The Essential Guide To Dog Portrait Photography

The Badass Pooches

Woof woof! Dogs are our constant companions and have been since the Stone Age. We love them, care for them, walk them, play with them, and in return, they give us great affection and protection. They are our best friends and though their lifespans are typically short, we always remember them. Here’s how to capture the looks and personality of your dog.

Shoot Low for Portraits, Up High for POV

Hannah the Dog

If you want the perfect portrait of your dog, you’re going to have to get on all fours. More like your knees to be quite honest, or kneeling down. Either way, being up top the way us humans are gives us a very boring perspective for the most part. In order to take an excellent dog portrait, you need to get down to their level of the world and see things the way they do.

Being down low with another animal also puts your mind into a different perspective as opposed to just looking down at the wonderful pooch. It’s almost as if you and the dog are equals and you’re just observing.

Of course, shooting from up above delivers photos of the human perspective of your dog. Perhaps it is sitting there, waiting patiently for you to scratch it behind the ears or give it a treat. On the other hand, it could just roll over onto its back and hope that you rub its belly.

More on that later in the “Capture It’s Personality” section.

Get the Entire Face in Focus

Dog wants to sleep

Most of the time, many portrait photographers will recommend that the eyes always be in focus—this is the case even so with dogs. I feel that when you get the entire face in focus, much more of a story is told. Sure we may be able to get a hint of the story with just reading the eyes, but why not give us the entire tale?

Take the photo above. Truthfully, I forgot the name of this dog, but she was perhaps one of the calmest dogs I’ve ever photographed. If I had gotten down lower and just photographed her eyes, we wouldn’t have been able to know much about the dog. So instead, the choice was taken to get up to her level (as the dog was laying down on a rock) and focus on her entire face. In doing this, I was able to capture a much better moment. The dog is clearly just laying there relaxing and enjoying the shade of the trees around her, evident in the green shrubbery behind in the out of focus areas. We also see a bit of the dog’s personality in this shot: she, evident by the pink collar and leash, likes to be a bit fancy, also evident in the detailed butterfly pattern in the collar and leash.

Her face also clearly tells us that she is tired.

What else can you tell about her?

Read the Body Language

Dogs don’t speak human, and humans don’t speak dog. But we can read visual cues from one another as man and canine. A great thing to do is take notice of how it is presenting itself to you. A dog with its head up high and with great posture is very confident. Also, take notice of the tail. A dog wagging its tail means that it is very excited.

Need more? Look at its face when it is barking. Dogs have vicious and friendly barks in addition to the barks that simply try to get one’s attention. If you read the face, body language, and eyes, you’ll be able to figure it all out.

Capture Its Personality

Pixie, the Fairy Dog

Each dog has its own unique personality. Some are socially awkward. Some are shy. Some are bold and confident. And others love to dress up and be pretty. No matter what personality the dog has or it’s wearing, it will always be different than every other canine in the dog park. When they show off the special colors that make them up, have the viewfinder to your eye and your finger on your shutter dial. Great places to see their personalities come out are in large grassy fields, parks, snowy areas, etc. Different places give different dogs different feelings.

Capture the Humor

Dogs can be silly, goofy, or caught in situations that are funny. Documenting these moments on your CF card is important as it will give you memories that will always make you or your client smile. Perhaps your dog is rolling around on the floor or trying to catch their tail. At a moment like this, the camera should be focused on the dog spinning around. Alternatively, the dog could be lounging out lazily on the couch. Moving yourself around for unique composition ideas will deliver you the best image. For this, it will probably be best to shoot with a prime lens of some sort.

Shoot Fast

Providing the dog isn’t a serious old-timer, most dogs are pretty fast—especially the small ones. Take your Terrier out onto the beach and you’ll see how amazingly alive and excited he will become. Now try to capture it—unless you’re a trained sports or wildlife shooter, it may be a bit harder. In a situation like this, crank up your ISO and perhaps close your f-stop a bit. Most dogs get very excited or happy when outside of a home. This is where most owners will just let the dog roam free (providing it isn’t on a leash) and will let them play all they want. When they are running, it will be hard to track them as well unless you switch the camera into continuous focus-tracking mode.

Get Close

Shooting low and shooting wide enables you to get close up and personal with your canine friend. However, if you don’t like distortion effects, get a normal or telephoto lens (like a 50mm or an 85mm) and shoot from a bit further away. Just be sure to compose your images such that the viewer feels he is right there with the dog. If you’re in a sunnier area, remember to bring some fill-flashes with you.

Overexpose or Use a Flash and Filters

The Happy Puppy

Perhaps one of the most often used techniques for shooting concerts and weddings is to overexpose your image and then underexpose in post-production. Granted, this may be a bit tough when shooting fast-moving dogs. However, panning your lens/camera with the dog and slowing the shutter-speed down a bit will create a blurry background with your four-legged subject in focus. This is also probably where you will be reaching for your lenses with faster focusing motors.

What other tips can you offer for photographing dogs?

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.