Dog Photography Tips Part 1: Working with Your Dog
The vast majority of pet owners consider their animals to be part of the family. Many will even tell you that they take more pictures of their dogs or cats than they do of their other family members. But getting a really great photo of your four-legged family member can often be a challenge. Some clients tell me their animals are “camera shy”. Every time they pull out the camera, the animal turns his head away or worse, runs and hides! Other clients tell me that they just can’t seem to get “the shot” and ask me how I do it. Here are some of my top tips for improving your pet photography.
1. Be Patient!
Whenever someone asks me how I do what I do, my first answer is that I have way more patience than the average person. Pet photography takes lots of it! You may not get the shot that you want right off the bat, so you have to keep trying and take lots of photos.
If your dog is “camera shy” try to help them become comfortable with the camera before actually trying to photograph them. Start by placing the camera on the ground with some treats nearby. Let them sniff it and see that it will not hurt them. Once they are comfortable with being near the camera, start taking pictures without putting the camera to your eye. Let them hear the sound of the shutter and give them a treat every time you click the shutter. After a while they will start to associate the camera and the sound with good things (treats!) This may take a few minutes or it may take a few days of repetition, but you will see a huge difference in how your dog reacts to the camera if you take the time to let them get comfortable around it.
2. Stay Calm and Move Slowly!
Dogs can sense your emotions through your body language and tone of voice. If you are tense, they will be too. There have been times when I have had to politely ask a client to leave me alone with their dog because the client was tense and barking commands at the dog. (“Sit…SIT…SIT! I said SIT!!!”) That is not going to get you a great photo!
Always speak in a calm and happy voice and try to limit the verbal commands. Instead, use hand signals or try using a treat to lure your dog into the position you would like. If they are not cooperating, don’t worry about it. Try something else or just relax and remember tip #1! More often than not, you will get better shots if you let the moment happen than if you try to make it happen.
When you do get your dog in the position you want, don’t rush to get the shot. Move slowly! If you move quickly, your dog will sense your excitement and will likely move out of position. If you move slowly, they are more likely to stay in place.
3. Have Fun!
Animals don’t know how to “Say Cheese” and even if they did, most of us prefer a natural smile in a photograph to a “cheesy” fake smile. Make sure your dog is happy! Feed them and exercise them before you start photographing. Just don’t feed them so much that they are not interested in treats or exercise them to the point of wearing them out. Take frequent breaks to play, give treats and keep them enjoying the process. Most importantly, have fun yourself! Again, dogs can sense your emotions and if you are having fun, they will too!
4. Capture Your Pet’s Personality!
For me, the keys to capturing a pet’s personality are knowing what you are looking for in a picture and anticipating it so you can be ready to capture it when it happens. Does your pet have a funny face that they make? Does he give you a cute head tilt whenever you say a certain word? Does he have a favorite toy? Think about the special things they do that you want to capture and be ready when they do those things. Frame and focus the picture before you say that word that makes him tilt his head. For action shots, have someone else throw the ball or Frisbee so you can be prepared to take the shot.
Most importantly, remember that capturing personality is not just about big smiles. It’s about making a connection with the animal. When you do this, the viewer will feel as if they can see into the soul of your subject.
Check back next week for Part 2 of this series where I will talk about composition and working with your environment.