Capturing and maintaining a dog’s attention during a shoot could just be the hardest thing a photographer can do. Here are a few tips to help out.
Whether you’re working a gig or shooting in your own living room, photographing dogs is challenging. They’re always curious about everything around them, they’re easily distracted, and they don’t trust strangers. But, there are a few different ways you can earn their trust, take the photo, and nail exposure and focus.
Let’s take a quick look at how to pull this off!
Tape a Treat to Your Camera
One thing is certain in this world . . . dogs love food. Whether it’s human food or doggy food, nothing gets their attention like a delicious treat. The “how” is simple. Stick a small, rolled piece of duct tape or gaff tape to the top of your camera. Then firmly place one of their favorite treats on top of it. Once you’ve done this, let them smell it so they know whats at stake (a delicious surprise!). Now they’ll stare at you with the intensity of a thousand suns.
(This method also works for phones.)
One thing you absolutely must do is keep a little pouch or bag handy so you can feed the dog treats as you shoot. This way you can leave the treat on the tape. (You can buy small training treats at the pet store that are perfect for this.) I wouldn’t recommend feeding them the actual treat you stuck to the camera, as there might be tape residue on it.
Using a Ball or Toy
This might seem obvious, but ask your client to bring any and all toys that your dog loves. There’s always a chance they won’t be interested in the treats you’re offering, and they might only want their ball or toy. Dogs are very unpredictable, especially dogs that aren’t trained super well, so be prepared for anything.
Hold the ball or toy next to your lens. Be sure to actually throw or play with them after you get your shot, so the incentive is always there.
Your little pupperino’s unpredictable nature makes the actual shooting rather difficult. Not only do you need to catch focus on their face, you also need to get them to stay as still as possible. This requires a fast shutter, something like 1/500 or 1/1000. Which means you’ll need to open up the aperture as much as possible. However, now you’re dealing with a shallow depth of focus, which can be hard to work with if the dog is making small movements here and there.
So position yourself outside so they’re facing the sun or the light as much as they can (for a short period of time; you don’t want to hurt their eyes) and try to get as much light on them as possible. This should allow you to bump up to a f5.6 — or maybe a little bit lower. If you can, turn on continuous shooting or burst mode (on your phone) and snap away. It’s going to take a while to get the perfect shot. You’ll also be taking hundreds of photos so make sure you have space on your camera beforehand.
Big, Diffused Light
For studio portrait lighting, I avoid using a flash. You never know how a dog might react, especially if it’s not your dog and they’re unfamiliar with the environment. So I use a big soft, diffused light source: an Aputure 300d with a Light Dome. You don’t have to use a light this big; just make sure your light is big enough to cover the dog’s entire body. The diffusion helps minimize the shine on their coat.
Also, bring a reflector, even if you’re shooting outside. Since dogs stand on four legs, you’ll get a lot of shadows on their torso and belly. Using a reflector helps cast some light on their underside. This is especially helpful with darker-coated dogs.
Dog photography can be challenging and frustrating. You can’t really communicate with the subject! So just remember to take the shoot slow, and try to make sure they’re having as much fun as possible.
Interested in the tracks we used to make this video?
- “Soulful Grooving” by High Street Music
- “Sundown on Bourbon Street” by Bryan Lipps
- “Sweet September (1930s Mix)” by Cool Cat Music
Looking for more photography tutorials? Check these out.