“Smile!” How to take the perfect picture of your dog

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Every dog is unique and, in the eyes of every ‘pet parent’, the most beautiful animal to ever walk the earth. That’s just how it should be, but how do you capture that spirit, that personality, that ‘something special’ about your dog in a photograph that you’ll always treasure? Well, the good news is that the advent of affordable digital cameras has made it easier than ever.

The techniques for capturing a stunning image of your dog are pretty much the same as that you’d use for taking photos of any other kind of wildlife – immense patience, flexibility over lighting and exposure, awareness of the feelings of the animal and lots and lots of shots! With a digital camera, it doesn’t matter how many images you take, so you can snap away to your heart’s desire. The more shots you take, the better chance of catching that one perfect image. Even so, it’s a great idea to be prepared so here are some handy tips you may want to consider…

Be focused

Before you even pick up your camera, think about what it is you really want to capture for posterity. Is it the way they manage to sprawl over the maximum possible area of carpet when asleep? Or the way they leap like a gazelle when they hear the sound of dinner being served? If you have a specific objective, time your ‘photo shoot’ accordingly and wait for the moment.

Focus is also important from the perspective of achieving the sharpest image. A camera’s autofocus system will have more success locking onto a solid object (like an eyeball or a collar) than a clump of fur. If your dog is moving and changing their distance from the camera, remember to keep focusing and refocusing all the time to compensate, so when that perfect moment happens, you can capture it in ‘pin-sharp’ resolution.

Be patient

Your dog doesn’t understand that you’re trying to take a picture – that’s why they refuse to obey commands like “stay still, right there!” or “move just a little to the left”. You’re just going to have to wait for them to strike the perfect pose in their own good time. Let your dog relax, don’t chase. If you want them to look at the camera, try holding a favourite toy above your camera to grab their attention.

Be bright

As a general rule, flash photography and animals don’t go well together. Some dogs are alarmed at the sudden bright light, and flash does tend to ‘bleach’ out the rich colours of an animal’s markings. Natural light – either outside or streaming through a window is not only far less ‘traumatic’ for the dog but also gives far better results in terms of colour reproduction. If there’s not quite enough light, the beauty of digital is that you can always artificially brighten the shot later on your PC.

Be prepared

Before you start shooting, make sure you’re using the right lens and that your camera is set to the right ‘shooting mode’. If you’re using an SLR camera, you may want to use a higher magnification zoom lens to enable you to take detailed ‘close-up’ shots from a distance without being in your dog’s face.

As animals move very quickly, you should have your camera set to a fast exposure time otherwise you’ll end up with a series of motion blurs every time your dog moves. On, an SLR, choose the ‘shutter priority’ mode and opt for a fast shooting speed, 1/200th of a second or faster, and let the camera work out its own exposure setting. If you’re using a ‘point & click’ camera, choose the ‘sports mode’ which will be pre-programmed to capture fast-moving events. If your camera has the facility to shoot continuously, set it to this option as well – you could be lucky and take a whole sequence of fantastic shots of your dog in action.

Be composed

A good photo doesn’t just happen by pointing the lens at your subject. Consider everything that you want to be in the picture as well as your dog. What will the background be? A sofa, a tree in the garden, a favourite dog bed? Perhaps you’d like the focus to be solely on your dog. If your camera allows you to set the lens to a wide aperture (with a low f-stop, maybe 4 or lower), you can create a very artistic effect using ‘depth of field’ to give a blur to everything behind your dog.

Think about camera angles. Do you want to capture your dog looking thoughtful, shot from the side; gazing off into the distance, shot from behind; or looking straight into the lens? Get down to their level on the floor – not only will this give a better perspective than shooting down onto the top of your dog’s head, but it will also help them to relax.

Be inclusive

Don’t be afraid to have humans in the shot. How much more special will that photo be, in the future if it also features another loved one. Sometimes, the simple inclusion of a pair of arms cradling the dog is enough to lend a real additional emotional warmth to the image, and it can also be a ‘sneaky’ way of keeping an overactive dog still long enough for you to get your shot!

Watch how the human and the dog interact with each other. If you’re lucky, you might just capture that perfect, candid moment, when a look passes between them or when the dog relaxes and breaks into that beaming smile.

Finally, the best tip of all…

If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying. The more your dog gets used to being around you and your camera, the more they’ll learn to ignore it and behave naturally.

And that’s when you’ll get the shot that will always melt your heart every time you look at it in the future!