Thursday, August 25, 2011

Tips + Tricks | Photographing Dogs

I've been getting a lot of requests lately for tips on how to take better dog photographs, so I decided to write up my tips and tricks in a blog post.

Please keep in mind, I'm not claiming to be an expert pet photographer!  I certainly have taken more photos of dogs then of all other subjects combined, but 99% of those have been of my own dogs. When they were puppies they were growing so fast that I took hundreds of photos of them every day. Now that they are older, I don’t photograph them every day, or even every week, but they are still the most available subjects for me to shoot any time I feel like breaking out the camera.

What can I say? Most people abuse their children with their cameras, since I don’t have kids I have to use my dogs.

So, here is what I have learned over the years about taking photos of dogs:

1. If you do nothing else, the number one thing you can do to get better photos of your dog is to get down at their level. When photographing them, you want to be at eye level (or close to it) with them. So, you are probably going to have to sit or lay on the ground with them.

2. A tired dog is a good dog to photograph! The more worn out a dog is, the more likely it will be to stay in place when you tell it to sit or lay down. So, try to make sure that the dog gets a lot of exercise before you start taking your photos.

3. If you are photographing the dog away from it's normal environment, make sure you allow it plenty of time to check out the surroundings and get used to all of the new sights, sounds, and smells before you begin.

4. Don’t try to photograph the dog alone!  It is much easier when you have someone there to help you out.  They can help get the dog to sit or lay down in place, and then help get their attention for the camera.  Never be afraid to ask for help if you needed it, especially if the dogs you are taking photos of aren't yours.  The owner can probably give you a lot of helpful tips about how to get their pet to respond to what you want it to do.

5. Treats, treats, and more treats!  Whenever I am photographing dogs, I keep my pockets well stocked with tiny treats.  A favorite toy, or anything that the dog really likes would work, too!  I use the treats to get the dog to look where I want it to look.  So, if I want the dog looking straight at the camera, like in the photo below, I usually take a treat and balance it on my camera lens.  Lexi is really staring at the treat right above the camera, but you can't tell when you look at the picture.

If you want the dog to look off to the side, like in the photo below, then just hold the treat or toy there and get the dogs attention (this is often easier if you have someone else hold the treat/toy for you. Or sometimes you can just have the other person stand where you want the dog to look and call to it.)

6. If all else fails, use a leash or tie out. Sometimes you just can't get a dog to stay in place, and it will keep walking up to you for attention. If this is the case, then you may have to hook the dog to a leash or tie out to keep them in place. We are so used to seeing dogs on leashes, that even when they are attached in the photos, we rarely notice it. Plus, you can usually place the tie out so that it is behind the dog and barely visible.  In both of the photos below, the dogs are attached but I bet you didn't notice until you looked for it...

7. Sometimes photographing pets doesn't go like you plan.  You just have to roll with it and do the best that you can.  Even if your photos don't turn out perfect, they're still cute photos!  That's the best thing about photographing dogs and babies - your subject is so cute that no one will notice the small flaws in the images. In the photo below, I wish that I hadn't cut the edge of Zoe's ear off along the left side of the photo...

And here I wish my shutter speed had been just a little faster and Lexi's tongue wasn't blurry, but I still think the photo is a keeper! Would I present it to a client? Probably not. But would I put it up in my own house? I sure would!

8. And finally, photographing two dogs is crazy hard. If you thought trying to get multiple people looking at the camera at the same time is hard, try photographing dogs! It takes hard to a whole new dimension. But, with time and patience it can be done. Just don't expect to do it on the first try. If the dogs you are trying to photograph aren't trained to sit, lay, and stay, you're in for quite a challenge, but just keep at it and eventually you will succeed.

Of course, it’s awesome when you get great shots, but if you ask me one of the best things about pet photography is the hilarious out takes! Here are two of the funny photos from recent sessions that had me laughing out loud the instant I saw them!

And there you have it! If there is something I forgot to address, leave me your questions in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them.

(You may also want to check out this post full of tips for capturing photos of your dog's personality.)

Michele Whitacre is a portrait photographer serving Phoenix, Arizona and the surrounding area. Visit Michele's website at Become a fan of Michele's work on Facebook. Follow Michele's updates on Twitter.


  1. I think she looks like a pirate say "arrrr" :)