While human models don’t always listen, it’s not likely they’ll walk off set at the sight of a sandwich or cower under a table when someone slams a door. Dogs are different. Photographers who want to successfully capture the joy and loyalty of dogs will need to employ a certain approach.
Here are best practices for taking professional pictures of even the most uncooperative pooch.
1. Make the Dog Comfortable and Presentable
When shooting human models, you would likely offer some snacks, a waiting area, and a relaxing environment. Approach a dog photo shoot the same way, by considering the unique traits of dogs and altering the set to fit their needs. Reduce stimuli that might capture their attention when you’re trying to capture a facial expression. You can also bring treats to reduce nervousness and let them know you’re a friend and it’s a safe place. Fresh cold water is a must, especially if you use hot lights and/or if the dog is very active. Drinking water also turns into the need for bathroom breaks, so give the dog ample opportunity to answer nature’s call.
A grooming session is essential before a professional shoot. Advise clients to take the dogs to a quality groomer for a hair brush and trim and a nail clipping. Closely look over the dog before shooting to spot any stray leaves or other debris that might stand out negatively in a photo.
2. Use the Right Equipment and Setup
Dogs are always moving (unless they’re asleep), so you need a fast camera that can capture serial images with any blurring. They won’t always cooperate, so err on taking a multitude of pics and then spend time in post-production to spot the best ones. While you want dogs to sit still when they’re part of a family portrait, you can also leverage their activity levels to capture in-motion shots. To do this, you’ll need a dedicated space where they can roam free, chase tennis balls, and perform other dog antics.
For lenses, try macros which use a longer focal length for blurred backgrounds. They also feature a 1:1 reproduction ratio. You likely won’t need a telephoto unless you need to be further from the dog and capture details such as a dog running through an obstacle course. While you might not use it, a tripod might prove essential when capturing a dog portrait in cases when the dog stays shockingly still.
General photography rules still apply when shooting dogs. You want good light, a defined subject, and should follow the rule of thirds. Empty space can be very effective for showcasing scale and avoiding a “dog in a crate” look. Natural light and exposures are also crucial.
3. Capture the Face
A dog’s face shows its excitement and devotion. When photographing canines you need to focus on the face, and especially the eyes. Lighting and the framing of the shot should all come together so the face is at the forefront. Use catch lights to add some sparkle to the pupils for an amazing effect.
Dogs make fun expressions when they are in motion, so try to capture a tongue wagging and expressive eyes when they are jumping or reaching for a treat. Vertical height is also vital—you want to be at the dog’s nose level to capture the best angle.
A final tip is to concentrate on having fun during the shoot. This is a great rule whether you’re shooting landscapes or airplanes because your attitude will reflect in the quality of your pictures. When you’re doing a dog shoot, your energy and enthusiasm will rub off on the attitude of the dogs who will appear more natural and expressive. And that’s the ideal state for any model—human or canine.
About the Author:
Debora Gattuso is a veterinarian and Dreamstime professional photographer.
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