Friday, 16 January 2015

How To: Pet Photography - The Basics

I often get messages through my photography page on Facebook asking for help with taking photographs of pets. So I thought, as I spend a lot of time answering each message individually, why not do a whole post on the basics as a referral guide. Why I haven't thought of that before I do not know!

So, here are the basics:

Camera Settings

For those with DSLR: Rather than going into the long-drawn-outs of DSLR settings (as it can get a bit long-winded, and this post's length is pushing its luck already!) I'll assume that you already have an understanding of your camera's settings. The important thing to note is, for moving dogs, you'll need to crank up your shutter speed. I shoot movement at the very least 1/1000 - adjusting aperture and ISO as necessary.

For those with point-and-shoots: Try selecting Sports Mode to capture movement, and Portrait Mode (or you camera's equivalent) for resting/sleeping dogs.

Spend some time playing

Some dogs can feel a little uneasy in front of a camera. Dogs often read their people's faces to determine if all is OK, if you've got a camera in front of yours without giving them a chance to get acquainted with it, they can become unsure and coy. Even the sound of the lens, or the clicking of the shutter can cause an element of worry. So, a short play session, letting an unsure dog sniff the camera, and hear the noises it makes before starting will help him feel much better. It will also burn some energy and help create that connection you'll need to take great pictures. However...don’t go over the top with the play – you’ll end up with a set of pictures with a big lollopy, dribbly tongue hanging out in every image. Of course, that can be a fun look in a few, but unless you want them all featuring the lollop, keep activity to soft and gentle play.

Wear clothes you can move properly in

I know this sounds like a silly tip, but you're going to get into all sorts of positions whilst taking your pictures. Soft shoes are always a plus, wearing harder boots when you're crouching or on your knees can be really uncomfortable, as can tight fitting jeans - and baggy tops can get in the way of lenses or get caught up in all manner of places. So, make sure you wear something forgiving for comfort - you'll thank me later for this one!

Get down low 

Capturing pictures of your dog at its own level will make all the difference to the final image. It is a fact, I spend most of my time either on my knees or flat on my stomach whilst working – there is no hope in being ladylike at all during a photo session, so I leave that at home and channel my inner 5 year old (who enjoys messing about in the mud). I felt really quite self-conscious when I first started doing this in a public area – but, after umpteen times, it won’t phase you! No-one really cares that you’re rolling around in the grass with your dog, most doggy people will understand (and wish they were doing the same), and those who aren’t...well, just tell them you’ve dropped a contact lens or you're watching the grass grow - they might think you're entirely bonkers, but you'll have amazing images to show for it, so who cares!

Get down low with your dog - it makes all the difference to the final image


I never use flash, even in studio set-ups. Flash can startle dogs and, unless used effectively, can give that ‘demon dog’ look of red or green eye. My advice would be to use natural light whenever possible and switch the flash off.

Opt for natural light whenever possible

Taking a picture in dull drizzly conditions is never going to be a winner unless you’ve got the equipment to handle that situation. So try to choose a brighter day over a grey one. It doesn’t necessarily have to be sunny (in fact, I prefer it if it isn’t) a thin cloud cover can do wonders with light and produce great images. The cloud acts as a great big diffuser, softening the light that lands on the dog, lessening shadows. Less cloud of course means the light can be harsher, giving a high contrast and deeper shadows which can be really unflattering. BUT...keep in mind, high contrast images can look amazing in black and white – so don’t completely write them off.

If an image doesn't work in colour, convert it to black and white and see what happens. This image has deep shadows on the dog's body and I didn't like it in colour - but, I was happy with how the black and white conversion came out.

If you are going to take pictures in sunlight, try to take them within the first few hours of the sun rising or the last few hours before it sets. The sun will be low in the sky, and during these times throws out a gorgeous honey glow. Midday/overhead sun can cause havoc with shadows, and in these cases, it’s best to bring your dog into the shade, and allow the midday sun to illuminate the image less intrusively.

Take a peek at Romping and Rolling in the Rockies for some beautiful examples of sunrise dog photography.


What is your dog’s most favourite thing in the whole wide world (apart from you)? A toy? Food? Whatever it is, make sure you have it with you. Always, always praise your dog when he does what you want him to do in front of the camera. If they’re going to get to play with their fave toy or have a scrummy treat each time they hear the camera click, they’ll be a lot happier to do more for you! I only have to get my camera out now and Harvey goes into full pose mode, he knows there's a treat coming!

Treats should be high value, something your dog doesn’t have very often. They should also be tiny, about half the size of your pinky nail (yep, that small). In our case, we use cheese. The very smallest of chunks, enough for Harvey to get a taste – but not fill his tummy – that’s the last thing we want. All you need is enough to get your dog focussed on you and the task in hand.

Basic training whilst taking pictures - what a great idea!

A tit-bit: If your dog loves a squeaky toy, it can be a little awkward holding a large camera whilst composing the image and getting your dog’s attention by squeaking a cumbersome toy all at once. So to free my hands a little, I use the actual squeaker and not the whole toy. I get these from the dog’s old toys. As soon one of the dogs has ripped open the squeaky toy (they always rip them open), I take the squeaker out and add it to my stash! Different squeakers produce different sounds and I'll more often than not choose the dog's toys based on the kind of squeak it has and whether I’ve got that particular one in my little collection - waste not want not I say! You can also buy them individually online, and as they’re small, they’re more manageable whilst taking pictures.

Making squeaky sounds yourself is a hit with most dogs too - and you can get a great connection with them looking straight at the lens.

Another tit-bit: Taking pictures of your dog can really aid in their basic training. I ask Harvey to sit (or run, or lay down), take the picture, and as soon as he hears the click of the shutter, he knows he gets the treat. Whilst the treats help with the session, the session actually helps to reinforce the training we've done - which is a bit of a bonus I reckon.

A helping hand 

Ask someone to help with the flow of your session. They can hold treats, get your dog’s attention, and free you up so all you need to do is take the pictures.

If you want your dog to look at the camera, make sure you get your helping-hand to stand behind you and show the treat/squeak the toy just above your lens/camera. If they are to the left or right of you and distract your dog, all of your final images will be of your dog looking off camera.

Make the connection

Focus on the eyes

This is a really key element of dog photography, although not a hard and fast rule - there really are no rules. Sometimes a nose focus is perfect in certain shots (take a look at Willow's 'serious' face here) - but for the most part, you’re going to want the eyes sharp – this gives great depth to an image.

Focussing on eyes, and bringing your dog into the shade on really bright sunny days, using the light to illuminate the background of your image can be really affective.

And finally…Have Fun!

Whilst you’re taking your gorgeous images, have a ball! The more fun you’re having, the more your dog will have too – and, after all - that's what it’s all about isn't it.

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  1. Great tips. I generally take pictures of the dogs moving except I do not get to pick my position or the lighting. It really adds a challenge. I am always learning.

    1. That's the great thing about photography isn't it - it's a constant journey - I've still got so much I'd like to master - the danger is falling into a habit (as I often do!) and not pushing myself. This year I've set myself goals to get more creative. Often when I'm out on shoots it's so fast paced and I need to get the whole set of pictures done in a specific time - getting more creative I'll be able to take all the time I need to get the one shot - my first of these sessions is next week and I'm really looking forward to it :)

  2. This is such a great post!! Your pictures are so beautiful! I recently just got my first dslr and Zoe was afraid of the shutter noise and the lens focusing noise bothered her as well. We used some peanut butter and let her lick while I clicked away. After a couple of sessions she was okay for the most part. She's really noise sensitive!

    1. Oh love her - I come across that quite often - and it's more often the quietest of sounds that affect them and you wonder what it is about that sound that worries them - normally a little interactivity with the camera, the dog and you will help them get over it really quickly :)

  3. Great tips and wonderful photos! I need to try that squeaker idea. Different tones would really help keep my pups' attention! I think I'll follow the link you gave us!

    Do you have a rule of thumb for what the minimum aperture is for 2 dog photos? I've been having a tough time getting both sets of eyes in focus even when the two are right next to each other. The photo will look good on my little LCD screen and then not look good on my bigger computer screen!

    I just love your photography!

    1. I just love your photography too! :)

      I really don't have a hard a fast rule with depth of field - of course there are lots of factors that will determine final settings.I am guilty of always shooting at the smallest DOF possible, which causes all sorts of issues, but it's a habit I've gotten into (I must change that!) One thing I have noticed though, and you might too - if I'm taking a picture of two dogs with different colour eyes - even if they're both side by side, the darker eyes will always look sharper (in my experience) and is most likely because I'm exposing to ensure I get the detail for the darker dog. I have this issue often with huskies - and it can be quite frustrating. Also, photographing a very dark dog next to a lighter dog means you'll need to do some tweakage for exposure - it's really difficult when they're on the go and you only have natural light to play with.

      I had a job once to photograph three border collies - one had an all white face, one an all black face and one with a bit of both - and they all had varying eye colours from blue to deep brown it was a nightmare! But, I do love the post processing part of the job and will use Lightroom/Photoshop to tweak when necessary.

      Maybe we could set this as a joint task and compare results :)

  4. I'm a terrible photographer with an awfully slow camera living in a part of the world with lots of cloudy days. But your tips were easy and things I'll try to keep in mind.

    BTW, a few years ago my husband arranged for a wonderful local photographer to take pictures of my dog Honey. As wonderful as this photographer was in capturing scenes all over the world, she did an awful job posing Honey in her studio. I felt the pictures were so flat and didn't express anything about Honey's personality at all.

    Your examples showed everything that was wrong with that Valentine's Day photoshoot. (Shhhh, don't tell my husband.)

  5. Thank you for posting these tips! Can't wait until I can afford a new/better camera!

  6. Hey i saw your post for pet photography really its nice but i know one good nad best Pet photography Studio One to One Pet Photography will make your pets look adorable and cute. As you love and adore your pet, so in the photos it will be more adorable.

  7. Hey, Have a good day. As an professional in this field same you. I impressed to saw your all click. I have a dog and cat photography retouch studio, hope you benefited to make us your editing partner.


I love to hear from you - ask questions, give your point of view or just meet new people in the comments :)

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