Capture that Canine Moment-photography
Tips for taking better pictures of your dog
By Lynne McGuire

They give us unconditional love. They make our lives richer. It is hard to imagine what our life would be like without them. Photography is a wonderful way to capture forever the special moments that make up our lives with our dogs. Photographs of their images become our cherished keepsakes and record those moments in time. You do not need to be a professional photographer and invest in expensive equipment to take really good pictures of your dog. Understanding lighting, backgrounds, positioning, and composition will give you the basic knowledge to take better pictures. To help you capture your pet at his best, try these techniques.

 Mini phtographs of canine photography

 Shih Tzu Sugar Bear

Planning Composition
Try to show your dog's true personality by capturing their most characteristic expressions and poses. No one knows your dog better than you. What does your dog love to do? Let your composition reflect what your dog loves to do.

 Shih Tzu Sugar Bear photos

Try to take pictures during natural activities. Be patient. When you notice something that your pet does that is a unique behavior that makes an excellent photographic opportunity. This photo of Sugar Bear smelling the flowers was somewhat of a set up. I knew that one of her unique behaviors was that she likes to eat flowers. I have many pictures of her eating my potted geraniums with flower petals all over her face. So I was ready with the camera when I let her outside in the backyard. She spotted the pink Missouri primroses and went in for the smell!

 Shih Tzu Sugar Bear- smell the flowers.

 Shih Tzu-red swiss dot dog bow, vertical picture composition with eye level perspective.

Composition~ Vertical Pictures
Your pet photos will have more impact when you work at improving the photographic composition. Think outside the box. Vary your picture taking to include different perspectives. For example, try turning your camera sideways and take some vertical pictures. Let the subject matter dictate the final shape of the photo. In this picture, the chair back with its vertical spindles dictate how to turn the camera. All sorts of shots will look better vertically. Notice that Roxy is looking up slightly at the photographer. This angle effectively mimics the vertical elements of this photo.

Tip: The noise from a empty crunched up potato chip bag almost guarantees that alert and appealing cocked head look. Other effective noisemakers include clickers and squeakers. Repetition of a certain sound will use up its effectiveness, so be prepared to change tactics in a prolonged shooting session.

Use props for backgrounds that create a mood or feeling to the picture. My prop/background in this photo is a vintage quilt chosen for the soft colors to complement the royal blue dog bow. When taking your dog pictures, be sure and choose a background that allows for adequate contrast. A 3/4 view of the body is flattering for most dogs.

 Shih Tzu-modeling a royal blue dog bow

Backdrops and Backgrounds for Setting Up Your Home Studio
A variety of materials can be used for setting up backdrops and backgrounds when planning a photo session of your dog. Experiment with old sheets and blankets, even curtains and lengths of fabric can be used . The main idea when choosing a background material is to try to use one with a pattern or tone printed on it to create the effect that you want. When calculating how much fabric you will need for a backdrop, remember to allow enough for behind the dog and also to cover the floor. For this photo my dog is lying on a table that has been covered with the quilt, and the quilt is tacked to the drywall behind him as a backdrop. The dog should be positioned fairly close to the backdrop so that the background receives enough light.

Shih Tzu-Sugar Bear with royal blue dog bow in the snow

Your camera may try to focus on the subject that is centered in the shot. To focus an object that will be to the side of the picture, center the object in the picture, slightly depress your shutter button 1/2 way down to lock the focus. Next, reposition your camera while still holding the shutter button so that the subject is away from the center. Press the shutter button all the way down to finish the picture.

No Need to Center Your Subject.
The process of arranging elements in a scene is called composition. A good photograph will have a clear focal point or point of visual interest. One way to create good composition is to avoid placing the focal point (subject) in the center of the picture. Move your subject away from the middle, off center, to create interest. A compositional technique called the rule of thirds can help guide you in subject placement. Imagine that the picture is divided into equal thirds, both vertically and horizontally. Place your focal point (subject) away from the center and near one of the quadrant intersections. This makes your composition more dynamic and interesting to the eye, especially when framed or balanced by the surroundings. Elements such as this birch tree clump with peeling bark in the next quadrant adds a sense of distance and dimension to the picture.

 Lhasa Apso-photo

Create pictures with greater impact.

Zoom in or get close to
fill in the viewfinder or LCD display with your dog's face. That's the best way to fill the frame with the subject. Just like people, pets have distinct facial expressions that only close-up dog pictures can capture.

Lhasa Apso-photo

Think of your photograph as containing precious space and don't waste any of it on unimportant or distracting elements. If you fill the viewfinder with only the most important elements before you shoot, your photographs will have more impact. There will fewer distractions in the scene to compete with your subject Be sure to read your camera's manual to learn the closest distance you can shoot with your camera to remain in focus.

Positioning...Posing Your Dog
You may want to pose your dog instead of catching them in candid shots. Some dogs are willing to sit, stay, and pose. Others are not. Bribery can work wonders! Figure out what your dog loves to eat that is also healthy for them, and use it to bait your dog to pose. In this picture I am baiting Sugar Bear to gaze downwards and off to the side. I used a vintage quilt as my background, because I wanted the soft colors and soft texture behind her. The light is to her right front as indicated by the shadows on the backdrop quilt. She is sitting fairly close to the backdrop, and she is at a slight angle to the camera. Even with her sitting at an angle to my camera, I am catching the telltale catch lights in her pupils which tells me that my lighting is correct. I try to keep this sort of posed photography session very short as the stand hot lights can quickly make your dog uncomfortable, and they will learn to hate having their pictures made if the sessions are stressful . Everything has been planned in advance, the background, the props, and the lighting. Know your dog and plan your photographic sessions with patience and empathy, and you will be successful in creating keepsake images of your pet.

Shih Tzu-Sugar Bear photo

 Shih Tzu -modeling a pink satin show dog bow

Shooting at eye level...

Get down to your pet's eye level and look your subject in the eye to create warm and endearing pictures. You will get a more relaxed expression with your pet looking directly at you. When using furnishings to position your dog, try to zoom in on the dog himself eliminating as much extraneous background as possible.

Shih Tzu- Roxy red dog bow

Outdoor Lighting~Snow
Photography is all about the light and recording light as images. Photos are always best when taken in natural light outdoors. Overcast skylighton snow appears rather blue but in this photo adds to the effect. A bright but overcast day is perfect lighting for pet photography. Overcast light produces no harsh shadows and the color saturation (or intensity) is increased, making the colors in your photos look richer. Avoid high noon sunlight on a clear day. It generates a very hard light with deep crisp shadows because it is coming from directly overhead. Early morning, late afternoon, or winter lighting is best because the sun is low in the sky.
Black Dog??? = Fill Flash
To take pictures of a dark or black dog outdoors, try
using these techniques. Position the dog so that it is facing into the light. Try to get the dog to lift its head slightly, so that the eyes catch as much light as possible. Use your flash to soften shadows and brighten colors. Because the flash is filling in shadows and is augmenting the light from the sun, this is known as fill flash.

Shih Tzu-Sugar Bear in snow

Shih Tzu-Mr Foos Shih Tzu "Dylan"
Photography by Lisa Muraski of Mr Foos Shih Tzu

Outdoor Lighting Dappled Light

Dappled light is normally created when the sunlight falls through the foliage but is not completely blocked. Shafts of light reach the ground, and you can position your dog so that the light acts as a natural spotlight illuminating your dog's face creating a melody of shadows and contrast.

Shih tzu- yellow dog bow

Inside Lighting~ Side Lighting
Trash the Auto-Flash
I purchased a stand light on eBay called a "Hot Light". It came with a light diffuser that attaches directly to the light stand. I usually position my hot light to the left or the right of my camera. It is set at a height above the dog's eye level to produce catch lights in the dogs eyes. Here I have my Shih Tzu Sugar Bear modeling a teal blue dog bow. I have used a white sheet hanging behind her to create a uncluttered background. My hot light stand is to her left which creates contrast on the right side of her face. The eyes should be the main focus of the photo, and if your lighting is well planned, you will see telltale catch lights in the dog's eyes. Lighting your dog from the side can really emphasize the texture of their coat and will produce an image with a high degree of contrast of shadow and highlight areas. I like to use this technique a lot as I believe that the contrast it creates adds interest and dimension to the photo.

Shih Tzu- Sugar Bear is modeling a teal blue show dog bow

Red Eye
Red-eye phenomenon
occurs when a cameras flash is fired directly at the dog and the light reflects off the retina at the back wall of the dog's eye giving the eyes a red or green glowing appearance. Don't use the flash on your camera for inside pictures or you will get red eye and distortion of the true colors and shading of your dog. A dog who's eyes have been digitally corrected to get rid of the red eye effect, have lost the natural catch light. Artificial highlights to the eye commonly available in photo software programs produce a zombie type of light dot to the eye. By using a stand light to produce your lighting, the room is so brightened that the dog's pupil will constrict, and the light cannot reflect to the back of the dog's eye to produce the dreaded red eye effect. If you must use a flash on your camera, try to get your dog to turn his head at an angle to the camera so that the flash does not have a direct line to the back of the eyes.

Shih Tzu-Sugar Bear Shih Tzu in her dog bow

Window Light
Soft light from a window can be a perfect light for some photograph effects.
With plenty of natural light coming from behind you or from your side face your pet to take the photo. When photographing your dog using window light, make sure that the light falls on half to three quarters of the dog's face. Furnishings in your home also make ideal backgrounds and add a personal touch to your pictures. The window light in this photo is coming from a large north-west patio door in the late afternoon. The first and the last light of the day that comes through your windows is the best light for shooting photographs. Avoid bright sunlight coming through the window, as in a south facing window, as it mutes colors, and creates harsh shadows. An east facing window in the morning sunlight would also be a excellent choice of natural window lighting. Avoid back lighting where your pet is in front of the natural light because the dog's face will be shadowed deeply and will become a silhouette. .

Take lots of pictures to get that one great shot. Devote several photos to each situation you shoot. Try different angles, different positions, even different lighting. If the colors in a scene are ho-hum, try adding some props.

As a general rule, the closer you get to the subject, the better your pictures will be. It eliminates distracting backgrounds and shows the subject clearly. Think about showing just enough of the background to make the picture clear and interesting.

Shih Tzu- modeling a leopard dog bow

 Shih Tzu- "Dylan" at a dog show
Photography by Lisa Muraski of Mr Foos Shih Tzu

Putting it all together.
This spontaneous and candid photo was taken at a dog show and epitomizes everything that I love about photography. Really, no explanation of the photo is necessary as the image conveys the personality and circumstance of the dog at the show.

Seek that perfect expression on your dog's face that captures his unique personality. Capture forever, the special moments that make up your life with your dog.

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All photographs by the author, Lynne McGuire, unless otherwise noted. Photographic techniques are the personal opinion of the author.
No permission will be given to copy, reproduce, republish, upload, post, transmit, or distribute this article or photos displayed.

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