I’m not a photography expert, but I play one in my head.
Just kidding. Even in my head I know that I’m still a novice, but I’m actively trying to improve because I want to take better pictures of my dogs. So I have taken a couple of workshops, but I also search for and study photography tutorials and photos I like. Then I solicit advice from that photographer. Here are the people who helped me put together the tips below:
Laurie at lauriebartolo.wordpress.com–Laurie photographs her own dogs, Daisy and Webster, but she also captures candid photos of any dogs she encounters in order to showcase the “canine spirit” and to raise awareness for dogs in need. Her pictures range from funny to poignant to striking.
Neil Das at The Dassler Effect–I discovered Neil’s blog thanks to Freshly Pressed, and I love his photos. So I study them, and I ask him questions. He’s not a dog photographer, but he does photograph animals sometimes, and his advice is helpful to a novice photographer no matter the subject.
Janet at BassetMomma–I noticed Janet’s photos on her Blog Paws Community page, so I asked her for some tips. Her Basset Hounds’ personalities shine through in her pictures.
1. Get Down at Doggie Level.
Everyone I consulted offered this advice. It makes sense because, you know, we’re several feet taller than our dogs, but I still have to be reminded to do this sometimes. So squat, hit your knees, lie down–anything to get the shot! I used this tip for the photos in my last post (even while wearing tights and a dress, thank you very much), and I was happy with the results.
"Spotted." Photo by Laurie Bartolo.
2. Get Shutter Happy.
Remember when you had 24 shots on your roll of film, and darn it, you were going to make them all count?! Well, you no longer have to scrimp on shots or experience the letdown of receiving 24 blurry prints of your dog’s butt. So if you want special pictures of your pup, take a ton. This tactic will a) help you get practice–and I don’t care who you are, you need practice–and b) allow you to use continuous shooting to capture your dog in action. Many of the shots will be throwaways, but hopefully you’ll find a few keepers.
Photo by Janet @ BassetMomma. I love how she captured the hounds running in different directions with ears flying.
3. Capture the Action!
But how? In my made-up survey of amateur pet photographers, getting good action shots of dogs ranked as the number one frustration. Seriously, though, it’s not easy. Here’s what can help:
a) Use your camera’s automatic settings to your advantage. Whether you have a DSLR or a point-and-shoot, your camera most likely has a sports mode setting (the guy running). This mode will help you freeze the action while preventing the dreaded blur. Your dog is fast when he’s playing, right? This setting is your friend. Some cameras also have a kid mode (mine looks like a baby wearing a ball cap, for some reason). I use this setting when the dogs are milling, rather than tearing, around the yard.
b) Camera shake can cause blurring. Laurie reminded me about camera shake (or maybe it should be called “photographer shake,” since the person causes the movement). To fix this issue, use a tripod. If you don’t have a tripod, you can set your camera on a table, rock, or bench. At the very least, anchor your camera with your arms like this:
Keep your arms tucked in tight.
c) If you have a DSLR, experiment with shutter speeds. Says Laurie:
Sometimes you may want a blurry shot – for example, some blurriness in a photo of a moving dog can emphasize the movement. This may be cool if you wanted to show a dog’s tail wagging crazily, or showcase the athleticism of a dog running after a ball. Manipulating shutter speed to get the desired effect takes practice, but generally speaking, a faster shutter speed will freeze the action so you don’t get the blurring, while a lower shutter speed will have a blurring effect.
Photo by Laurie Bartolo. Daisy shakes in the rain. I love her blurry ear and the spray of water coming off of it!
4. Move Your Feet, Not Just Your Shutter Finger.
Photography is an active endeavor. In addition to squatting or lying down, you may have to run or walk around to compose the photo you want or to find the best light.
a) Move your feet for composition. “I frequently move around and look for different points of view, and have found that you can find a much better composition simply by moving a few feet,” says Laurie.
Photo by Laurie Bartolo. You can't get a better point of view than this!
b) Move your feet for the right light. To ensure that the light falls across the dog’s face, get in between your subject and the sun (a tip I picked up from Pix-Elations). To create a silhouette of the dog, put him in between you and the sun. (See photo with #1 above for an example of light on a dog’s face.)
5. Vary the Depths of Focus. To create a lovely portrait like the one from Neil below, he says to use a shallow depth of focus. It makes the background beautifully blurred (especially when you’re as good at playing with light as Neil is) while keeping the focus on the dog. Neil notes that in dog photography, as in human photography, you should focus on the eyes. I also like to feature my dogs in landscape photos, which have a deep focus and keep the whole image crisp. I can capture my dogs in their “happy habitats”–the lake, farm, or woods. The surroundings in these photos help tell the story of the dogs’ feelings of freedom and joy.
Portrait by Neil Das. Note that he got down at the dog's level (Tip #1).
Landscape by me. This picture is great technically, but you get the idea of featuring dogs in a landscape.
6. If All Else Fails, Shoot While They Sleep.
This sounds like a nugget of advice for murdering your spouse, but hear me out. How many times have you taken a cute picture of your pup only to have his eyes glowing like an alien’s? But when his eyes are closed–no glow-eye. And when your dog is all curled up, you don’t have to worry about capturing the action.
I like how Gertie's paws peek out in the foreground.
Do you have any dog photography tips to add? What kind of photos do you like to take of your dog?