Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Puparazzi: Taking action photographs of your dog

Even an expressive, jet black dog like Wilson takes a great photo
with the right lighting and camera angle.

I’m pretty excited - I bought a new camera last week – the main reason – to take doggie photos. I love taking pictures of happy dogs – and people tend to like my photos too, so here are a few of my learn-as-I-go tips. I’m a point-and-shoot kind of gal, so this is about what you're shooting, not how to use your camera. Don’t expect anything that’ll help you set your aperture and IS0 – you’re on your own for the technical stuff.

Most photos need three basic ingredients – a happy dog, a pretty location and sunshine – with you being on the right spot to focus the shot. These tips work really well for black dogs, who are sometimes more difficult to photograph.

Start with one happy dog. You are their everything – they watch you, they come to you for treats, hugs and to know that their world is safe. Know what your dog loves – treats, running, balls, toys, belly rubs – and work with it. If they like to play chase, play chase. And on the flip side, watch for hackles up or calming signals that tell you your dog isn’t happy – ears back, lip licking without you luring with a treat, yawning, etc. If you see any of that, first focus on calming your dog to make them happy, then try the photo thing much later. Use every moment – even photo taking – to reinforce training by rewarding good behaviours such as coming and sitting, and by completely ignoring and walking away from any undesirable behaviours such as jumping and barking.

Pick your location and set up your background. Look at your environment and pick a background for your photo. In our kennel yard, I like “framing” the dogs with grass, trees and fields in the background, rather than the building and parking lot. By doing that, the dog is the main topic in the photo. Watch for distractions too. In my yard, if I take the photo from the wrong angle, it looks like a tree is growing out of the dog’s head – like antlers.

It could have been a great photo of Bailey,
but there's a horrible tree growing out of her head!

Use sunshine as your helper.
For best results, the sun should be to your back or side. Because it creates dark shadows on their face, never face the sun when taking your dog’s photo. I find that early or late in the day creates the nicest facial shadows. Photographs taken at mid-day or just before dusk can have some odd lighting and cast some unflattering shadows. Watch how your own shadow enters the photograph. I’ve got countless images where my own shadow looks like a looming zombie attacking the poor dog! Taking photos on cloudy days is OK, but never as good as on a sunny one.

Be on your dog’s level. My best action photos are where I’m with the dog on their level – where I squat, sit or even lay down on the ground. After their initial energy burst, most dogs tend to come looking for you– they want to be with you. When you’re on their level, you catch the best facial expressions. For your own safety, it's best to always pay full attention to your dog when they're enjoying any off-leash freedom. Adolescent dogs in particular can get carried away and plow into you - especially if you're down at their level - so it's best that you always know where they are and keep an agile, ready-to-go-in-any-direction stance (and duck and hide your head).

My two typical photos are running dog and sitting pretty.

For running dog photos, simply photograph them enjoying their run. Another way to get interesting expressions is to walk with your dog, and when they’re not paying attention run in the opposite direction (towards the sun), turn around quickly, then snap another photo of them running towards you.

Lacey is my little darling who always comes running to me.

For sitting pretty photographs, you need treats or something they love - like a ball. Once the dog has had a bunch of fun, reward them for sitting with a couple of treats, then hold a treat by the camera lens. Voila – you’ve got them posing for their picture.

Buddy sits pretty for a tasty duck jerky treat.

Focus the shot.
Famous hockey player Wayne Gretzky skated to where the puck was going (rather than to where it was) … photographing dogs is a lot like that. Watch your dog’s movement, then aim and focus your camera where you think they’ll run – rather than to where they are. When your dog runs through that spot, click, you’ve got them. Trying to catch up to your dog to focus while your dog is running usually results in a blur.

Getting a great shot of Ashley is all about
anticipating where the dog is going, not where she is.

Finally, don’t get fixated. Have some fun, take a few photos, then put the camera away and have more fun. Don’t get frustrated if you don’t get that perfect shot – after all, it’s about being with and enjoying your dog – and tomorrow is another day.

If you’ve got any other helpful tips, please share – I’d love to hear about them.

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