How to photograph.... Dogs!
Welcome to my How to Photograph series.
In this series I will give my top tips and recommendations on how to shoot a specific subject or style, focusing on both the technical side including settings and on the creative side including composition and how to set up your environment.
I hope this series will help you shoot the photos you want of the subjects you want. It is not meant to be an in depth instructional guide but an easy to follow guide that you can implement easily to help you get started and take instantly better pictures.
If you have any subject, not yet covered in this series, that you would like some help with, comment, or email me your suggestions and I will absolutely cover it.
So go pour a coffee and without further ado let's get to it!
Today's topic is dogs.
Roxy of Small Dogs, Big City fame - a ridiculously cute pom from Dublin, Ireland
Dogs are a tricky but rewarding subject and often one that pet owners struggle with. Dogs make such cute faces and do such sweet poses but once the camera goes up they refuse to stay still.
It can be hard to capture their movement, personality and keep them in frame. How many times have you ended up with a photo like this one?
That tail though - chefs kiss !
Or like this , a blurry shot where you missed the face and moment by a split second.
Ziggy, the world fastest dog from Galway, Ireland
Well worry not, below are six tips you can implement easily to increase your success with capturing the cutest pictures for instagram and for the family photo album.
How to shoot Dogs - Technical tips:
1. Use shutter speed
If you can can I would advise manual mode as then you can set a faster shutter speed and use an aperture to get a deeper depth of field. Remember, a deep depth comes from a small aperture or a large f/ number.
However, if you are not comfortable yet with manual mode, or you dont want to stress out too much trying to balance your exposure that is fine. I still do a lot of my shooting in shutter speed mode. That way it frees up some of my brain cells so I can focus on composition and other factors.
I say this so you know you don't have to use manual mode to get a good photo.
So if shooting on shutter mode you are controlling the lenght of time the photo will be taken for. For fast moving subjects such as Ziggy above, that you want to capture sharply, you will need a fast shutter speed. What speed will vary depending on if you are indoors or outdoors and the level of light but you would to start about 1/2000th and then based on your first shot you can adjust your shutter speed to ensure you maintain focus but have enough light in your image.
2. Use al servo mode
So this tip is a game changer for shooting moving subjects, particularly when they move unpredictable and at varying speeds.
Your camera will determine where and how to focus based on its focus modes settings. Most cameras have three types, though the exact names will vary between brands.
Al servo mode is the a tracking focus mode. So instead of locking in on a certain spot, it locks in on the subject in this case your dog. So the it will continue to focus on the dog as they move through the frame.
This is fantastic way to increase your chance of capturing your dog in focus, however please note it is not 100% fool proof and it will be slower finding focus than over other focus modes.
It also takes some practice in using it in the beginning to show show the camera what to focus on but it is truly worth it for photographing all types of animals.
3. Use zoom lens
Dogs will run all over the place and it will hard to keep them within a usable zone for photographying them on a prime lens. A zoom lens will be your saviour as you can move between focal lenghts as your dog comes closer and further away. It is good to keep in mind, also this is more effective if the dog is rinning left to right or away from camera than if the dog is running straight at you but with some practice it can work regardless of the direction.
Any form of zoom will be advantagous, but I would recommend a minimum of 35mm and up to 200mm is ideal.
Also worth noting, for animals that are uncomfortable with the camera and/or the photographer, using a zoom lens means you can stand further back and make the doggy more comfortable during the shoot which is good for their sake and results in better pictures, even if it means you need to crop a bit more afterwards.
How to shoot Dogs - Creative tips:
1. Tire the dog out first
Dogs will use whatever energy they have. So if your dog is particulary energetic I would always advise bringing it on a long walk and let run around lots before shooting it. This way they will have spent most of their energy and will be more willing to pose and stay stiller for the shot.
Obviously this will vary on the dog species, so keep the walk length long in relation to your dog usual needs. It may be more appropriate to do lots agility training or teach a new skill instead of going for a long walk. My advice would be keep your own dogs personality in mind and tire them out with the activity that is suitable and tiring for your dog.
2. Bribery & distraction
This works great for all dogs in my experience. Like myself, dogs respond well to treats and rewards. So have a treat bag full of their favourite treats and everytime they do the pose you want reward them. Like with all training they will learn pretty quick to pose or respond how you want if you reinforce the desired behaviour around a camera.
Also, distractions work so well. So have their favourite toy to hand. Their eyes will follow the toy. So often, I will have the owner stand beside or behind me and wave the toy so the dog will lock eyes in my direction. It is also so nice if you can capture some images of the dog with their favourite toy. It adds to the memory and sentimenatility of the image.
3. Compose for the future shot
My final tip is for capturing dogs in action. We instinctively aim the camera where the dog is and then as the dog runs we try to move the camera and keep up with them. This almost never works.
I set my focus for that patch of light that goes all the way across, so just befoer Ziggy hits the light,she is a little blurry, in the light she is sharp, and than past the loght and very close to me she is very blurry!
It is so much better to aim the camera to where the dog will be, let the dog enter the frame or sweet spot, and then snap the picture. It will result in a much better compostion and success rate and with less overall pictures snapped so win win.
Final sips of coffee:
So hopefully you will find these tips helpful. Dogs are a great subject and you can never have too many dog pictures in my opinion. So I hope you get out there and start capturing amazing shots of your furry friends.
I hope you can implement these tips and start to see an improvement in your pet photography!
What is the best tip you have for shooting dogs? Comment your tip below.