The most important thing about a photo shoot with a dog is that they should feel comfortable, safe and happy where they are, so location is of paramount importance to achieve this. I always ask this question to clients when planning a shoot and I’ll get a variety of responses. Some will say their dog doesn’t care less where they go as long as they have their ball, while others are scared of places with lots going on. All dogs are different so you need to do whatever they are comfortable with and be flexible, too. I have turned up to a shoot where a dog is not feeling as comfortable as we thought and we moved somewhere quieter and their anxiety dropped and they had a good time. The dog’s welfare always comes first.
2. Make it fun
As with the location what you actually do on a shoot must be what the dog enjoys. If what the dog enjoys is always being half a mile away from you chasing squirrels, then you have a problem and perhaps a location like an enclosed field would be better. But in general I have found that dogs are motivated by one or all of four things: balls/toys, food, other dogs or you, their person. Sometimes dogs are motivated by all of these things. Very rarely they are motivated by none of these things and will nonchalantly wander off to sniff at various things. That does make things a bit more difficult, but if you can tailor what you do to what they want to do you will get more out of them. Also, not asking them to do too much at one time. I liken my shoots to a dripping tap - we do a bit, then move on, then another bit, then walk on a bit further. I always allow plenty of time for the dog to walk and sniff and just ‘be’. That’s really important too. Unless, of course, they are completely ball-obsessed, then you’re on to a winner!
3. Lighting and weather conditions
It goes without saying that you should never take a dog out when it’s going to be too hot or too cold for them. Some dogs are more robust than others, but my little Pugs, for example, would be freezing spending two hours out posing when it’s snowing and also would likely overheat in the heat of a hot summer’s day. It’s not just about the temperature, it’s also about the lighting. When it’s too bright things just don’t look very nice - colours are washed out and there is too much contrast between lights and darks. I like the softer light that you get on a sunny day a couple of hours before sunset. I also like a nice cloudy day - but not too cloudy as being too dark is as much of an issue as being too bright. It’s all about balance with the weather elements. Everything changes throughout the year so check sunset times and weather before planning your shoots.
4. Don’t expect too much - have patience - but do things quickly
A walk for a dog should be a fun time for them to have exercise, sniff, play and just to be with you. It should not be a military operation where they are sat for 10 minutes on end while you figure out your settings and make them stay. It’s boring and it’s not nice to make dogs do that. I’ve seen so many times people making a dog sit and wait while they take 50 shots of the same thing and then keep them waiting while they check the images. No, that’s not right. Get an idea of what kind of shot you want to do and in the meantime your dog can be doing their own thing, sniffing around or whatever. Take some test shots without them. Tweak your settings until you think they are right. Then, and only then, ask your dog to be involved. If you can get them to where you want them then great. Take a couple of shots quickly, give them the reward they deserve, whether that’s a treat, their ball or simple praise. Then check your images. Need to do it again? Fine, just allow your dog to do their own thing in the meantime and don’t make them sit there for ages while you faff around. Be patient with them, but also yourself. It takes time to learn the correct settings for different situations and it also takes time for them to learn what you are asking of them. But you should never, ever make a dog do anything they really don’t want to do.
5. Remember: dog’s welfare and happiness first, photos second
If you stick to this ethos in your dog photography you will create a situation where your dog enjoys the experience of being with you and taking photos. It should always be about the dog, their welfare and happiness and that is how you get happy dog images. Technical stuff can be learned over time, but this is the secret to doing it right.
Thank you for visiting my site and I hope you have found these free dog photography tips helpful. There’s more - have you seen my seven tips for photographing black dogs?
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