How to shoot your dog (with a camera)
Capturing great photos of your family dog doesn't have to be a hassle. With a little practice and creativity, you can enjoy better pictures of your beloved pet.
1. Before you begin
Get a fast camera. Success in pet portraiture is often determined by your camera's speed. Use a single-lens reflex (SLR) if you can, because they focus much faster than point-and-shoot cameras and have less lag time in the shutter button.
Also, snag a helper. One can handle the camera while the other works with your pet. You can also use treats to get the interest of your dog. Soft beef jerky nuggets or cubes of pepperoni work great because they are smelly and delicious.
Dogs don't care about the size of the treat. It's the act of getting the prize that excites them, so whatever treats you use, cut them into small pieces. The idea is to tease the dog's taste buds, not fill your dog's stomach! If your dog is not food motivated, do the photo session before a regular meal time.
2. Creativity in the shot
Pay attention to the scene behind or around your pet. Is it cluttered? Change your camera angle or get closer to the subject to simplify the background. Remember to think in parts. Take a photo of just your dog's paws, nose or eyes.
Get lower to meet your pet at or below eye-level for more dramatic shots. You can also get higher for a "looking down" angle that distorts perspective and can create a comical "big head" shot.
3. Avoiding blue eye
The "blue eye" (or green or white, depending on breed of dog) phenomenon is similar to red eye in people, and it is a hallmark of amateur pet photography. It comes from a reflective layer behind a dog's eye that helps it see better in low light.
To avoid the "possessed pet" look, turn off the flash and use ambient light or steady-on light sources. If you have to use a flash, try bouncing it off a wall or ceiling, or change the camera's position so that the flash isn't beaming straight into the dog's eyes.
4. Use sound and motion to direct the dog's attention
Not all successful pet portraits require Fido to be looking right at the camera. However, if you do want your dog looking at the camera, then sound or motion can be effective. Dogs are extremely observant. Directional noises will cause dogs to look, but don't overdo it because constant noises will be quickly ignored.
Noises don't need to be loud to be effective - just unfamiliar, unpredictable and perhaps bizarre. Unfamiliar and unpredictable noises will get a look. Noises that a dog thinks are bizarre will elicit a head tilt. Similarly, if everything is still around a dog, motion will momentarily attract a pup's gaze.
Noises or motions are where an assistant can help. At just the right moment, have that assistant make noises or movements in the direction you want Fido to look. The photographer can experiment with hands-free, mouth-operated noisemakers to get the dog's attention at just the right moment. Check your local party store for kazoos, noisemakers and coiled paper birthday whistles. Dogs love the sound and motion of the curling paper even if the whistle doesn't sound.
Now go get the treats, the noisemakers, your camera, your dog and your helper. You're ready to put some of these photography tips to good use!
PhotosByFeist, a full service photography company serving the Virginia Beach/Norfolk area since 2004. PhotosByFeist provides photography services for weddings and events, but specializes in pets. They received an Angie's List Super Service Award in 2012.
As of June 28, 2013, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.