12 Dog Photography Tips for Better Pet Portraits

Part of any photographer’s instinct is to capture everything that they find beautiful and are close to their hearts, including their beloved pets. Dogs, for one, make some of the cutest, funniest, and most vibrant photography subjects. However, just as it is when photographing young children, it can be very difficult to capture really good shots due to their unpredictability.

Here are a few practical and helpful tips to make your pictorial as easy and convenient as possible for you and your pet.

Bird’s eye view shot of cute dog on grassy lawn
Image via Shutterstock

Dog photography isn’t actually all that difficult once you understand how you can make your furry best friend feel comfortable in front of the camera and how to creatively take high-quality photos of them. Check out our tips below and you’ll be a confident pet photographer in no time.

Schedule the Session

The success of the shoot can sometimes rely on proper scheduling. If you’re aiming for portrait-style dog photos, you’ll have a much better chance of catching your dog in a relaxed position when they are feeling sleepy or have just woken up. And if you’re seeking dynamic action shots, then it’s best to take photos of them when they are most energetic. You can usually prep them for the latter by playing with them beforehand. Sometimes you can get lucky and capture both relaxed shots and action shots in the same photography session. To do it, start off with the pups feeling more relaxed, and then reward them with treats and play time for more energetic dog photos later on.

Carefully Plan Your Shots

Capturing candids and going with the flow can get you good photos, but for really engaging ones that tell a story, you’ll need to show them in context. Conceptualize a photoshoot theme, and plan your key shots, as well as what you may have to do to create it. You may want to include props, such as pet toys or food that will bring out expressions of desire and excitement. Add variety to your shots by choosing several areas of the house that you may place them in and planning different activities.

Use Natural Light

You don’t necessarily have to worry about flashes and complicated lighting setups when taking photos of dogs. The best option is to use natural, continuous light that won’t frighten them or cause red-eye in your images. Whether you’re using ambient or studio lights, the general rule is to go for bright, diffused light that will help create more flattering portraits.

If you’re in a slightly darker environment or if the pup isn’t responding well to brighter lights, you can always boost your ISO to capture action shots at fast shutter speeds even in a darker environment. The higher the ISO, the faster you can shoot! If you’re shooting outdoors, overcast days are often best for providing even, diffused lighting. Days filled with sunshine present more challenges for photo sessions than overcast days, so if it’s cloudy, don’t fret.

Bonus Tip: Don’t forget to make sure that your subject has ample catchlight, or white reflective parts in the eyes, to avoid making the eyes look flat and dead. Capturing that extra spark will give your dog photos more personality and help you stand out as a pet photographer!

Use Fast Shutter Speeds

Now here’s one reason why it can be very difficult to capture photos of pets. More often than not, you’ll need to use a camera that offers fast shutter speeds to freeze action. This means you’ll also need to know how to configure camera settings in manual mode.

Some digital cameras offer a programmed Pet Mode, but it’s usually not enough to capture well-exposed, tack-sharp images—so your best bet is to use a DSLR, mirrorless camera, or at least a special app that allows you to adjust manual camera settings. Using an animal-based face detection setting, like the one offered on some Nikon, Canon, and Sony models, can help. But if possible, shoot in burst mode so you capture a range of poses and expressions without lifting your finger from the shutter button. This will give you plenty of options to choose from!

jack russell terrier playing catch dog photography
Image via Shutterstock

Shoot Where They’re Comfortable

The most basic aim in dog photography is to capture your best friend’s character and personality. You’re less likely to get this if they’re in an unfamiliar place, such as a studio. Head out to a park or to your backyard and allow your pet to relax and loosen up. This should help them feel—and look—more comfortable for the camera. For new pet photographers, it will help you feel more comfortable too!

Get Down to Their Level

Everybody is used to seeing dogs from above, so photos from that angle may not be as striking. For best results, shoot them in their world—from way down below. Depending on the dog breed, you may have to crouch with your camera or lie on your belly just to level the camera with your pooch. The objective is to shoot from their eye level or even lower, where you can get the best view of their expressions. As a new dog photographer, laying on the floor with your camera for a photoshoot may feel intimidating. Just remember to keep your lens cloth handy for the inevitable nose smudges.

Grab Their Attention

Getting a pup’s attention is one of the most important skills to develop for photographing dogs. If you wish to make them hold still, try this simple trick: let them play quietly and, once you’re ready with the camera aimed and your finger on the shutter, call for your dog’s attention. Click the shutter the second they look in your direction and you’ll be able to capture them with their full attention on you and your camera.

Once you have their attention, you may be able to capture a couple of easy shots of them sitting still. Be careful not to make any sudden movements as this will most likely make them jump up and follow you. Move slowly and avoid making eye contact as you change positions or reach out for a prop. If they do start to move or play, keep shooting in burst mode for the best chance at a good action shot!

Focus on the Eyes

“Eyes are the window to the soul,” and this applies to any living subject. When framing your dog, make sure to auto-focus on the eyes to make sure they’re sharp and to allow the dog’s expression to become the focal point of your image. You may want to watch out for and capture that perfect puppy dog eyes moment, whether or not they’re looking straight at your camera. Expression and personality in the eyes will always result in more engaging dog photos.

Beagle puppy dog eyes
Image via Shutterstock

Capture Their Character

Even better than a cute closeup of your pet is a photo of them that conveys their character. If your dog is the playful type, you should definitely add a picture of him in action in your proposed shot list. If the dog loves lounging around, take a snap of him yawning while lying in his favorite bed. Those precious photos will definitely be for keeps!

Change Your Perspective

Utilize your spacious memory card by taking as many photos as you want. But for variety, try shooting from different angles. Aside from taking shots from above and at eye level, try shooting from way down below (especially for bigger dogs), from the side, and even from behind. Make use of your creativity and try taking close up shots of the face, paws, or even the tail.

Be Patient

Aside from camera gear and photography know-how, another important thing that dog photography requires is patience—and a lot of it. Pets obviously can’t follow specific instructions unless they’re trained by a professional. At the same time, they’re known to absorb human energy, so if you end up getting stressed out or frustrated, they’ll sense it and will begin to mirror your feelings.

The worst thing you can do is to raise your voice and repeatedly command them to do certain things, as this will only confuse or freak out your pet. If they ever do stay still, you’ll get photos of them with flat ears and concerned eyes that don’t look good on camera. Remember, they can sense what you’re feeling, so the more relaxed you are, the higher the chances of you getting a decent shot. It helps to remember that you can correct lots of small issues in Lightroom and Photoshop. Focus on the dog having a good time during his session, and don’t worry about little glitches like drool or dirt that you can fix later.

Reward Your Pet

Don’t forget to pay your model! Throughout the shoot, offer them something that they really like to keep them motivated and to encourage them to cooperate. The reward is up to you, and it can be anything from treats and toys to belly rubs and other forms of affection. Treats can even serve as bait, props, or tools that can help warm up your pet for the camera. Use rewards to make the shoot more fun and enjoyable, as it should be!

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