If you are anything like me, your camera roll is filled with daily snaps of your dog. While these candid photos are often funny or sentimental, sometimes you want to take a more professional portrait of your dog that you can proudly share with friends and family.
Taking great dog photos doesn’t require a fancy camera, lens, or studio-style lighting. Anyone can take a great portrait of their dog with a phone or point-and-shoot camera by following these 3 simple tips:
Location, Location, Location
There are two things that can make or break almost any photo: light and location. If a photo is too bright or too dark, your subject will be obscured. The same is true for location. If the location is too distracting or cluttered, the focus won’t be on your subject. So how do you find the right light and location to make your dog pop?
Step one: make sure you’re setting yourself up for a successful photoshoot by checking the time and the weather. My favorite lighting comes around 1-2 hours before sunset on a sunny day. Weather conditions can make things tricky so I recommend starting out trying your photos on sunny days around this time.
Step two: You need to find the right place to position yourself and your dog. To ensure your dog is evenly and softly lit by the sun, you want the sun to be at yourback. Then, find a shady tree and position the dog at the edge of the shade under the tree, ensuring that he/she remains completely in the shade with their face towards you and the sun. You can pivot around the dog in a small arc to prevent your shadow from appearing in the photo while capturing different angles.
Be mindful of what’s in the background of your photo. Distracting backgrounds can cause a photo to appear chaotic and busy. Natural settings with bushes or trees work well to make your dog the focus of your photo.
Get Down and Dirty
No one said being a dog photographer was glamorous! I spend the majority of my dog photography sessions down in the dirt. Depending on the size of the dog, I can be anywhere from completely on my stomach to just slightly crouched. The goal is to get your camera pointing straight at your dog’s eye level. This will help create a strong connection with the dog in your photo and perfectly capture their goofy expressions.
If you are struggling to get down to eye level with a very small dog, try bringing the dog off the ground. You can use all types of things in your environment to elevate the dog such as benches, short walls, stairs, or tree stumps. Some of the most interesting dog photos feature unique architecture or scenery. However, you should always be careful and never put a dog into a situation where they could fall and hurt themselves.
Models Don’t Work for Free
Whenever I work with my own dogs or clients’ dogs, I always bring treats. Many dogs are food-motivated and will pay attention to anyone who has treats. I will often hold my camera in one hand and hold the treat in my other hand directly above the camera. I can move the treat around to get the dog’s attention and then bring it right back above the camera to snap my photo. Be sure to take frequent breaks and reward your dog often. If you wait too long to reward your dog with a treat, they may feel frustrated by not understanding what you are asking them to do. If the dog gets frustrated they may become less interested in the treats for the remainder of the photography session.
For dogs who are not food-motivated, I employ an arsenal of noisemakers (including my own voice). Before you use a new noisemaker or another sound, be ready with your camera. Sounds quickly become uninteresting to most dogs, so the best reaction to a new noise is going to be the first few times the dog hears it.
If your dog doesn’t enthusiastically accept treats as a reward for posing, you will need to find something that they do like. This can be something like scratches, playing fetch, or having sniff breaks to let them explore the environment. Always take the time to reward your dog and give them a break—dog photography should be fun for dogs too!
And that’s it! If you are mindful of the light and location, get down on your dog’s level, and reward them often, you will be well on your way to taking more professional dog portraits.