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Lights, Camera, Woof! Taking Dog Photos

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Hamid Amirani - 8.13.20


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One thing that unites all dog owners, other than their love for the adorable animals, is the enjoyment of photographing them. At home, or interacting with kids, or out and about, people love photos of their own and others' canine friends.


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So, for this blog post, we're going to look at the basics of taking dog pictures as recommended by experts.


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The old saying in Hollywood is never work with children or animals. The world of photography, however, would be poorer without them, especially the latter. Naturally, you'll want to know how to keep your cute creatures enthusiastic enough that you can take the best pics possible (and if you also want tips on taking kids photos, read our past blog post on just that topic).


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Nikon Ambassador Stacy Pearsall has done a short video with her suggestions.



To start with, what makes your dog tick? Is it snacks, toys or particular sounds? Stacy's dog, Pickles, likes food, so she uses a snack to get him in position for a portrait, holding it above her lens in order to make eye contact with him, and then rewards him once she's got her shot. "So now he knows the treats are coming from the camera," she says.


It becomes a fun game for him, and Stacy is able to get great images from the adorable poses he gets into.




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Tamara Lackey is another Nikon Ambassador who's done a video on taking dog portraits.



Tamara demonstrates how she takes pics of her dogs using a small LED flashlight. She mentions that many such flashlights have blue LEDs, which clashes with ambient lighting, so she attaches plastic from a bread bag to make the LED warmer and more in harmony with the room's lighting. Then Tamara can take close-ups of her dogs, using the flashlight to show off their eyes.


As you'll see in the video, Tamara uses blankets and pillows to make the photoshoot fun for her dogs, resulting in terrific images.



Shaina Fishman is a professional pet photographer who's penned a guide in Modern Dog Magazine for amateur shutterbugs on how to take better dog pictures.


Among her tips:


Outdoor Lighting


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If photographing your furry friends outside, overcast weather is best. Shaina says "The light on these days is even, creating soft shadows. This light is particularly ideal for photographing dogs with very dark coats."


Shaina says sunny days will create harsh shadows and "cast unflattering light on your pet." But if you do want to take pics on a sunny day, she says "find a shaded area with no direct sunlight to position your dog for photographs."




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"Don’t just stand above your dog."


You should sit, kneel or lie on the floor to be at your pooch's eye level. But remember to remove any distractions in the background that will spoil an otherwise perfect composition. This can be accomplished “by adjusting the camera’s angle or using a longer lens.”


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Once you have a bunch of shots that bring out your pup’s face, you can also get some gorgeous snaps of little details. Shaina suggests you “Zoom in to capture just his wet nose, curly tail, or expressive eyes. Check your camera to see if there is a macro/micro setting that will allow your camera to focus when shooting this close to your dog.” If your camera doesn’t have this feature, just “back up, get the shot, and crop the final image.”



Even with the best planning, there will be mishaps. Failed shots are just a natural part of the process and they all help you hone your skills and become a better photographer. But you can also reduce the chances of a frustrating photoshoot by avoiding some mistakes, as outlined by Jamie Pflughoeft at Digital Photography School.

Don’t stress

Like other domesticated pets, cuddly canines pick up on their owners’ energy. If you’re stressed, they get stressed. Jamie says, “A stressed animal will give you ‘ears flattened’, ‘concerned eyes’ looks, which don’t translate well [in pictures].”

Don’t talk too much

“There is no quicker way to confuse a dog than to bark commands at them repeatedly. They will become confused and concerned.”

In Jamie’s opinion, “there’s nothing worse than a photographer (and an owner) hovering over a little dog and saying ‘sit Charlie… no – SIT. I said Charlie sit. Sit. Down!’” He explains “The less talking and ‘commanding’ you do, the better the shoot will be, and the more little Charlie will pay attention and listen.”

Instead of talking human, talk animal. “Use hand signals or point…Use the sit hand signal for dogs that understand it.”

Don’t make sudden moves

As with feeling stressed, your dog will react negatively to you suddenly moving during an otherwise quiet moment.

As Jamie explains, both dogs and cats “are prone to either radically change the expression on their face (and ears) at your slight movements, or split the scene altogether,” particularly dogs who are in a sit or lay-stay position.

To shift position, “do so very slowly without making any eye contact.” 

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Have fun photographing your furry friend! And don't miss the next blog post in which we interview an award-winning dog photographer. Photographer Spotlight: Elinor Roizman on August 27.

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