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15 Dog Photography Tips for Perfect Pet Portraits!

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Dogs are the perfect subjects for all kinds of pet photography. Their energy, unpredictability, and joyfulness can be turned into eye-catching dog photography.
 
We have a few dog photography tips to help you get started. [Note: ExpertPhotography is supported by readers. Product links on ExpertPhotography are referral links. If you use one of these and buy something, we make a little bit of money. Need more info? See how it all works here.]

1. Make Sure You Know the Dog’s Personality

Portrait photographers often get to know their clients before the photo session. By getting a glimpse of their personalities, they have a better idea of what to avoid and how to give instructions. You can use the same technique when photographing dogs.

If your pet model is very energetic, you’ll be able to prepare yourself for a fast-paced and unpredictable photo shoot. If it enjoys lazing around, you can bring a few treats with you to catch its attention.

You can also use this information to inspire yourself. For example, professional travel photographer Theron Humphrey often finds inspiration in his dog’s quirks and habits.

Observe your subject and include its strengths in your pictures for the most natural results.

2. Capture Owner/Pet Relationships

If your subject starts to misbehave or feel uncomfortable in your presence, you can ask its owner to join the picture.

Dogs tend to feel most comfortable in the presence of their loved ones. You can use this opportunity to take heartwarming portraits.

If the puppy is yours, don’t be afraid of taking self-portraits!

3. Focus on the Eyes to Create Depth

Emotive dog portraits focus on the eyes. It is like human portraits. You can use the eyes to create depth, emphasise an unusual eye colour, or create a sense of familiarity. Use a wide aperture (f/2.8 or lower) to enhance this feeling!

Often, the puppy won’t start posing as soon as you pick up your camera. I recommend taking emotive portraits at the end of your photoshoot. That’s when your subject has used up all of its energy and is ready to relax.

A close up dog photography portrait
For the sharpest results, use manual focus.

4. Use a Black Background for Classic Portraits

Not every dog portrait has to be taken outdoors. If you’re a fan of studio photography, you can create a backdrop using a few simple tools. All you need is black paint, cardboard, and (DIY or professional) lighting equipment.

A black background will put the spotlight on your subject. It will create the illusion of depth, and make your photos look like professional fine art prints.

Black and white photo of a dog from the side, with a black background

5. Take Photos Using Burst Mode to Capture Motion

Continuous shooting (burst) mode is perfect for taking both epic and hilarious photos of dogs. Active dogs are unpredictable, which means you won’t be able to compose a shot during your session.
Instead of waiting for the perfect moment, take spontaneous images. Burst mode is a handy feature that will help you take lots of pictures within seconds. This way, you’ll get to capture all kinds of angles and expressions while your dog is running.

6. Use a Wide-Angle Lens for Fun Portraits

Wide-angle lenses have short focal lengths, which allows them to create wide compositions.

You can use them to create funny and unusual pictures of your pet.

Here are a few affordable wide-angle lenses:

7. Use Manual Focus for Sharp Portraits

In pet photography, autofocus isn’t always the solution. You can use manual focus when your dog is resting or taking a calm walk.

This will allow you to focus on the right parts of its face and take very sharp portraits.

Extra tip: if you want to have full control over your pictures, shoot in manual mode. Other modes, such as aperture priority, will do some of the work for you.

While this might quicken the shooting process, it might not give you the results you want.

8. Use Natural Light for Striking Pet Portraits

Natural light is the most accessible and helpful tool you’ll ever have as a photographer. Thanks to its ever-changing nature, you can use it to take all kinds of striking pup portraits.

Here are some of the best times to take beautiful pet photography:

  • The golden hour. Shortly after sunrise or before sunset, the sun creates a hazy, golden atmosphere that’s ideal for joyful photos.
  • A cloudy day. Even though clouds won’t help you take bright photos, they’ll create a pleasant glow. This will help you take well-lit photos no matter where your pet goes.

Avoid harsh, direct light as much as you can. Midday light will create unflattering shadows and make you squint!

9. Distract Untrained Dogs for an Easier Shoot

Some dogs seem to have an endless amount of energy. This might make your photoshoot more challenging than it should be.

You can try to distract them from their adventures using these handy objects:

  • Their favourite treats;
  • Squeaky toys;
  • The sound of your camera shutter (if they’re comfortable with noise);
  • Their owner’s encouragement.

    A close up of the photographer feeding a treat to a large white dog
    You can even take pictures while someone rewards the dog with treats.

10. Use the Panning Technique for Creative Dog Photos

The panning technique is often used to emphasise movements and create textures. If you like abstract photography, you’ll enjoy this creative approach to dog photography.

For this to be successful, you need to have an idea of where your puppy will run. Once you’re ready, move your camera in the direction your pet is running and press the shutter.

If you want to master this technique prior to the shoot, you can practice by photographing moving vehicles or wild animals, like birds.

11. Hold a Reflector to Eliminate Shadows

If you’re working in a studio, you might find it difficult to light every part of your puppy’s features. The popular side light technique, which is often used for portraits, doesn’t always look flattering in dog photography.

Your goal is to cast an even amount of light on your entire subject and make their eyes sparkle.

To do this, use a reflector, which you can either buy for a low price or make at home. In fact, it’s likely that you already have one!

A large sheet of white paper or a sheet of foil can easily replace a professional reflector.

Make sure you have an assistant who can help you hold the reflector.

Photo of a happy-looking black dog with its mouth open and tongue out in front of a white background
A reflector will make it easy for you to photograph black dogs because it will remove harsh shadows.

12. Get on the Dog’s Eye Level to Calm Them

There’s nothing wrong with taking photos of dogs from unusual angles. But it’s important to get on their level sometimes.

This will make them feel more comfortable. It will also encourage you to experiment with new angles. Shooting from the puppy’s eye level will get you the cutest pictures.

To take this tip to the next level, photograph your dog as it plays, runs, and rests. You’ll end up with unique photos that you and your clients will love!

13. Find Inspiration in Natural Poses

Every pet has its quirks. Instead of forcing it to pose for you all the time, find inspiration in its natural poses.

Your pre-photoshoot knowledge of your model’s personality will help your dog photography a lot.

14. Zoom In to Give the Dog Space

It’s important to give your subject enough space to feel comfortable, especially if it’s not your puppy. With the right amount of space, a dog will be more inclined to play around and forget that the camera is even there.

It will be difficult to do that if you’re standing close and staring at it through a lens.

A zoom lens will help you take high-quality photos of your subject from a distance. This will help the puppy get used to your presence. And it will give you enough space to experiment with different compositions, crop out distractions, and create gorgeous bokeh.

A pet photography portrait of a white dog

15. Start With Action Shots and Move on to Relaxed Poses

Even though dogs can be unpredictable, you can still plan your photoshoot to make the most of your time. Once you’re familiar with your subject’s personality, you’ll know when and how to take specific photos.

Shooting strategically will help you avoid a lot of unnecessary stress and make you a better planner.

For example, if your dog is very active, you should focus on taking action shots and using the panning technique at the beginning of your session. Don’t forget to use Continuous Focus Mode to get sharp results.

Once it settles down, you can switch to manual focus and take classic dog portraits. During breaks, you can reward it with treats and take beautiful closeups.

Cute pet portrait of a brown puppy sleeping
Sleeping dogs are the ideal subjects for photographers who want to sharpen their focusing and lighting skills.

Conclusion

Every dog lover deserves to have great dog photography skills. With a bit of practice, you can learn how to work with different personalities. If you master how to shoot strategically and adapt to various camera settings, you’ll become a skilled dog photographer in no time.

Even if you’re not planning to become a pro, you can still use these pet photography tips. They will help you take the best possible photos of your beloved pet.

For quick photography tips on the go, use our Quick Capture Cheat Sheets!

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