Off Topic > Photography

Tips For Photographing Dogs - Portraits

(1/6) > >>

Photographing Dogs - Portraits

General Hints and Tips

One overall trick for getting good photos of your dog – teach them a good, solid ‘stay’ command and a ‘look at me’ command - get them used to having a camera pointed at them by making it a positive experience for them, use praise, treats etc. to accustom them to relaxing when the camera is around. In getting good, interesting, 'different' photos of your dog the ability to sit and lie them down and have them stay there and look at you makes all the difference in the world. A 'head down' command is also an excellent one to teach as it can give some very nice photos...

(Canon EOS 350D and 24-105mm lens)

If you have a camera which has a date stamp feature, turn it off! By all means use it if you're on holiday or out for the day but not if you're trying to take nice shots of your dog, it's very distracting and never enhances a photo.

An SLR camera is not a prerequisite for taking good photos and using an SLR does not automatically guarantee you good photos. Far better a well composed, nicely lit shot taken using a compact than a poorly lit, poorly composed, out of focus shot from an SLR so do not feel that you cannot achieve good results if you 'only' use a compact camera, the kit is really only as good as the person using it!

Indoor Portraits

Lighting is extremely important – choose a room with plenty of natural light but do not put the dog in direct harsh sunlight as this will make the end results very contrasty and make it difficult for you or the camera to meter the shot correctly.

Keep the background as simple as possible, no clutter etc. and don’t pose them in front of the TV or table and chair legs or on carpets with busy, garish patterns etc. as this looks very messy and distracts from the main subject of the photo. A plain coloured background is best, black or white being better than more garish colours which again can clash with and detract from the dog. That said, strong, simple graphic backgrounds can be interesting...

(Canon EOS 50D and 50mm lens)

Remember the rule of thirds, imagine a photo has 2 lines running horizontally and 2 lines running vertically through it, try to position the subject(s) of your photo at the intersection of these lines. There is no need to always have the dog smack bang in the centre of the photo, often this actually detracts from what could be a much stronger photo if the dog was repositioned to give a stronger composition (see the photo above).

A few aesthetic touches make a big difference – clean the dog's eyes! There is nothing worse than eye gunk in a photo and take off collars and tags as they are distracting in portrait photos like this.

Position the dog and ask them to look at you – holding a treat level with the front of the camera/camera lens is good for this but the stay command must be strong! Making noises such as whistling between your teeth etc. can be good for getting their attention but will probably result in ears being pricked up so beware of this if you’re going for that ‘classic’ Cocker look with the ears down. Also try to ensure the dog is not panting heavily, tongues hanging out is not the most attractive look in a portrait photo.

When focussing the photos 9 times out of 10 you want to focus on the eyes, this may mean adjusting the focussing points on your camera manually as they automatically focus on what is closest to the lens and with a dog that is usually the nose. Some cute/fun effects can be had by focussing on noses etc. but you really want the eyes to be sharp. Try experimenting with zoom and practising your focussing...

(Canon EOS 50D and 50mm lens)

For most portraits you’re going to want to shoot from the dog’s level so crouch, kneel or lie down as necessary and make sure the dog is looking at the camera, posed portraits with the dog staring at a point about 2 feet above or to the side of of the camera are not ideal, you want the dog engaging with the camera to give a bit of life and interest to the shot and ensure you get a bit of light into the eyes.

However you can also experiment, have fun and try different things – put the dog on the bed, on the sofa, on the floor, have them sit, stand and lie down and if you have more than one dog mix it up – have one sitting and one lying down for example. Lie down below them and look up or stand above them and look down for different effects...

(Canon EOS 50D and 24-105mm lens)

Take a few seconds before you press the shutter to check the photo in the viewfinder - look at the overall composition - is it pleasing to the eye? Check the positioning of the dog(s) and the background - are there any distracting elements there? Is the dog looking at you and looking engaged? Have you got the photo framed properly - check that you haven't cut off the top of the dog's head, the tip of the nose or if it's a full body shot, the paws and/or tail which is very commonly done and ruins many potentially good shots. Unusual or tight cropping can be used to good effect in photos but it's usually obvious when this has been intentionally done and when someone has just not realised they've cut the top of the dog's head off.

A short burst of fill in flash can be used if you have a flash gun both to give catchlights to the dog's eyes and to fill in shadowed areas. I prefer to bounce the flash off a wall or a sheet of white card held to the side of the dog so it gives a softer, more diffused effect. Flash directly on the face can cause funny eye effects and be quite harsh, also try to refrain from using the built in flash on the camera as these are very seldom good quality, keep it turned off and if you need to use it to get the photo, try again another day in better light!

When taking portraits it's much better to take a bit of time and get a few really good shots than to randomly fire off dozens of poor ones.

Outdoor Portraits

You can achieve excellent, natural portrait photos of your dog(s) by photographing them when they are out and about. Again, lighting is important, morning and late afternoon/early evening are the best times to photograph as the light is softer and more diffused. Try to avoid taking photos in the harsh light around midday or in the early afternoon. It goes without saying that dull, grey days are not ideal for taking photos as the subjects and background will also look dull, a bright but slightly overcast day is the ideal.

Always check for distracting objects between the lens and the dog and around the dog themselves before you take the photo. If the object is between camera and dog (sticky up strands of grass is a common one here) then the camera will focus on it rather than the dog and if the object is around or behind the dog then it will distract the eye away from the subject of the photo. This is where the rock solid 'stay' comes into its own as you can move forwards to get grass, leaves etc. out of the way. Always take a little time to look through the lens, check your focussing and check for objects in the way before pressing the shutter, there is little point having a photo of your dog with big strands of grass in front of its face or a person walking into the frame behind them.  

When you're framing your photos make sure the horizon is straight, a tilted horizon is a common error and spoils potentially good shots, it can be adjusted on the computer but far better to make sure it's straight in the first place.

Consider the background you want – the possibilities are limitless outdoors but again, as a general rule the simpler the better. You can have grass, flowers, heather, water, hills etc. and you can experiment with posing the dog – having them sit on stone walls, haybales, stiles, fallen trees etc...

(Canon EOS 350D and 70-300mm lens)

Try positioning the dog in some flowers or greenery and photographing them looking out at you – these photos can be very effective. Again though, if it's a close up shot of the dog, focus on the eyes and check the shot before you take it to ensure that the dog stands out and it's not too cluttered or messy. Remember you want the background to enhance the dog, not take away from or overwhelm them...

(Canon EOS 50D and 50mm lens)

There is boundless scope outdoors for the style of photo you want to take, you can try different focussing ranges – zoom out to get more of the background in to give the photo a sense of place and place the dog in their environment, backgrounds can be used to striking effect and don't be afraid to try something different when posing more than one dog. Always be on the lookout for something that with make your shots a bit 'different', make them more interesting and give them that added edge...

(Canon EOS 350D and 28-90mm lens)

Or you can zoom in to focus on the dog themselves with an impression of colour around or behind them – grass, flowers, leaves, water or heather. Look for backgrounds which work with and complement the dog, if you team that with good lighting you're on to a winner!

(Canon EOS 350D and 28-135mm lens)

'Different' Portraits

Don’t be afraid to experiment and make your photos a bit different, some of the most striking and fun portrait shots fall into this category. Try positioning the dog on top of something – a pier, wall, big rock, haybales etc. and getting down below them for a different perspective, get them to look down at you or peek around something at you, a lot of fun, interesting photos can be had this way; if you don't have any props to hand just get down on the ground and lie below the dog! This is one for blue sky days though to give an attractive background...

(Canon EOS 50D and an ancient 18-55mm lens!)

It's not always necessary to have the dog looking directly at the camera, effective photos can be had with them in profile or looking into the distance, however them staring up a few feet above the camera clearly looking at a treat you're holding up is not what you're aiming for!  

(Canon EOS 50D and 70-200mm L IS lens)

For peekaboo style shots focussing on the eyes is vital, you need good depth of field to make the dog stand out and give the proper effect. Check your composition carefully for distractions, have as simple a background as possible as all the focus should be on the dog and ensure that the dog is looking at the camera and looks suitably engaged...

(Canon EOS 50D and 70-200mm L IS lens)

As said before when taking portraits it's much better to take a bit of time and get a few really good shots than to randomly fire off dozens of poor ones.  

Lastly, remember, practise makes perfect and don't be afraid to experiment !

© Nicola McClure 2009 for Cockersonline (Not to be reproduced in full or part without the author's permission)

Coming soon... tips for action shots! You can post on this thread to ask questions or add comments.


Excellent work Nicola, thanks so much for doing this - lots of really good tips for struggling amateurs like myself.  :shades:

If anyone wants to read a bit more on 'the rule of thirds', this article is pretty good...

Wow, what a lot of time and trouble you have taken for us.

Thanks so much, Nic.

fantastic advice and photos  :luv:  Nicola - will be practising some 'peekaboo' shots over the next few days. Many thanks  :blink:

No probs at all, I'm glad people might find it useful :D  The action shots one should get posted tomorrow!


[0] Message Index

[#] Next page

Go to full version