Dogs are more than just pets, they are part of the family. And let’s face it: your cockapoo is CUTE. Just as most of us have albums full of holiday photos and shots of memorable occasions, it is equally important to include pictures of your best friend, since he is a member of the family. However, getting your pet to sit still and say “cheese” on command is easier said than done. Patience and practice are the key to snapping the ideal shot of your furry friend. Here are some recommendations on how to take perfect pictures of your dog.
1) Have the right equipment.
Whenever you can, use good equipment. Some mobile phone cameras are good enough for the job, and any photo of your dog is better than none. We have seen some excellent photos of dogs, taken (and even retouched and shared) with nothing more than a smartphone. The next step up, however, is a decent digital camera. These are a normal household item in many homes these days, and there are many good cameras that cost under $100, like the Nikon CoolPix or the Canon PowerShot. Both of these cameras are well-reviewed and will help you take excellent photos of your pets. For more professional photos (for instance, if you wish to sell photos on stock photography sites to supplement your income) you should consider investing in a good DSLR camera that comes with a professional quality lens, like this Nikon D3200. We have made a small income for years off of photos we contributed to stock photography sites, and we often see our dog’s photo on websites and in magazines. For instance, the donate button on the upper right section of the PETA UK page is a portion of a photo I took of Albion on the railroad tracks near our home. (Editor’s Note, June 18th, 2013: PETA has recently changed the photo, as sites will sometimes do. But Albion’s mugshot is still used in lots of other places!) Yes, your dog can be a star!
Try to use uncluttered backgrounds, so that your dog can be the star of the shot. Shots full of background material, especially when that material is in-focus and close to the dog, will appear confused and messy. You have undoubtedly seen many professional images with a white backdrop. This is a simple and ideal solution for professional photographers: all you notice in these “isolated” shots are the subjects, because there is nothing else for your eyes to be drawn to. While you may not be able to get this result at home or outside, you can still do your best to minimize the amount of unnecessary components in the background of your shots.
Your background does not have to be white to help bring out your subject. Above, you can see one of our favorite photos of our cockapoo, playing with a red ball in the green grass. Notice how the grassy background is fairly uniform and doesn’t overwhelm the very different colors of Albion and his ball, making those subjects the stars of the photo. If this picture had been taken on a carpet with the same coloring as our dog, or on a red floor mat the same color as the ball, it would have much less impact than it does. This photo could be retouched in photo editing software to be even more colorful and striking, with some simple adjustments to saturation!
Usually, you aren’t going to get the perfect shot in one go. You will need to take lots of shots (digital shots cost nothing, so take as many as you want) to get one great shot. This is especially true with “action’ shots. You may take 100 photos of your dog playing at the park before you get one well-framed action shot that you really love. Look at the shot on the left, of our Albion playing with a pug. Note the crazy positions and funny expressions. That shot was one of only two photos we got that day worth saving – and I was taking photos almost non-stop for an hour. This is common even in professional photography. Photographers take tons of photos to get one keeper.Be prepared to experiment with shots of your dog from different angles and in new settings. Try different modes on your camera, such as “action” or “sports” modes for taking photos of your dog when he is playing. All of these things can lead to better photos than a simple shot of a dog sitting still and staring straight ahead. For instance, a dog with his head cocked to one side as though he is listening is an adorable sight. This isolated (white background) shot of a puppy with his head stuck in a slipper has more entertainment value than if he were simply laying on the floor. Although this shot was set up by a professional stock photographer, you can achieve similar results with some creativity and persistence (most likely, there was a treat inside this slipper)!Another tip on backgrounds is to use one that is further away, so that your camera focuses on the closer subject (your dog) and causes the background to be out of focus. This will help draw attention to the in-focus subject – your pet. The same rules about color apply here, but it allows for more natural photos, such as the photo below, where our dog and his friend were photographed in the snow, against a backdrop of out-of-focus winter trees. This shot is quite nice because it is “natural” – the dogs had been playing for a while and were not paying attention to me (the guy with the camera)!
3) Teach “stay” for easy shots.
Be sure your dog is capable of sitting still, using the “stay” command, for at least 20 seconds. That allows sufficient time for a photograph to be lined up and taken. Do not be tempted to reward him for only a very short sit, as you are going for length here.
Once you have managed to have your dog sit for a length of time, practice taking some photographs. Continue to reward acceptable behavior as your dog obediently sits and stays where you command. If you are attending a professional shoot, be aware that your dog will be experiencing a different environment with different sights, smells and sounds. Do not be surprised if he is distracted by noises, lights and activity. Remain calm and exercise patience, being prepared to return him to the designated spot on numerous occasions before you get the shots you really want.
If you want to take family photos that include your dog, you will likely want some of your photographs to be of your dog looking head on into the camera, while sitting in the midst of your family. Have the photographer hold a treat and give the command to “stay”, and hopefully your dog’s attention will be held sufficiently to achieve the shot you are looking for.
If you are having trouble with basic obedience commands, including “stay”, you should check out our free Cockapoo Obedience Training Guide.
4) Experiment with different angles, settings, methods, and props.
5) Lighting is important.
Avoid using the flash whenever you can, as the sudden light may cause an ugly reflection in your pet’s eyes that gets caught on camera, and may also hurt their eyes. Instead, try to have adequate lighting when you take a photo. If you are indoors, turn on lots of lights, and try to position your dog in a way that none of those lights are in view of the camera. Ideally, the most light in the room will be coming from behind you. The same goes for outdoor shots: the best shots will be taken with your back to the sun. This will allow the front of your dog to be illuminated instead of in shadow, and a nice bright picture can prevent graininess from appearing in the photo.
6) Take LOTS of shots.
7) Be patient!
Don’t rush or force your dog to do anything he is uncomfortable with, just to get a good photo. Natural shots, where your dog is content and relaxed, will always look better than forced or staged shots. Your dog doesn’t understand photography, so you can’t expect him to understand why you need him to behave a certain way at a given moment. Don’t stress your dog or yourself out over what should be fun. Use positive reinforcement for staged shots, such as photos of your dog sitting pretty. For more natural photos, let your dog forget you and the camera are even there. It will take time to get the very best pictures, so expect this and be patient!
8) Share your new hobby.
Once you have your collection of photographs, be sure to cherish them. Keep physical copies safe in an album, which can be enjoyed time after time. Share your new favorite digital shots with friends on Facebook or Pinterest, and see what sort of photos others are taking. You may get some new ideas, and are likely to also get some compliments along the way!
Do you have other tips to add? Share them in the comment section below, so that we can all benefit!