If you want to capture stunning photos of your (or your clients’) dogs, then you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, I share my best tips and tricks to take your dog photography to the next level. I discuss lighting, composition, and settings; I also offer plenty of fun little tool ideas to enhance your dog photoshoots, such as fairy lights, prisms, and more.
Ready to capture some creative dog photography? Then let’s dive right in, starting with:
1. Get your dog used to the camera
Unlike our cameras, dogs aren’t ready straight out of the box! It requires some training to get those epic dog shots.
First and foremost, getting your dog used to the camera is a huge key to success. Show that the camera is not something scary, something to get overly excited about, or something to chew (yikes!). I am a big proponent of positive reinforcement. Reward your dog for doing good around the camera and make sure that Fido is aware that they are doing a terrific job. Make the camera a good experience for your pup, not something to be afraid of.
Secondly, some basic commands go a very long way. A good “sit and stay” will do wonders for you, allowing you the distance you need to capture the right image. A “down” can also be helpful; same with a “mark,” in which the dog is trained to put their paws up on something you set as a marker. (That’s how those canine actors do it!)
Plus, training is a great bonding tool for you and your dog and will help turn them into a good canine citizen!
2. A tired dog is a good dog!
Each old saying has a grain of truth to it, and in this case, there’s significantly more than a grain. Basically, a tired animal is less likely to have the energy to misbehave!
A key tip for working with dogs is to get them tired enough that they won’t exert their boisterous behavior or protest having to stay still. Playing, running, and stimulating your dog before taking pictures will keep them mellow when it comes time to take the photographs.
3. Consider using a prime lens
While zoom lenses do offer a lot of flexibility for photographing dogs, I love shooting my dog portrait sessions with my trusty Canon f/1.4 50mm prime, and here’s why:
First, prime lenses are fast. The wider maximum aperture allows for faster shutter speeds, which means that you can freeze your sprinting pooch in action and get pin-sharp images as it runs.
Let’s not forget that the light conditions aren’t always favorable. On dull, overcast, days you’ll be thankful for that extra couple of stops, rather than having to boost the ISO and bring noise into the equation.
Additionally, if you want to make the pictures of your dogs stand out, then a shallow depth of field is a great way to go about it. A prime lens will allow you to open your aperture to f/1.4 or wider so you can blur out that background and make your subjects pop.
Plus, when you’re taking pictures of dogs, most of the time you’re not going to get the opportunity to place your subject in a position with an ideal background. When you’re photographing dogs, you often have to work with what you’ve got; here, having the ability to blur out background distractions is a huge advantage!
Bottom line: If you’re trying to choose the right lens for dog photography, a standard prime – such as a 50mm f/1.4 or f/1.8 lens – is a great pick!
4. Use protective filters
Filters are the nifty little panes of glass that screw onto the front element of your lens. This glass can protect expensive lenses from scratches, dust, and wet dog noses!
My own dog often wants to come right up to the front element of my lens, so by adding a UV filter, my lens gains some extra protection for those times when my pup is faster than I am!
(The glass can also prevent damage following impacts, such as when the camera is accidentally bumped out of your hands by an overexcited pooch.)
Just make sure to purchase a high-quality UV filter; lower-quality filters can degrade image quality, which is obviously not the goal!
5. Use window light for a flattering effect
Great dog photography requires great lighting, and for me, that’s window light.
Window light is beautiful, it’s (generally) soft, and it’s great for brightening your subject while letting the background fall into shadow.
To see the power of window light, take a look at these two images:
Not only does the window light brighten up key parts of the dog – while letting other parts fall into shadow for a more three-dimensional effect – it also lets you use a low ISO and a faster shutter speed, which will give you sharper, higher-quality images.
By the way, if you prefer to use flashes or studio strobes, that’s okay, too! Just make sure to cover them up with a modifier for that soft, flattering effect.
6. In a pinch, use your phone light
While window light (or carefully modified artificial light) is ideal for dog photography, it’s not always feasible to shoot near a window.
After all, you might be lounging around the house, notice your dog doing something cute, and want to capture it on camera. In such a situation, you simply cannot move the dog near a window for that perfect lighting! Nor will you have time to set up some flashes or strobes.
So what do you do? The next time you’re faced by a difficult lighting scenario, try whipping out your smartphone, turning on the flashlight, and pointing it at your dog. Test out different angles (45-degree lighting and other forms of sidelight tend to work great!).
7. Shoot in the right location
Much like with people, the location you are shooting in makes a world of difference. Is your dog an adventurer? If so, capture shots of your pup doing what they love best – exploring the beautiful outdoors! You can capture their love of the wilderness while your pet is distracted by something beautiful.
On the other hand, do you have a lazy dog? If so, maybe the house is their favorite place to be, so you should capture a lovely in-home session with your dog playing with a favorite toy or hanging out on the couch!
Some dogs are more difficult to capture in unfamiliar locations as they get nervous, anxious, or over-excited. You (or the owner, if you’re photographing a dog for a client) know the subject best. Do what you think makes sense to get them comfortable with their surroundings before starting your photoshoot.
Remember, the dog’s comfort and happiness are first on the priority list; photographs are second!
8. Get the dog’s attention!
Ears up, ears up! You want to get those ears up and those faces smiling. This requires a bit of attention-grabbing on your end.
Fortunately, getting a dog’s attention isn’t a difficult task. If you’re photographing your own dog, you probably know what works best, whether it’s treats or a favorite toy. If you’re photographing a client’s dog, ask them in advance if they can bring along a handful of attention-grabbing items!
9. Patience is a virtue
Patience is indeed a virtue and is even more valuable when capturing our furry friends. It’s easier to be patient with someone else’s dog than with our own, so if you are photographing your own pooch, remember to breathe and relax. Remind yourself that your anxiety can affect your pup. Be patient and the right moment will come!
10. Use burst mode
When you set your camera to burst mode or high-speed continuous shooting, you take advantage of your camera’s speed. This is especially important for action dog photography, such as when you’re photographing the pup snatching a frisbee out of the air or bounding around a field.
If you use burst mode, you can capture a whole sequence of shots; that way, you can pick the best file later on!
11. Bring a friend!
It’s okay to bribe your friends with pizza to get them to help pose your dog! Having a second person around always helps. That’s the reason photographing someone else’s dog is often much easier, too.
A helper can catch your dog’s attention, help you make sure the pup isn’t running away, and generally help when photographing your dog. So if you’re planning a shoot, always try to ensure you have an assistant on hand!
12. Create a stunning tinfoil background
Are you a fan of beautiful round bokeh? In my experience, a lovely bokeh effect can take a mediocre dog photo and give it an eye-catching, professional look – but stunning bokeh isn’t always so easy to create.
Enter an amazing DIY dog portrait tool:
Simply take some tinfoil, scrunch it up, and unfold it. Position the tinfoil behind the dog, shine a light on it, and – voila! – you’ll get a jaw-dropping bokeh effect:
This technique does require a bit of practice, but to get started, experiment with a wide aperture (f/2.8 is a good starting point), and be sure to move your dog out in front of the foil (the greater the separation between the dog and the foil, the better the background blur).
I’d also recommend you use a short telephoto or zoom lens, preferably above 50mm, and make sure that your foil completely fills the background. Finally, if you’re struggling to get bright-enough bokeh, try lighting the background separately from the dog (here, your smartphone can be a big help!).
13. Shoot dog reflection photos
This dog photography tip may be a bit unconventional, but it’s about as simple as they come, and it’s a great way to capture creative dog shots.
The next time you’re near some water, such as a puddle or a pond, ask your dog to sit. Then carefully angle yourself so that only the dog’s reflection and feet appear in the photo (you may need to get down low).
Then, in post-processing, you can flip the image to create a fantastic illusion:
Cool, right? Of course, you can always experiment with zooming in for reflection headshots, including more of the dog in the photo, and so on.
14. Use a mirror to create negative space
Minimalist dog photos are beautiful; the dog generally takes up a small portion of the frame while the rest of the shot is covered with empty space (e.g., a white wall or an out-of-focus foreground element).
Now, you can always create minimalist shots by working in a large, empty environment, but what do you do if you’re photographing in your house? How can you capture minimalist shots with cluttered surroundings?
It’s simple: Bring in a mirror.
Then widen your aperture to create a narrow depth of field, zoom out to include the dog small in the frame, then put the mirror close to your camera lens. Make sure that the mirror doesn’t cover the dog but does cover the rest of the frame.
That way, if your aperture is wide enough and the mirror is close enough to your camera lens, the mirror surface will be obscured, giving you a beautiful stretch of negative space:
15. Use fairy lights to spice up your dog photography
Fairy lights are cheap, they’re simple to work with, and – when used carefully – they can create stunning bokeh effects:
So grab some fairy lights (Christmas lights can work, too!), then position them in your photo background. You can also have your dog sit on top of them, then shoot down from above.
For the best results, make sure you use a wide aperture. And if the fairy lights aren’t sufficiently blurred, try moving them farther into the background and/or bringing the dog forward.
16. Use perspex to create beautiful foreground reflections
Reflections are a great way to enhance your dog photos. And you can get especially cool effects by positioning a reflective object close to your camera lens, then tilting the object until it creates a reflection of the dog.
That’s how I captured this image, which features interesting reflections along the left-hand side of the composition:
I like to use perspex for this trick – I carry a square of it wherever I go – but you can get a similar effect using a smartphone!
17. Use a prism to create stunning effects
Handheld prisms will create an effect similar to perspex, except the result tends to look far more psychedelic and feature interesting colors:
So if you’re after an especially wild effect, grab a handheld prism, then try placing it between the dog and the camera lens. Feel free to experiment with different angles and different distances – depending on the position of the prism, you’ll get all sorts of interesting results.
18. Shoot into the light for a flare effect
Most photographers try to avoid flare in their photos – but did you know that, by embracing flare, you can capture wonderfully creative results?
Of course, you don’t want to let flare dominate your compositions. But if you can keep the flare to one side of the frame while positioning the dog elsewhere, your main subject will stand out and you’ll get a lovely effect:
How can you create flare? One method is to shoot outside or near a bright window; you’ll need to position the dog so the light comes from behind and shines straight into the lens.
But another, easier way is to simply bring out your trusty smartphone, turn on its flashlight, and shine it directly into the camera!
19. Shoot from a low angle
If you’re after beautifully composed dog portrait photography, then I highly recommend you pay careful attention to the angle of your camera.
You see, many beginner photographers shoot dogs from a standing height, but these images often turn out very detached and even static.
Instead, I recommend you get down on the ground, which will give the viewer a completely different perspective and create beautiful foreground and background blur:
Plus, a low angle will give the viewer a window into the dog’s own little world!
I generally recommend you use a wide aperture for a nice shallow depth of field effect, and you can always combine the low-angle perspective with some of the tricks I’ve shared throughout this article (such as a perspex reflection!).
20. Keep the nearest eye in focus
My final dog photography tip is an essential one:
Always focus on the eye that is nearest to the camera.
And get that eye sharp.
You see, your viewers will pay attention to the subject’s eyes – and if the nearest eye is sharp, then people won’t worry so much about the rest of the image. For instance, as long as you have a sharp near eye, the dog’s body, and even the dog’s nose, can be heavily blurred.
On the other hand, if the nearest eye is blurry, then the image will immediately feel confusing and unbalanced.
So whatever you do, make sure to focus on the nearest eye (here, your camera’s animal eye AF can be hugely helpful!).
Dog photography tips: final words
Hopefully, you now feel inspired to capture some stunning dog photos.
Just remember these tips, and you’ll get incredible results.
Now over to you:
Which dog photography trick do you plan to use first? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Table of contents
- CREATIVE TECHNIQUES
- 10 Amazing Camera Hacks for Better Dog Photography
- ADVANCED GUIDES