How to Shoot Your Dog…With a Camera


It is that time of year again.  Lyn is looking for photos of your dog for the Pet Therapy Calendar.  Having had less than total success with professional photographers lately, many of you are considering taking the pictures yourselves.
And yet, you hesitate. How can you take a shot that will make it to the coveted centerfold?
As I got ready to take pictures of my dogs, I went to that fount of all knowledge worth knowing and much that isn’t – the Internet.  There I found lots of sites by professional photographers giving hints on how to shot your dog.  They all said the same things:
1. Look at your pet’s personality.  That’s what you want to capture. If they are couch potatoes, you’ll want to shoot them lounging on the couch.  If they are active, take them to the dog park and snap away.

Where she likes to be.

2. Setting. Photograph them where they are comfortable. This is less of an issue with Pet Therapy dogs, because they tend to be comfortable in a wide variety of settings – that’s why they’re Therapy dogs. If there is a place where that has special meaning to you or your dog, try shooting there. But be aware of the background.  If your dog’s special place is the dumpster, that may not make the best background.  You don’t want the background to detract from your amazing dog. Try for something simple and/or colorful.
3. Get in close. Use the zoom setting, if your camera has one.

Needs to be closer.

4. Get on their level. This may mean getting on your knees, or even on your belly. Or you can put them on a chair or bench. This will give people a glimpse of their perspective.
5. Change it up. So long as you’re set up and they are willing, shoot from different positions and angles, and with them doing different things. With digital cameras, it is easy to take lots pictures, which increases your chances of getting a good one.  But remember, save ONLY the VERY BEST.  Otherwise, you end up with thousands (and I mean thousands) of mediocre pictures that you have to wade through every time you want to find the good ones. Be brutal when deleting.
6. Lighting and Settings.  No, no – don’t turn off your brain!  This is easy!
Animals move, so you need lots of light to catch the action.  Sunlight is better. Use a flash inside.

Animals move so you need plenty of light for photos.

But what setting do you use on your camera?! When in doubt, use Auto. It seems like every camera maker uses different symbols, but that Auto is usually a green something, either a rectangle or the word “Auto”.
As you experiment, try some different camera settings. Outside in a lot of light, use the “Kids and Pets” or “Sports” or other action-sounding setting. Then you can get multiple photos by holding down the button.
Inside, you’ll need a flash.  “Portrait” or “Night snapshot” will do the job. Don’t worry about red-eye –it can be edited out.

Used flash.

That’s all you need to know about camera settings and lighting.
7. One more thing that none of the websites talked about. Some dogs get very nervous with that big camera lens staring at them. Alternatively, when I take pictures of my dogs, they want to come to me instead of posing for the camera. To fix both of these problems, I try to have somebody else actually take the picture and for me to be the one getting the dog to react.  Then I have lots of treats handy, and make it fun for them, me and the person working the camera.
Remember these are guidelines – lots of great pictures have broken these “rules”. But they will help you get started with your canine photographic adventures.

About coloradogeography

Amy Law is a second-generation Coloradoan with a passion for her native state. This translated into a Master’s degree in Natural Resources from Colorado State University, and continues as a lifelong fascination with how people and nature interact. From family vacations in the station wagon to travel for work, she's covered the state, and everywhere she goes, she finds new things to see and ideas to explore.
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