Dogs are beautiful, charming, adorable – they should actually be in pictures. While this is true year round, this year it is especially fitting when many of us are doing our best to have fun on pandemic-threatened vacations. Focusing on our fabulous dogs is a great way to do this. Read on to find out how you can optimize the results.
The difference between a reasonably cute photo and one that needs to be framed and hung on the wall is based on two fundamental aspects: technique and behavior. On the technical side, opt for lighting and backgrounds that work in your favor. Having a proper understanding of your equipment can ensure that the focus and exposure are right. After all, having the right perspective can make a huge difference. For example, if you capture your dog at about eye level, you will generally get a better photo than a shot from above. (See the “We Recommend” list for more tips.) Understanding how dogs naturally respond to a variety of cues goes a long way toward creating a photo that does justice to your dog’s good looks.
Here are a few things to keep in mind.
To a dog, a camera is a creepy, huge eye. Dogs find staring both rude and threatening, and to them a camera looks like the biggest eye ever. Since a larger lens used at some distance is less of a concern to them than a smaller lens used up close, a portrait lens is a good investment. Speaking of eyes, this is where you literally need to keep your focus. A fuzzy tail or wind-blown fur can convey your dog’s essence by trapping its energy. However, your eyes must be sharp, otherwise the photo will look.
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Go for the head tilt. There is something delightful about a dog tilting its head. Noise is key to pulling out that head tilt, and the easiest way to get a dog to do it is to make an unfamiliar (and non-threatening) sound. Smooching, tongue clicking, saying “woop, woop” or even singing or imitating a bird can all lead to your dog looking at you curiously – and voilà, there is the cute head tail. Some dogs hold the tilt for a while, but many only do so briefly. So be ready to take the shot as soon as she moves her head.
Some training sessions will help guide your dog’s attention and positioning. For most dogs, training is best described as work in progress, but there is no need to be desperate. When it comes to photos, the main goal is to keep your dog in place and get his or her attention. Even if your dog doesn’t necessarily or consistently suggest these behaviors on cue, there are ways to get them to take a photo.
Many dogs are riveted by movement. So, when you wiggle your finger, wave your arm, or shake a toy, a dog will often stay busy and look in the right direction long enough to get the shot. Dogs that do not have a permanent residence can be encouraged by the photographer to stay in place with a slight amount of prevention. If you ask your dog to sit down and then need some space between them to get into position, pull back instead of turning your back. Our dogs tend to follow us when we turn away from them – a great thing in general, but not during a photo session!
Granted, reliable answers to clues simplify the process. I once took my dog Bugsy to a charity event with a photo booth. When I asked if Bugsy could have his picture taken, those in charge assumed that a dog would be taking too long and holding the line for the kids behind him, but reluctantly they let me try. I led him to the brand, said, “Bugsy, sit down, stay,” then stepped behind the photographer and said, “Look out.” While Bugsy was looking at me, the photographer took a few photos and then sent us on our way. It took about 15 seconds, significantly less than photographing a human.
Capture the individuality of your dog. Is her life divided into moments when she picks and moments when she wishes she would pick? Pick up a tennis ball or two in the frame. Is she attracted to a particular toy? Use it in the foreground. Is she keeping her ears asymmetrical, one up and one down? Does she tend to hang her tongue or usually raise her paw? Capture these moments and you will not only see a beautiful dog, but your beautiful dog too. When you capture what makes a dog unique, you get a picture that you love and want to share.
Embrace the goofs. No matter how hard we try to get that elusive, perfect photo of our dogs, sometimes the blunders are the best shots. In this photo, Erin caught her dog Saylor in an awkward moment, chewing one of the many goodies Erin used to help her costume-wearing partner feel happy. The result is one of my favorite dog photos of all time. It was certainly not the picture Erin had in mind at the beginning of the photo session, but this “blooper” is the happiest photographic accident. (Note that the lighting is perfect and Saylor is looking at the camera and recording her whereabouts.)
Do you have a favorite photo of your dog, either one that exactly suits you or one that fits into the blooper category? Please share – we would love to see your dog’s picture!