Oh, I am so excited to be bringing you round 2 of some of my very best secrets to taking gorgeous images of your dog!
If you haven’t gotten the chance to read Part 1, you can find that here.
But just to recap, here are the four tips I’ve already let out of the bag:
1. Make it a Positive Experience
2. Be Prepared and Bring Lots of Goodies!
3. Time of Day
4. Look for Dog-Sized Scenery
Over the past six years of photographing dogs professionally, I’ve uncovered all kinds of little tricks that have come to be part of my ‘secret sauce’ in capturing the perfect dog image. To pick up where I left off in Part 1, here are four more for you to try!
5. Get Low
We see dogs everyday, right? Unless you live on a remote farm somewhere in the middle of the desolate Canadian Yukon, it’s likely that you have experienced the joy of a dog walking by you at least once or twice per day, every day of your life. (And if you’re in the Yukon, you probably have bears…so…that’s awesome…) Dogs aren’t a terribly uncommon thing. (And thank goodness for that! Am I right?!) So, on those regular days, when we see dogs pass us by on the street, or even look down at our own dogs at our feet – how do we see them? You guessed it. From standing level. Not only do you see dogs from an average height of say, about 5 feet 6 inches, but you actually see pretty much everything in the world around you from that height. Photography is about seeing an ordinary thing in an extraordinary way. Take something commonplace and turn it into something unexpected – something brilliant.
When you take a photo of your dog from standing height, looking down on him, you are recording an ordinary scene – something your brain has become very used to viewing and processing. But get down on his level, and all of a sudden you have magic. You have impact. You are in his world now. You have immersed yourself in the size of his entire existence, and suddenly you have a power in your images, a connection that truly can’t be made until you are seeing directly into the glittering iris of a canine. And sometimes – sometimes I push it even further than eye to eye, sometimes I get even lower than that. Photography is about telling a story, and for me, that story is all about the dog. It’s about turning my pup models into royalty. They are the Kings and Queens of their dominions. They are the superheroes watching over cities. So much of the impact of my imagery has to do with the angle at which I am shooting it.
And yes, folks, this sure does mean that you’ll spend 90% of your time laying in the dirt on your stomach and rolling around in the grass to get the perfect shot. (And if you’re lucky, a wild puppy might just land right on your bum!)
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Make Crazy Sounds
Yup, you heard me. You might just have to throw your humility and pride to the wind and get a little wacky while you’re photographing your pup. Don’t underestimate a dog’s sense of hearing. The average dog can hear at a rate 4 times greater than the average human. Above this, they have 18 unique muscles in their ears which allow them to hear sounds and detect the exact direction of a sound’s source. Ever see your dog cock his ears up and tilt his head just a bit? That’s most likely because he just heard something interesting. So, the thing is, you’re going to want to use your pup’s incredible sense of hearing to your advantage. Sounds will help direct your dog’s gaze in a given direction to attain an image with impactful eye contact. They will also help tremendously with expression while getting nice alert, confident body language. So, if you don’t mind appearing just a little bit like a crazy person, you’ll be amazed at the expression you can get if you look at your dog and give him a little bark. 😛 (As a note, it’s important not to overuse sounds. Use them sparingly and exactly at the right moments! Too many sounds, especially loud ones, can overstimulate your dog and stress him out quickly. So, just be sure to space those babies out and use them when they really count!)
In addition to using my own vocal chords to make crazy sounds that will keep dogs’ attention on me while I’m photographing them, here are some other tools that I’ve found hugely successful at shoots:
- Duck / Rabbit / Deer Calls
- Whistles (not too high pitched, use sounds that are comfortable for your dog!)
- iPhone Apps (I have a great one with farm animal sounds built in)
- Squeaky Toys
7. Put Dogs Up on Things
I know, this one sounds a little crazy. But hear me out.
This trick works especially well with smaller dogs, but in the right environment, can work on dogs of all shapes and sizes. When you have your pup model down on the ground, he’s going to do what he does best. He’s going to sniff, dig, bark at the squirrels, bounce about and play. This is not to say that you can’t get great shots of your dog standing just there before you in the grass – but I will say that putting dogs up on things and essentially separating them from a lot of those interesting distractions, proves hugely valuable with it comes to nailing a gorgeous pet portrait. (Now, of course, execute this tip at your next dog photoshoot with caution. Use your best judgement. Be aware of height – don’t put jumpy, clumsy dogs up on high walls or benches in which you think there’s a risk of them defying all laws of gravity and physics while hurling their cute bodies over the edge and hurting themselves.) Putting your dog up on something enables you to step back and gain both distance and time to get your camera into position for the perfect shot. This also helps with putting some space between you and very friendly, velcro sort of dogs who aren’t happy unless they’re essentially on top of you. 🙂 Not only that, but raising your dog up off the ground oftentimes gives you an advantage of a better background and the ability to get right on their eye level without excessive amounts of pretzel-ey yoga gymnastics on your part. 😛
Some great things to put dogs up on are:
- Tree Stumps
- Low, wide walls
After I wrote this tip, I thought, I better go through my Lightroom library in search of some examples of this technique in my work to share. At first, I worried that I’d have to search for a while to find something good, and then I realized… holy moly… I do this all the time. At least two or three times per photo shoot! Quite a bit more than I realized, actually. I did it here, with Knox, Harper and Bear:
And here, with Pogi, in front of the Boston city skyline:
And here, with Bailey, on a rock in Lake Tahoe:
And here, with Zaena, Zander and Zailey:
(I could go on like this…) 🙂
8. Use a Stake to Keep your Pup Tethered in Place
A lot of times, when I’m at my shoots and I say to my assistant, ‘Can you get the stake,’ my clients’ eyes will get wide and they say ‘Wait, you brought STEAK? Really?!’ I always have to crack up, because actually, bringing literal steak would probably be a very effective technique. If I gave out a survey to all the dogs that I’ve photographed in the past, I imagine they’d unanimously tick the box: ‘Yes, for steak.’
But, what I’m referencing here is actually the kind of stake you can spin into the ground and tether your dog to. I have a couple of these in my bag and I bring them to every shoot. This stake tip actually has a similar effect to the previous ’Put Dogs Up on Things’ tip, but can be executed in situations where there simply isn’t anything good to put the dog model up on. Spin this baby into the ground and all of a sudden, you have a great anchor to leash your dog to that keeps him in the general area that you need him for his photo. The great thing about working with the stake is that since it’s so low profile, it’s easy to block with the dog’s body, so no one ever has to know that Fido didn’t do anything other than sit like an absolute rock star for his photo shoot. 🙂 Nobody has to know the dirty secret of what’s keeping him in place behind-the-scenes. 😛
Whew! Well that about covers it! My eight absolute favorite sneaky secrets for capturing incredible photos of your pup! I hope you think of these next time you’re on location in incredible golden light with your best friend and you’re trying to snap an image of that unforgettable smile! If anyone has found anything else that works miracles when it comes to photographing pooches, don’t hesitate to share in the comments! Let us have ‘em!
Now load those pockets with steak and get to shooting! 😛
(and one more photo because who can resist a puppy in panda bear ears?!)