Photography Expert's Tips for Dog Photo Shoots

Dogs move continuously. How are you supposed to get a picture of your Fido that isn't blurry? Right when you’re about to click the shutter he barks or something catches his eye. Dog photo shoots can be challenging, but they are also very rewarding when you capture the perfect moment that owners will cherish.

If you're anything like me, you expect your pooch to strike a pose like the dogs that are on the calendar hanging in your kitchen. When you see an adorable photo of a dog on social media, you think “Sparky can do that!” You get everything set up just right, and that's when Sparky decides he needs a drink or wants to go outside.

Dog photo shoots are all about planning ahead and perfect timing. If you know what to do, you can capture some great photos of your canine companion that you'll have to look back on years from now. Here are five tips for taking professional shots of dogs – even the most uncooperative models.

5 Photography Expert's Tips for Barking Awesome Dog Photo Shoots

Photography Expert's Tips for Dog Photo Shoots

1. Make the Pooch Comfortable and Presentable

Even well trained dogs might not understand how to stay still, not just “sit.” Try to reduce the amount of stimulus on the photo set, and provide the dog with treats so he feels content. You can also use treats to hold his attention on a certain point.

Cold water is also an essential item to have on set. The dog may pant and become dehydrated, especially under hot lights or outside on a warm day. If he isn't properly cared for, he isn't going to want to be part of any dog photo shoots. Be sure the dog has been fed, provide adequate fresh water and give him plenty of affection.

Dogs are no different than human models when it comes to photographing their best when they look professionally coiffed and groomed.

Take the dog to the groomer before the session for a trim, hair brushing and nail trim or you can do the grooming yourself at home if you feel comfortable with that. Check him carefully right before the shoot to spot any stray leaves or other debris.

2. Pick a Dog that Listens

Photography Expert's Tips for Dog Photo ShootsWhen you are shooting a larger dog, you need to select one that listens well to his owner. The dog will take all of his cues from his owner, so you need someone who is calm yet firmly in charge.

The dog not only needs to follow commands, but the overall mood and posture of the owner will largely determine the dog’s ability to relax and have fun. Over time you’ll find certain breeds are more willing and able to remain steady for long periods of time.

3. Handle the Puppy Challenge

Dog photo tips
Photo: Debora Gattuso / Dreamstime

This won’t come as a surprise, but handling puppy photo shoots poses unique challenges. Set aside extra time, as it might require an hour of shooting to find a handful of good pics.

If part of the photo gear involves a white background box, then expect the pup to get it dirty with either paw prints or nibbles.

Puppies also sleep a lot, so understand a quick nap may be needed before resuming dog photo shoots – or you can get some adorable shots of the puppy while he sleeps.

Puppies also are not as keen to listen to their owners when distractions like props and cameras are close by. Just be patient, and you're sure to get all the adorable shots you're hoping for.

4. Set Up Properly

You ideally want a motion picture camera setting. Dogs are always moving (unless they’re asleep), so you want to capture serial images and then simply pick the ideal shots in post-production. Taking quality shots of any subject involves managing the different aspects of photography. You want to pick good light, and never place the pooch in front of the sun.

One approach is to sit on the ground from a shadowed corner to take shots. You also need a clear subject and should embrace the rule of thirds and other basic photography guidelines. Don’t be afraid of leaving empty space around the dog, as you want there to be a sense of scale/openness.

Zooming too close to the dog will result in a “squeezed” look to the photos. You should also adjust to the minimum possible exposure and colors, for the most natural look.

Photography Expert's Tips for Dog Photo Shoots

5. It’s All About that Face

When photographing a dog, you have to put the eyes in focus. They evoke emotion, wonder, and devotion, and are essential for impactful doggy pics. Use catch lights to highlight the pupils for a truly stunning effect.

You can also capture the eyes and face when they’re in motion by shooting during eating, running, and jumping. Ask the owner to stay out of view for a few minutes and then suddenly reappear to grab the dog’s look of excited surprise.

A final tip is one that applies to every task and every day. Simply have fun. Your creative work will shine best if you enjoy the photo shoot, even if Bowser chews on your props and plays in his water bowl.

This guest column was written by Dreamstime Pro Photographer Debora Gattuso.