Don’t Shoot The Dog . . . Until You Read This! (It’s Not What You Think)

Focusing on the dog, getting nice light and keeping background distractions to a minimum makes for quality pup photos.

Focusing on the dog, getting nice light and keeping background distractions to a minimum makes for quality pup photos.

I take too many photos of my dogs. Said no dog-owner. Ever.


Smartphones and point-and-shoot digital cameras make it all too easy to snap away and away and away. But that doesn’t mean our photos are any good. In fact, many of them leave a lot to be desired.


So here are some quick tips provided by two excellent photographers (and dog lovers!) to make your photos really pop.


Photographer and SHUG supporter Terry Wingfield says getting a great shot is all about the light. Turn off the flash! It’s a “flat light” that make your dog’s eyes look all “reflecty"--yes, that's a technical term--and go for natural light if possible. The light from a large window is best. You can also get great light standing beside an open garage door--just remember you'll have to keep your dog on lead! Either way, try to position the dog sideways or at a 45 degree angle to the light source. Whatever you do, don’t have the light coming directly into the dog’s face.


If you’re shooting outside, pick a cloudy day, or take your photos at dusk or dawn, when light is the softest. Never shoot in the direct, noon-time light. You can put your dog in the shade for nice diffused light. Be careful that you don’t have tiny beams of sun peeping through the leaves and making unwanted patterns (unless you’re trying to be artsy). This is all especially important if you're photographing a black dog, as their coat absorbs the light and reduces detail. For black dogs, get in close and have them fill in the frame, with the light coming from the side.


Petra Postma says let the puppy play while camera captures the action.

Petra Postma says let the puppy play while the camera captures the action.

While the most cooperative model is often a tired pup, don't be afraid to try your hand at action shots, especially if you have a camera with a sport or “burst” mode, which allows you to take many frames in short sequence. Toss a ball, let the dogs tussle and play together. Photographer Petra Postma says, "Never be afraid to get dirty!" The best shots are worth muddy knees.


One of the most important elements of dog photography is camera height. Make sure you’re at eye height with the dog and not looking down at him or her. Once you get into position, check your focus point--don't let the camera be fooled into focusing on an object in the background. Cut out the clutter if possible. Nothing should be competing with the dog. For a plain background you can tack a sheet or a textured table cloth on the wall. A brick wall or a wood fence or even a plain couch works well, too. Think about what story you want to tell. And you don’t always have to shoot from the front. Try shooting your dog from the side or back as they look out the window.


When they’re laying or sitting, try photographing your dog at an angle to the camera, so you capture the length of their body. Have their elbows tucked near their body and not stretched out in front (which makes them look distorted). Make sure their tail is brought around to the side. Do what you need to in order to get their ears up and forward, with an engaged expression. This may take a helper standing behind you with a squeaky toy. Keep it fun for everyone! If they seem anxious or are panting, it's time for a break. A 10-15 minute session is probably long enough.


Don't be afraid to get a little silly and use some fun props. You can put your girl in a bow or your boy in a bow tie. Hats can be cute; sunglasses, too, if they’ll tolerate it. Stuffed animals can be used to good effect -- especially with puppies. Remove your dog’s collar to make them look more natural (of course, only if you’re in a confined area.)


A prop can make a photo stand out. Terry Wingfield asks what is cuter than a basketful of puppies?

A prop can make a photo stand out. Terry Wingfield asks what is cuter than a basketful of puppies?

Even if you've got awesome Facebook worthy pics on your phone, if you're looking for something to frame over the fireplace or hang in your office then definitely consider hiring a professional. It may not be as expensive as you think to get a lovely family portrait that includes your furry family members, too. We recommend Terry Wingfield in Virginia and Petra Postma in Pennsylvania.


But whoever you hire, make sure they’re dog friendly. If they don’t get dogs, they’re not going to capture the essence of your beloved pup.



4 Responses

  1. Donna Behringer

    Very helpful article.

  2. Susan

    And don’t forget to crop the photo! Lots of digital cameras and smart phones have that function. I’ve seen so many beautiful dog photos that friends have posted on FB, but they didn’t crop, and the background junk distracted from the main focus of the pix.

  3. Even “bad” pics of the hounds are great pics. 😀

  4. Ah, this is good! As a pet portrait artist, I’m so often challenged by less-than-perfect reference photos. I’m going to link to this article from my commissions page, and hope my clients have a chance to put these tips into practice before sending me their photos! 😀

Leave a comment