How to Photograph Your Dog (Lesson One): The Basics
I’ll admit that most pictures of Bullett that we manage to take are blurry. He is a very energetic, happy, squirmy guy who struggles to sit still because he is so excited all the time. It took a lot of time, practice, and patience to get to a point where I photograph him multiple times a week and always have quality photos I can use for our pets’ Instagram, professional use, and to have precious memories around for years to come. Pets are seen as family members for most people, and having beautiful images of them around keeps the memories alive. We should all be taking pictures of our pets, and I don’t know about most people, but I am always happy to see anyone’s spam of their adorable pets.It’s totally worth putting in the time and effort so you have memories of your beloved family member forever. Here are some basic tips to help you get photos you can smile at, print out, and frame, with the help of some of Bullett's instagram friends and their talented owners:
Remember your photography basics.
If you haven’t been following the Unicorn Photo Academy introductory series, consider checking it out if you’re not familiar with basic practices of photography. It doesn’t matter if you’re taking pictures with your cell phone or a DSLR; having at least a basic understanding of composition, lighting, exposure, and editing will make a huge difference.
Catch them off guard.
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This is the easiest way to capture a pet, and it is a great place to get started. Is your dog sleeping curled up on your bed in the sunshine? That’s an adorable picture. Are they relaxing on the couch in a mellow mood, finally? Take this moment from many different angles until your pup wonders what you are doing and wants to play and get attention. Great moments also come from a post-zoomies rest where your dog’s face displays nothing but pure bliss--their tongue out wildly panting with joy. These moments make for some of the best derpy photographs ever. Bullett is no stranger to showing off how much of a dingus he is in his pictures.
It also helps to get down on your dog's level and either talk to them or make noises to communicate with them and get them to be comfortable while looking at the camera.
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This is true for anything I want to do with the pets whether it be training or photography. Your dog does not understand why you are making them do things for the sake of being Instagram famous. He wants to sniff around, run around, pee on things, play, and snuggle you while licking your face. Posing is not a thing that comes naturally to animals. This is especially true for puppies, who are just learning everything and have more energy than ever.
If your dog is food-motivated, this is basically just like positive reinforcement training. Whatever you decide to train your dog to do to get the photographs that you want, they’ll love to do it if they get something in return. Since dogs prefer humans over their own kind and live to please us, eventually you might be able to cut back on the treats and your dog will come to enjoy this time with you as a part of his routine. You can also teach your dog to follow a treat in your hand to the lens so that they are looking up at the camera.
Take a lot of pictures.
If your dog is moving around a lot, just hit the button basically on repeat. You may have to clear your memory card or phone storage later, but this gives you the opportunity to look through your dog’s every move frame by frame and pick his best moments.
Use Shutter Priority.
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If you have a DSLR, the most useful mode I’ve found is shutter priority. The faster your shutter goes down, the more likely it is that you will be able to capture an in-focus image of your dog’s moment in time. The lower the shutter speed, the more likely you are to capture blur from his movement. For instance, if your dog is running around and you want that action shot, put your camera to a high shutter speed and let the camera do the work while you work on composition and timing.
Sit and stay is key.
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This is my go-to command when photographing Bullett, especially when he’s wearing a product I’m trying to promote. When he wears a product that I’m trying to showcase, like his RuffWear harness, it’s important to be able to see the product clearly. I simply find the scene I’d like to photograph him in, ask him to sit, and then repeat “stay” multiple times so he can’t possibly find a gap to think our photoshoot is over. I can usually get many different angles and looks while he sits still. “Down” and stay is also another great variation of this command. I try to reward Bullett whenever possible.
The “Look at Me” command.
We taught Bullett this command to regain his attention and have his eyes on us when he is distracted while out on a walk. Turns out, this command works well when you want him to look at the camera, too!
Time of day is important
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This is a general rule of thumb for all outdoor on-location photography, but the cloudier it is the better your images will look as it diffuses . This is also true for the 2 hours leading up to sunset, or the couple of hours after sunrise (if you get up that early) as the sun is lower in the sky and is soft and diffused without any shadows. These times of day also have a flattering, warm glow that photographers call the “Golden Hour.”
Natural light is the way to go.
If your pet is inside, they always look best in natural light. If there is a window in the frame, avoid shooting towards the window as that can cause backlighting. We all know about those photos in our camera roll where your dog has laser eyes and you can barely see the rest of them.
The above tips are methods I use to photograph my dog, and are general tips that should work for most dogs. As a reminder, all dogs are different and some of these rules might not apply. For example, if your dog is not very food motivated you might have to resort to some patience and figure out a way that works for you and your dog if you are looking to teach any specific poses. Every dog is photogenic, so you just need to find a way that works for you and your pup!
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The Girl in the Unicorn Pajamas