How I photograph dogs

And you can too!

I’m no expert.  I’ve learned the following things. I still have a lot to learn.  However, these tips might help you.
  1. There are two critical requirements for photographing dogs.
    You must love dogs and 
    the dog must love you.  All the rest of this below is just technical stuff.
  2. Your camera may not allow the flexibility that I have, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get good shots. Even the cheapest cameras today will give great results. It is the photographer not the camera. You can buy the same typewriter that Hemmingway owned, but it doesn’t mean you can write The Old Man and the Sea. You now own a camera that Ansel Adams could only dream about. Give him a throw-away camera you buy at Odd Lots and he’ll bring back a photo of Yosemite Valley he’d could sell today for $100,000.
  3. Remember how you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.  The more I photograph dogs the better I get.
  4. Get acquainted with the dog.  If the dog is friendly and the owner agrees pet the dog and call him/her by name.
  5. Get acquainted with the owner.  Ask their permission to photograph their dog.  I’ve never been refused and most owners love to have their animal photographed. Assure them that you are legit.  Let them know the purpose of your photographs and, if possible, give them a way to get a copy of the photos. Respect the owner’s rights and err on the side of protecting those rights. If you have no purpose in using the photos commercially or for personal profit you have a lot of latitude.
  6. Patience, as with most stuff, is paramount.  It takes time and many tries to get a good photo of a dog.
  7. Keep shooting and shooting.
  8. Try different angles, different backgrounds and different positions of the dog.
  9. Try to understand the mood of the dog and try to capture that mood. 
  10. Find out from the owner if there is a word to which the dog responds and have them say that word.  This often gets a reaction that makes a good shot.
  11.  If at all possible, get down on the dog’s level. The same rule applies to dogs as to photographing humans—get to eye level.
  12. Try to find a location out of the direct sun.
  13. Look for a background that will not distract.  Grass, sand and vegetation work well.
  14. Very active dogs require a shutter speed of at least 1/500  To keep a large aperture and a short depth of field I may use a farily high ISO of 400-800.  (This is geek stuff. Don't understand it?  Then forget it.)
  15. Get the eye in focus.  If the eye is in focus you don’t need to worry much about the rest.
  16. If you must shoot in open sunlight watch your shadow and the shadow of the other humans.
  17. When you get down to a dogs level they usually take that as a sign you want to play. Work with the owner to get them to sit or stay.  Sometimes I let the owner take the dog a bit of a distance away and then let them run toward me (as the leash allows) and shoot as they approach.  I sometimes use burst shooting for this technique.
  18. I have a squeaker that I rescued from one of my dog's toys and use this to get the attention and interesting reactions.
  19. Have the courage to throw away most of your shots. In post-processing I  zoom in on the eyes.  If they are the least bit out of focus the shot goes to the trash.
  20. I use Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop as my main processing software.  However, there are many good photo editors available—many free. Google’ Picasa is one of the best.
  21. I'll spare you the rest to the technical stuff.
  22. I try to do as little post processing as possible.  
  23. Last: the most important technique to get a good photo of your dog:  GET YOUR CAMERA OUT AND SHOOT. Cameras in cases or drawers give very poor results.

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