How to master dog photography

Want to get better photos of your pet pooch? If only your pup could talk...

The  poop on perfect pet pix from the point of view of an expert.

Editor's Note: Canis lupus familiaris--common dogs--were first domesticated by humans thousands of years ago. Approximately 100 years ago, dog owners started photographing their household pooches with Kodak box cameras. While cameras have changed over the last century, dogs haven’t evolved much (sorry, Labradoodles don’t count); we've found one pooch (right) that is exceptionally evolved, and has a lot to say about being photographed by humans with the latest digital cameras. We've edited Bowser's ruff text, and present it herein...

Sit. Stay. Good human.

Do you own a dog? That's nice. I like humans, and if you treat us well, we'll do anything for you. We'll even pose when you take pictures of us--no matter how badly those pictures may come out!

My master takes photos of me all the time. At first, the results weren’t even worth paper-training myself on. But eventually he learned, and now he’s a great photographer. Based on my experience training my master to be a great dog photographer, I’ve come up with 15 tips that will help you get memorable images of your best friend.

After all, I'm an expert. Who are you gonna listen to--me or some human?

1. Think like a dog. Study our habits. Look at how we behave when we need to go for a walk (not such a good time to take pictures), what we do after we eat (we lick our faces!), and how we are among human kids, other dogs, puppies (I love puppies!), with different people and in different places. This will help you to anticipate our actions.


I just ate! Want to get a shot like this? When poochie finishes chowing down, he'll lick his chops. Be ready. Photo © Svoboda

2. A contented dog is a good subject. Feed me. Let me sleep. When I’m happy, I can be at your beck and call. Give treats. Have a treat on hand. If you tell me to do something (like sit in front of the camera looking at you) I expect to be rewarded. Do it several times, and I’ll cooperate like crazy. Mmmm, Dog Buscuits!

3. Get down to the dog’s level. Don’t make me strain my neck looking up at you! Get on your belly. If you’re a stranger, put the camera down for a few minutes and play with me. Let me sniff you, get to know you. I pose better when you’re not a stranger. Then, get those treats ready and start shooting away.


Eye-level: Get down to your dog's level and show his eyes--the windows into his canine soul. How did the photographer get this out-of-proportion head? By using a wide-angle lens. This show was taken using studio lights and an inexpensive white seamless backdrop. You could also take a shot like this with an on-camera flash with a diffuser. Photo © Phillips
4. Make eye contact. If I’m looking to the right or left, so will the person looking at your photo. Get my attention so I’m looking right at the camera. You can do that by making strange sounds. Really—it works! Clicks, whistling, mooing, even barking will get my attention. Sounds silly? This simple trick works on almost any dog as long as it’s quiet enough for him to hear you. Make sure to focus on my eyes. Even if the front of my nose is out of focus, my eyes should be sharp. If they aren’t, the photo will look like a mistake.

5. Get dogs doing dog stuff. If you want me to act naturally, put me in situations where I do the things I normally do. Like playing fetch. I love sticks and bite toys, especially when I'm young and teething. Frisbees, too. Get another human to do the throwing, though. Throwing and taking pictures at the same time looks rough.

Know what dogs like: We like to run, swim, and fetch. So, get pictures of us doing the stuff we like to do. Photo © Chandler

6. Check the light. As with any type of photography, make sure the light is right. Unless you have a studio, the outdoors is best. If you own a spoiled lapdog who never goes outside, try to take pictures near a window. Make sure my face is well lit. If I have dark fur, use a soft fill flash (with some kind of diffuser, please) or a large reflector to bounce light into my face. If you have neither, use center-weighted or spot metering, or overexpose 1-2 stops for dark-furred dogs.

7. Put us on a pedestal.
For indoor photos, a small dog or puppy will probably stay where you put him—if that place is off the floor. A coffee table or something similar that’s higher than the dog likes to jump, perhaps with a small rug or towel draped over it, can work a simple studio. Use an assistant to make sure poochie is in the right place. This way, you don’t have to chase all over the place for a skittish subject.

8. Avoid Dog-Eye! Just like you humans have red-eye, we’ve got dog-eye. If you use a point-and-shoot camera with a built-in flash, and it the room light is a bit too dark, we may get a weird green glow in our eyes. I am not a werewolf—don’t make me look like one. Whenever possible, avoid that built-in flash and use softer light instead. Use diffusion or bounce flash instead of straight-on flash. If you don't have that option, use anti-shake and/or boost your camera's ISO setting to increase its sensitivity in low light.

9. Get close. No, closer. No, closer than that. Fill the frame with my pugnacious mug. Don’t be afraid to use your zoom to eliminate anything that isn’t necessary.

10. Use humor. Go ahead. Humiliate me. Use wide-angle lenses and high angles to make my head look distorted and funny. Put sunglasses and hats on me--then shoot fast, because I’ll probably shake them off.


Pay attention to detail: Note how the little details make this funny photo work, from the starfish on the left to the just-breaking wave in the background. How many shots do you think it took to get this one? You can bet it took a lot--dogs generally don't enjoy wearing sunglasses! Photo © Steidl


11. Pay attention to detail. Look for potential distracting elements in the background and foreround, and either change position or move both of us to a better location if needed. Remember that things that might not be a distraction in the background when you’re standing could tower over your photo when you’re at my level.


Best friends: Humans are proud of their pooches, and we dogs love our people. We're like a part of the family so try to capture the mutual affection and pride of ownership when doing a shot with both dogs and people. Photo © Locke



12. Bath time is a good time to shoot. Although I hate baths, when I get out I shake all the water off my fur. I smell a photo opp! Bathe me outside. Set your camera to a fast shutter speed, and be ready. You can improve the shot by making sure the sun is somewhat behind me—those backlit drops flying through the air can make for a great shot. Even indoors, my drowned-rat look can be endearing (see above photo by Mason Resnick).

13. Puppies are always cute. This is a rule. Take lots of pictures of puppies. They’re nice and adorable, and if you get them off the floor, they won’t go anywhere.

Let’s paws and review: Get on my level. Show my eyes. Don’t be a stranger. Show me doing what I do best. Treat me a dog. You’ll be rewarded with pictures that will get other humans to sit up and notice!



What's in Bowser's Camera Bag?

I'm not a big fan of compact cameras. Reaction time is often too slow, and that harsh on-camera flash gives me "dog-eye". DSLRs, even starter DSLRs, are better. I like Canon, but an equivalent Nikon, Olympus, or PentaxDSLR-based outfit, with a shoe-mounted flash and a flash diffuser to soften the effect, will produce nice flattering portraits of dogs...and humans, too!

Photo © McDonald


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