Is your dog too cute for words? Do you need to show them off because they do the smartest, silliest, or most adorable things? You guys know that I’m not one for doing a lot of that typical “dog parent” stuff. (We talked about this is “Why do people have weddings for their dogs?“), but that doesn’t mean I don’t secretly enjoy checking out a few choice dog Instagram accounts. Some people are just really good at taking pictures of their dogs, and I’ll shamelessly live vicariously through their adventures from time to time.
Maybe one of the reasons that I haven’t done something similar for Leroy and Janice is that I’m not all that great with a camera. Add in active, wriggling dogs, and you end up with pictures that look like a four-year-old took them. I don’t think I’ll be turning my babies into Internet stars any time soon, besides on this blog of course, but it did get me thinking about how those Instagrammers got those great pictures in the first place. As it turns out, dog photography is an entire world all of its own, and there are quite a few pointers out there for getting good pictures of your pet. Here are the best nine tips I’ve found, that I think are going to help me get a few great shots for this year’s Christmas card.
If your dog has never really been in front of a camera before, there are several things that could startle them right away. First, having a strange object shoved anywhere near their body or in their direction could be frightening. Second, the flash of a camera could be startling. Finally, the clicking noise of the camera shutter could also give them a start. Fixing these three things is pretty easy, though. Allow your dog to sniff the camera and figure out that’s not a living thing before you start putting it near them. Invite them over to investigate the camera and let them see you using it on other subjects, such as taking a picture of their favorite toy or a nearby tree.
To handle the issue of the the flash, simply turn it off and shoot in natural lighting. Professional photographers say this is better for beginners anyway, because it’s easier to get a natural look. If you are using a phone camera that allows you to turn off the shutter sound, that’s a great way to handle that issue. If not, consider turning the shutter sound into a type of clicker training. Train your dog to respond by staying still when they hear that sound, by offering lots of treats and praise when they follow through.
The key to getting those amazing social-media-worthy shots really does seem to be just taking a billion photos in hopes that you get one or two good ones. This is the key to all photography really, and it’s why you get those portrait photographers in department stores taking dozens of photos of your family before selling you just one. You may want to be sure you have extra camera batteries or your phone charger along if you plan on heading out for a day of picture taking. And don’t forget a good supply of treats for your patient pup as well.
Just about everyone takes pictures of their dog from standing over them, looking down. When you are walking your dog on their leash, a quick snapshot of their happy face is a pretty common thing to want. But the pros say that this makes your pictures boring and predictable. If you want something unique, get down on the level of your dog and take some shots from their point of view. Focus on parts of your dog other than the top of their head, such as their cute paws or their fluffy tummy.
One mistake that beginner photographers almost always make is getting tunnel vision on the subject of the photo. Don’t forget that everyone will also see the background of the image! Simple backgrounds, like an empty field or some distant green trees, make your dog stand out, but that doesn’t mean you have to abandon your urban home to get a good shot. Position your dog about a dozen feet or so in front of the immediate background, and any standard point and shoot camera will do that awesome “blurry” effect to keep the background less intrusive. Also pay attention to things like color – your black dog might not show up against a dark building very well – and placement of background items – does it look like that tree branch is growing out of yoru dog’s head?
One of the best ways to get a good dog photo is to have someone else on “play” duty, helping keep your dog interested and active while you just take the shots. Have a friend playing with your dog’s favorite flirt pole or squeaky toy, just be sure to keep them out of the shot while you click away. You can also have someone calling out commands for your dog, essentially treating this photo shoot as a training session. While they work on commands, you can work on getting a good picture.
Almost all professional pet photographers I investigated said the same thing: to get those amazing shots that seem to make dogs stars on Instagram overnight, the owners likely never planned a thing. Spontaneous shots in creative environments are always the best way to capture your dog’s unique personality. This means being ready to take photos any time and anywhere, and also taking your dog to lots of unique places or putting them in fun situations. Doggie play dates, for example, can help you get some cool new photos. Taking your dog to a new dog-friendly boutique, or even just introducing them to a new toy that captures their attention, like a puzzle board, can be good ways to get unique photos that look different from your usual walking photos.
Your dog has no idea what is going on, and all they know is that they want to play with you! So trying to get them to pose and hold it as you snap pictures is probably not going to work. You’ll have to be patient as your dog breaks their pose, or isn’t interested in coming over to the cute area you’ve picked out for their photo shoot. Although you can certainly try to entice them into photo-worthy poses and areas with treats and toys, at the end of the day, you’ll have to go with the flow. Try to work with your dog’s interests, letting them dictate where the photo shoot will go, and you’ll have much better luck getting fun, candid shots.
Don’t throw in the towel if you just can’t get the shot you want, either. Remember, “bloopers” are often some of the best things to share. You might even make a name for yourself sharing those really silly “mess ups” that only your goofy dog is capable of. Use what you can get and your dog’s real personality will shine through – remember, Grumpy Cat became an Internet sensation for looking cranky!
One easy way to get some super cute shots of your pet that will capture hearts right away is to use a wide-angle lens from a high vantage point, or from directly in front of them. It makes their noses appear big and silly, giving them a sort of fun-house mirror look – or, making it look like they are coming up close to boop noses with the viewer. It gives the viewer the sense that they are standing right there with the dog, and that immersion always makes a photograph feel more real. If you can combine this tip with the others about choosing the right background, you’ll have an instant classic that is frame worthy.
If you have a standard camera, a wide-angle lens can be purchased for your specific camera type. But did you know that you can get this same effect with a pretty affordable tool for your cell phone as well? There are clip-on wide-angle lenses that you can get for under $30 on Amazon, as well as kits with multiple lenses for under $15, so you can take all kinds of cute photos of your pet. (This would also be a really great gift for a pet and photography lover this Christmas!)
The last tip might sound like common sense, but really take this one to heart. You need to understand your pet’s behaviors before you start trying to get them into a photo shoot. Are they going to have fun following commands and having to wait on playtime while you take pictures? Does your dog just love the attention, and are they happy just being with you doing not much while you fiddle with a camera? If your dog needs more interaction than that, or they are so hyperactive that there’s no way you’ll get a good shot, then you need to come up with a new idea for a good dog photo. Your best bet in that case may be to just try to get some spontaneous photos of your dog as they play, and not worry about posing them or trying to get them to be still.
However, don’t assume that you can’t train a dog to like their picture being taken. If you can train a dog to sit, stay, come, drop it, and freeze, then you can train them to take some good photos. Just remember that posed photos of your dog standing aren’t the only types of cute photos out there! Watch for moments when your dog is having fun, or for times when they are in a cute situation (such as riding in a bike basket, or hanging out in a dog-friendly pub). These situations make for the best photos.
All in all, the biggest takeaway that I get from these tips is that it takes practice and lots of patience to get good photos of a dog. You do need to take your time getting your dog used to the camera, and you’ll likely need some practice yourself learning the best ways to frame your dog in a background, how to get the best lighting, and so on. Those sorts of tips, you can find on any photography blog. Here’s a good book about going from beginner to pro with basic photography.
With your pet, however, it’s important to consider the unique challenges of taking photos of a creature that doesn’t speak your language and mostly just wants to play. Be sure to take breaks during a long photo shoot, and to have plenty of treats or toys around to reward your dog when they do what you want them to.
Although I don’t think I’ll get Leroy and Janice online any time soon, I do plan to try to get some fancy shots for my scrapbook this year. I don’t have many pictures of Gloria, my first Boxer, and I’d like to save some of these memories with Janice and Leroy for the future. My first stop will be the backyard. I don’t think that a beginner photographer should start at the dog park where they need to be paying total attention to their dog, so I’ll just hang around the henhouse and see what happens. Maybe I’ll get some great shots of the dogs nosing around with the hens, or maybe it’ll be a waste – but either way, I’ll be having a lot of fun with my pets, and that’s what really matters at the end of the day.