My Dos and Don’ts in dog photography

In photography there are so many things to pay attention to. One can easily get overwhelmed by all of the camera’s functions and even image conception, especially in the beginning. I can remember well how I started photography around four years ago and knew nothing at all. I never changed any settings of the camera, never thought about the motive and used the image straight out of cam. This surely works for creating beautiful memories but I was determined to develop my skill and learn how to capture moments even better.

October 2014 vs October 2018

This is the reason I will tell you my personal Dos and Don’ts which are very important to me when taking images of dogs. These guidelines are fully subjective to my likings and everyone should take the images the way they want to since photography should also be all about the fun! 🙂

1. Use manual mode

Auto mode vs. manual mode

This was the worst topic for me in the beginning. Why use manual mode when the camera can do it all alone in automatic?

The automatic mode is great for people who may want to take holiday photos and snap some moments here and there. But developing your photographic skills definitely means facing this matter as well, even if it looks hard in the beginning. When taking pictures manually you set up aperture, ISO-sensitivity and exposure time yourself. Every factor depends on the others. If you already know all about this or take photos only using your phone, you may skip this part. 🙂

The aperture value determines how many light can flow into the camera and hit the sensor. Lower numbers mean a bigger opening of the aperture iris. The background of your image becomes softer and blurrier with widely opened aperture values. When photographing dogs I usually use the widest aperture and work my way up to more closed values when photographing more dogs in one picture. I usually set the aperture value first since the rest can build up on that. The value of the open aperture depends on the lens you are using but you can easy get a fixed focal length lens with an open aperture of F 2.0 for not too much money.

After setting up the aperture I just go by feeling for ISO and exposure time. If it’s bright in your place, a lower ISO setting is what you want to choose. You might need to raise the ISO value when it’s getting dark or very cloudy. (Beware: in some camera manufacturers the image gets noisy when choosing too high ISO values – yes, we are looking at you, big manufacturer with the C). Personally, I choose to keep ISO values below 600.

The perfect time for choosing aperture can be found by trying. If it’s bright, you need a shorter time of exposure, if it’s darker you need more time. I never take longer times than 1/600s because the image might get blurry because of micro movements as well in your hand as in the dogs. Always remeber that the result is made by all three of those factors, technically speaking. My advise is to take your camera and learn what suits you best by trial and error. Taking test images before starting the real shoot is vital.

2. Always take pictures on eye level

higher vs. on eye level

In my opinion this is one of the most important aspects. If you’re taking photographs of an animal it will usually be the main object of your image. The best method to underline this fact is to simply align the camera’s lens with the eye level of your dog. Usually people tend to take pictures from a higher level, sometimes even their own point of view simply because it’s comfortable and easy. But this will affect your motive negatively because suddenly the background dissapears and the image will consist of way more ground than you would want it to. Having small dogs results in laying down in the dirt or inventing crazy pretzel moves like I did 🙂

Surely there are different stylistic devices or possibilities, I love to take dog pictures from straight above them since it makes a whole different image. But when I take “normal” portraits from the front this rule is my holy grail.

3. Avoid direct sunlight

sunlight vs shadow

Don’t get me wrong: light is essential for photography and makes a great stylistic element but you should be cauteaous using our central star as a source of light. Many people think that taking photos in the sun is an easy way to work with low exposure times and ISO settings. But direct sunlight also produces sharp shadows and edges in your dog’s face. They pinch their eyes because it’s so bright and the facial expressions look rock-hard. Dogs with white or bright fur will start to shine in a negative way and your image will have burnt out areas with no details.

This is why cloudy days or sunset and sunrise are my favourite for taking photos to create a certain mood. If it’s a bright, bright sunshiney day (catchy tune in your head forever, enjoy) I always look for patches of shadow to place the dogs in. This will result in relaxed facial ecpressions and softer looking fur.

4. Image section and distribution

Image section changes the whole effect of the picture

This aspect is very important for creating harmonical photos. Always keep in mind to select an appropriate motive section. You can choose, for example between a full body shot, half portrait, portrait or even detail. It is important not to cut off ears or paws but rather try to distribute your image elements in a reasonable manner or alternatively crop it in post-processing.

The sections of the image are something you shouldn’t ignore. Art and photography deliver many good ideas on how to arrange your picture elements. Best practice examples are the rule of thirds, the golden section or the fibonacci spiral. I have been working with these before but don’t feel they are too important. My pro-tip: always keep track of the viewpoints of your models and the background. If you place your dog in the right half of the image while it looks to the right, you would create a negative tension in a part of the image where nothing happens. If you put your dog on the left and it looks to the right, the viewer of your image follows the dog’s viewpoint. If the right section of the image has elemets like stones or tree trunks it might make the empty space more interesting but don’t overdo it or the image might feel too uneasy. Always keep the horizon straight and if you didn’t while taking the picture try to correct it afterwards.

5. Don’t worry about pricey equipment

pricy equipment isn’t the most important factor

“You need pricey equipment to be able to take good photographs”: a common misconception. The more expensive the camera the better the images. This is what you will hear every now and then and it’s simply wrong. I wasn’t able to afford good equip in the beginning so I started off with a 200€ camera and a 50€ lens. I learned a lot and yes, I was able to take good pictures. Of course with some cameras you are pretty limited (especially regarding movement action shots) but looking at a major portion of the instagram portrait shots you wouldn’t notice which came out of a high-end camera and which out of a beginner model when taken by the same photographer. I did not buy new equipment before I felt that the current camera was limiting me which took me some years. Don’t let yourself get put under pressure, even a smartphone or a beginner camera can produce good shots when being used by a good photographer!

Don’t give up and have fun!

Of course there is much more to photography than what was written down here and many people might not benefit from these tips because the have proceeded much further in their skill level. I for myself know that these advice would have halped me in the beginning because I made bunch of mistakes and taught everything myself. In this very moment I still learn about post-processing and try new things. Editing the images is it’s own step in finishing the picture and has big impact on how it will look like in the end. This is even worth an own blog post.

Photography is a craftsmanship. Learning to master it will be accompanied by fallbacks and being dissatisfied by yourself. Just don’t give up, try new things and most importantly: never lose your passion! Always remember that photography should be fun in the first place. Especially working with dogs it’s important to remember to stay positive and relaxed for the animal’s wellbeing and great pictures!

If you still have questions on photography, feel free to ask away! I love to help as much as I can! 🙂

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