.

Second rule; let him settle down. This may take some patience and, with a very hyper dog, you may want to repeat this for a few days before you reach for the camera. Give him a treat as soon as he settles down and hopefully that will convince him over time.

Once your dog is bored enough and resigned to his confinement, settle with your camera in front of him. Let him get used to this change. For best shots lower your camera to the level of your dogs face. That may mean WAY down if it is a little dog. If a small dog is comfortable with it you can prop him up on a stable chair or couch. Some of my cutest photos show my dog looking down at me.

Third rule: Treats, treats, treats. Your dog will soon be bored with what you’re doing and if there is no incentive to look into the camera he’ll look everywhere but. Some dogs only need their name said to get their attention, some react to high pitched voices. A squeaky toy or a musical instrument (like a harmonica) is always a good try. But the ultimate weapon is his favorite treat rapped up in crinkly paper. Break treats into small portions before you start because you want to stretch out the time you can hold your dog’s interest. You need to find his tolerance level between anticipating (which means he is posing) and actually getting the treat. If he thinks you are just teasing him, he won’t cooperate after a while. If you give it to him too fast you’re giving away priceless photo ops.

Because digital cameras have shutter delay it is difficult to photograph a moving target. By the time the photo takes, the dog has already averted his head and your photo will be blurry. Check if your camera has a -moving target- setting; sometimes that is indicated by a running person symbol. A continuous shooting mode is often helpful. When you hold down the button the camera will keep taking photos and hopefully refocus in-between. A single reflex camera is greatly helpful for many reasons but most of today’s point and shoot cameras are sufficient for great snapshots if you take the time to set up the photo.

Move calmly during set up not to excite Fido too early. Zoom in and press the shutter halfway down so the camera can focus. Now is the time to get your dogs attention. Rustle paper, make a squeaky noise, anything to get your dog to focus on you. But you don’t want him to come rushing forward and out of focus. You may have to repeat the set up a few times until he understands he’ll only get the treat if he stays put.

The most important rule; hold the treat or toy next to your camera lens. The treat is your dog’s object of desire and that’s what he will focus his eyes on.

If you photograph other people’s dogs it is always good to position the owner closely behind you, because that’s where the dog’s eyes will be, especially if he is a bit insecure.

Of course then there are those shy dogs that avert their eyes the minute you pull out that camera. They may think your camera lens is a big eye and avoid eye contact in fear of aggression (see my blog: More on dog eyes.) Those pups need a bit more convincing and an even juicer treat. You may have to do a bit desensitizing around the camera first. Let them sniff it, be generous with treats. Let your dog know that good things happen when you pull out the camera.

Every dog is different. I’d love to hear about your experiences with dog photography. Cats (at least mine) can be even more difficult and I always feel I’m at her mercy trying to get a great photo.

My dog Kruemel

Photo taken with a point and shoot camera