Five Tips for Better Dog Photography

1. Start with a tired dog.  Run with him, play with him, whatever you have to do to get him to relax. It will make a world of difference when it’s time to settle him down for a photo.

2. Look for the light! You want the light to fall on the dog’s face and if possible, you want a bit of a reflection in the dog’s eyes (called a catchlight). So if you’re using window light, have the dog face the window rather than turn his back to it.

3. De-clutter the background. I don’t know if you’ve ever amused yourself by going to www.Petfinder.com just to see how bad the pictures really are, but there’s newspapers, dirty dishes in the sink, empty boxes of pizza, old tennis shoes — you can barely find the dog in these pictures. It’s like Where’s Waldo?  Even a plain white wall is better than a basket of dirty laundry or a stained carpet. Less is more.

4. Stay on the dog’s eye level. For some reason, people think if they bend a tiny bit at the waist, they’re going to get a great dog portrait.  Sorry! You need to get down so his eyes are level with yours.

5.  Do whatever you can to avoid using the flash.  Turn on all the lights, move close to the window, use a reflector — even go outdoors (in the shade, of course)  but using a pop-up flash is so tricky that it’s better just to avoid it all together.  There are lots of other ways to light your subject.

We go more in depth on each of these steps during our webinar — but if you practice these 5 tips, you will notice a dramatic difference!

16 comments

  1. These are great tips! I hope rescue groups realize how important it is to have a good picture of a pet. I worked in rescue before and always strived for the best pics of the dogs and cats. Potential adopters will not respond if they just see a blob on the website. We have to show these animals in their best light and show what they are like. Bad pictures don’t help these pets find homes. People respond to what they see first and will read the description later.

    1. I would always hesitate to shoot somewhere where the walls were painted a color other than white or gray. But sometimes you don’t have a choice! Bouncing the flash can help raise the ambient light in the room, but not everyone has a flash that can be tilted so we often encourage people to use continuous light (clamp on floodlights with daylight balanced bulbs are an inexpensive solution).

  2. That is a great Idea!!! Thank you so much!! Because most of the time I am in area that has no white or gray wall when I do rescue. I able to bounce but still pick up so much yellow. So your idea on clamp on flood lights is a fantastic idea!!! One more question what are daylight balanced bulbs and were to I find them? Lighting is always my nemesis…… I love any help you can give and I do take criticism well! When You in Photography people do not understand you always have to learn new ways and new things to keep your goals to get the great photograph. I will check out webinars!! Thanks again 🙂

  3. Many of the dogs you show aren’t on leashes or are you taking those out with Photoshop? I’m shooting at a county shelter and we set up inside a classroom. Even with a potty break before the shoot, there’s often no time to tire them out as you suggest. Very infrequently can we take them off the leash, even inside. With the volunteer handler and a big dog, it can get very crowded in front of a narrow background. The stress level is high for these dogs, and although we try to remain calm in front of them, many are uber-excited just to be out of their kennels so it’s a challenge to get a good shot. Any tips for keeping hyper, larger dogs in front of your background? Thanks for any suggestions. Hope to try your quilt idea for the medium and smaller dogs

    1. We ALWAYS encourage people to work with a helper so that you’re not trying to control the dog AND take the photos. It’s true they have lots of nervous energy. We always leave them on leash and photoshop the leash out. It’s much quicker to do that than try to keep them in front of the camera without a leash. If the shelter has scheduled play time for the big dogs (which they really should) — like certain times they go outdoors in play groups– you could plan your photo sessions to start immediately afterwards. We also make friends (with food) right away to distract them.

      It’s no secret that shooting at the local shelter is much much harder than just working with rescue groups. In my way of thinking, working with a rescue group is still accomplishing the same goal, because when their dogs get adopted they pull more from the shelters. So I prefer to photograph dogs that have been rescued by a group and have spent at least a few days in foster care. And I can photograph more dogs in the same amount of time because they settle down faster. Finding the right groups to work with may be a challenge but there are so many groups out there….

  4. Thanks Teresa,

    Yes Shelters are probably more difficult, but it seems like they need us more. Although new volunteer classes go on all the time, there are days when they have to call to try and get volunteers just to walk everyone once (and we’re the smallest of the 3 county shelters.) We do have a lot of Pit Bulls, but have found the majority to be good dogs. Thanks for doing what you do to help guide us!

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