Holy moly, I am so excited to bring you a two-part post brimming with eight incredibly helpful tips on how to get better photos of your dog (and no worries! No fancy cameras required! Even if you’re only trying to capture better images with an iPhone or point-and-shoot camera, we can still make magic happen!). Read on to get into the adventure!
Many of you know that I live with a little sausage-shaped miracle who I was lucky enough to rescue from behind the bars of his cage at the shelter. His name is Joshua and he is the absolute love of my life. He taught me more about goodness, kindness and loyalty than any other creature on the planet ever has. Photography is what brought Joshua and I together. I went on one of my routine trips to the shelter to photograph the adoptable dogs and post their images to their adoption profiles on the shelter’s website. On my list of dogs that day, I saw a peculiar name: Joshua. ‘Huh. That’s a strange name for a dog,’ I thought. I walked into the shelter and began to hunt for him. When I saw his face, that was it. My heart dropped out through my feet and melted right there, down into the soles of my shoes. I took his photo for his adoption profile that day, but, here’s the thing…when I got home to do the editing and get the photos posted up online, I realized – selfishly – that I did not want to share Joshua’s face with the world. I was too afraid someone would come along and sweep him up out of my life just as quickly as he came in. So, I hesitated. It was with that hesitation that I realized what was happening in my heart — I wanted Joshua to be mine.
Since photography is what brought Joshua and I together, I thought it would be incredibly fitting if I did this post for new pet owners and divulged some of the best tips and tricks for taking better photos of those fleeting, precious moments throughout their lives – from puppyhood all the way until the day they find their first, distinguished gray whisker.
So, over the course of this two-part blog post, I am going to provide you with some of the absolute best, most effective tips for getting better photos of your dog. Because, let’s face it, dogs are probably the most beautiful thing in the world to photograph. (Okay, I’m biased.)
Tip #1 • Make it a Positive Experience
I truly can’t state the importance of this tip enough. I know it sounds extremely simple and straightforward, but it is often the single most overlooked concept when it comes to taking your dog’s photo. I can’t tell you how many times I hear it: “My dog hates getting his photo taken.” I can promise you from the bottom of my heart – your dog doesn’t ‘hate’ getting his photo taken. If we’re being candid here, your dog technically doesn’t hate anything. (That’s why dogs are the greatest creatures in the world, right? Their unconditional and unbelievable capacity to love literally everything and everyone…) People who complain about their dogs disliking the process of getting their photo taken are doing so because they may have inadvertently made the whole thing a very negative and stressful experience for their dog without even realizing it.
Here’s a scenario for you. Dog owner asks her dog to sit for a photo, and pushes his butt down into the flowers. Confused dog doesn’t understand why he has to sit right there in the flowers when all the good smells he really needs to sniff are a few feet in the other direction. Confused and excited, dog gets up from his spot in the flowers to have a sniff and frustrated dog owner yells, “GAHH! FIDO!! SIT!!!!!” and pushes his butt back down. (Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat.) Understand that your dog is incredibly sensitive to the environment around him and most especially – to your energy. You need to work with your dog to get great photos of him – not against him.
So how do you make it a positive experience? Here’s how!
•Keep the stress low.
•Give your dog plenty of time to settle into his environment, especially if you’re taking him outside to a location he’s never been before. Let him sniff. Let him pee. Let him do all those wonderful dog things that he’s got to do. Let him become comfortable in his environment before you go ahead and try to smash a camera in his face.
•Give him praise and be patient. Do not get frustrated. Frustration will get you nowhere, very, very quickly.
•Do not force him into any given situation, let him ease himself into it on his own accord. This is where patience comes in! Sometimes this takes 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or even an hour, depending on the dog! Just enjoy the moment with your dog and roll with it!
Tip #2 • Be Prepared and Bring Lots of Goodies!
Treats and peanut butter, guys. I’m telling you. This stuff works miracles. This tip goes hand-in-hand with the previous one. Make this a super fun occasion! You know when you head toward your front door and you pick up your dog’s leash and he goes absolutely wild? That’s because he’s associating that leash with all the incredible, exciting things you get to do together once you leave that front door to go on a big adventure! Do the same thing with your camera. Make it a positive experience — a positive association for your dog, so when he sees that camera, he thinks of wonderful things! Treats provide positive reinforcement. There are very few dogs on the planet that will turn down a good, stinky treat. You ever hear the phrase ‘the best way to a dog’s heart is through his stomach’? Well holy banana sandwiches is that ever true! (For me too, as an FYI, in case you want to know how to win me over!) Bring treats to your photo shoot, and give your dog a small reward each time you click that shutter button. This process will very quickly create a positive association in your dog’s mind, and the rest is beautiful, wagging history!
Tip #3 • Time of Day
If you plan to head outdoors, consider the time of day that you are taking your dog’s photos. I very strongly suggest getting your dog out into the natural environment for his close-up! Try to avoid taking photos in the middle of the day – anywhere from 11 a.m. to about 4 p.m. (depending on the time of year) is typically the danger zone when it comes to incredibly challenging, very unflattering midday light.
When the sun is very high in the sky, it casts harsh light from directly overhead causing both bright, blown out highlights in contrast with deep, dark shadows across your image. Instead, get outside with your dog when the sun is lower in the sky, closer to the horizon line. Typically, the two hours after sunrise, or the two hours before sunset are going to be the absolute best time of day to capture a magical outdoor portrait. When the sun is lower in the sky, the light comes in sideways across the horizon and creates a phenomenon known to photographers the world over as ‘the golden hour.’ Early or late light like this is much softer, more even and warmer in color temperature, which can turn any image from flat to magical.
Tip #4 • Look for Dog-Sized Scenery
What do I mean by dog-sized scenery, you ask? It means you’ve got to start to look at the world from your dog’s point of view — you’ve got to get down on his level. Look for greenery, flowers, stoops, logs, etc., that are about the same height or size as your dog. You may think a location looks gorgeous from standing level, but when you put your dog in front of that view of the city skyline and you’ll realize when you’re only two feet tall there’s actually a big, gnarly fencepost blocking your view. Keep your eyes low as you scout out your location, and look for flowers, short bushes or details on streets that can be incorporated into the images of your dog!
Stay Tuned for Part 2 of this post coming soon! I’ve got even more sneaky tips and tricks up my sleeve that will help bring your dog photos from ‘blah’ to brilliant!