If you’re wanting to up your game when it comes to dog photography, there’s very little extra that you need to know over and above going through this post, learning it and practising it until it’s second nature. This is the 10 tips for dog photography greatness and if you start here, you won’t go far wrong!
If you don’t like reading, here it is the 10 tips for dog photography in video format. Remember, if you find even one teeny useful nugget of information, please do subscribe to the YouTube channel. It means more than you will ever know ☺️
So, here are your 10 tips…
1. Set up FIRST – before you introduce a dog to the situation
I can’t stress this enough. There is a reason why this is number one on the “10 tips for dog photography” list of stuff. Get yourself all ready before you add a dog to the scene. Either keep the dog out the way first or just let them mooch. Things you need to be on top of before you begin include the following:
- What type of shot are you getting? Is it action, is it portrait, is it OCF, is it studio? You need to have this clear as day before you move any further. Once you know what you’re shooting, then you can move on to…
- Exposure settings. If you don’t know how to work the exposure triangle, start here. Don’t move on until you understand that pesky triangle.
- Focus settings and specifics to the type of shot. Here is where you can get picky over the technical stuff. I’ve prepped some simple things which may help:
- Drive modes. Do you really need to reel off 12 shots in one second? Yes? Set your drive mode to suit. No? Single will be just fine.
- Lighting. look at the scene. Really look. Where is the light coming from? Are you adding any? If so, why, and from where? What type of light is it? Is it harsh, soft, flat? Can you make it better? Get really good at “seeing” light, and use a reflector if needed.
- Background analysis (we’ll cover that in a sec, but be aware of that here and now too)
When you can answer all of those in less than 30 seconds and adjust your camera to suit, award yourself a medal and a pat on the back. You’ve just moved really far up the road to a damn good photographer!
2. Pick the right lens for the job
Lenses have different focal lengths (mm) and each one does something different to the final image. The longer the lens, the smaller the depth of field (DoF) at any given aperture. So, a 30mm at 2.8 will have a much deeper section of “in-focus” scene than a 300mm at 2.8. Interesting, right?! (or not, if you don’t get excited by physics, that’s cool)
Aside from the DoF wins with using longer lenses, two other interesting things happen when you change focal length:
We’ve all seen the length of a dogs nose increase by epic proportions using a wide angle lens and that’s focal length distortion at work. The reverse is also true. 50mm lenses on a full frame camera are closest (ish) to what we see from our own eyes. The smaller the mm the more “warped” the image looks. The larger the mm, the more “chunky” the more things look like they’ve been really professionally shot.
Take horses for example. A shot at 24mm of a horse looks pretty pants (usually). A shot at 200mm looks like the horse is damn well put together and everything looks pretty perfect. Interesting…
From a background perspective, the more distractions you have drawing the eye away from the dog, the longer the mm you’re going to want to use. That’s because the field of view narrows considerably. There’s a reason that 8-20mm is called wide angle. The inverse is true too – the 200mm is a “narrow angle” of view.
Confused? See here:
3. Get down to eye level (or below)
Absolute core essential. DO NOT shoot from anywhere else until you are proficiently going to this level every single time.
I would challenge you to see just how low you can get…
Seriously though, being higher up just doesn’t help anything. Let me show you:
I hope you are convinced now 🤓
4. Analyse your backgrounds immediately, and continually
Remember we mentioned it in the first point? Backgrounds are so so so so important. If you have a busy scene and you’re not deliberately using it to enhance the subject, move. It’s that simple.
Although the backgrounds in our garden aren’t great, there’s a best case scenario that avoids the neighbours garden and a pile of red agility equipment…
Note colours too, red is the most drawing for the human eye, but after that, white is pretty bad. Keep scanning and move as required.
5. Get attention, but only for as long as you need it
If you don’t have, or if you half have it, everyone can tell. Don’t shoot a bored dog. Don’t shoot a distracted dog unless you frame the shot well enough to make it work and don’t keep shooting shot after shot after shot if the dog has had enough.
6. Composition in camera – nail it now.
I’m not going to go into composition here, but there is a post on that on this blog which links directly to this video here. This is essential “reading” and you should be practising this constantly. You should be shooting to that composition, not cropping for it afterwards, ok?
Absolute bare minimum?
Rule of thirds with an upper cross on the outside eye and space to the side the dog is angled towards/looking into.
7. Get the closest eye in focus, always
Ima be straight with you guys. If you haven’t got the closest eye in focus, delete the shot. It’s that simple. Sorry for the tough love, but it’s essential!
8. Watch your light, and understand it
Mentioned earlier but light changes – so you need to keep tabs on it and change too. Whether that’s your exposure or your position, just keep it there in the back of your mind and really “see” the light in the scene. Look for shadows, highlights, “hot” spots.
Don’t get complacent!
9. Don’t hang about or bore your dog
I think the best way to understand this is to think like the dog. If you’ve asked them to sit and wait whilst you fanny around for 4 hours with your settings, expecting them to look picture perfect every third minute for a shot, you’re going to end up with a dog that turns their head away from the camera when you raise it.
Yes, they learn quickly.
If it’s not interesting to them, why should they sit there and model?
Just have a think about it from their point of view, what’s in it for them? Have they given their best? Can you make it more fun or rewarding for them?
10. Learn how to edit your photos to enhance them, not mask them
Ah editing! There’s a whole section on this blog about that, and there’s a whole playlist on the YouTube channel too, so go delve in, work on it, learn, improve, get good!
So there you have it, 10 tips for dog photography greatness! Learn them, explore them, own them. And of course, practice practice practice!
Stuck, ask a question or join the critique & tips FB group for additional community support – just remember to be kind ☺️