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It′s a Ruff Life

The more active the subject, the harder the task, but just because a canine friend has a mellow temperament, it doesn’t guarantee a great shoot. As a matter of fact, I’ve worked with some dogs that have been so mellow, all they want to do is sprawl on the ground making it tough to capture expression and personality. For me, a successful dog photo captures a special look, a frozen moment in time when he or she does something unique, or conveys interaction when photographing multiple subjects. Being able to anticipate when these events will happen comes with practice and learning about your subject. By following the tips found below, you’ll get to that point more quickly.

dog photography tips pets russ burden
© 2007 Russ Burden

Become a Friend: It’s important the dog feels comfortable so I need to convey trust. This means getting down on the ground, petting it’s belly, sharing a treat, and doing whatever it takes to let it know I am a friend. Before the shoot, I confer with the owner and find out what I can and can’t do with regards to what the dog likes or not. I’ll ask if it’s OK to give treats and make sure the owner brings some. I find out key words that make the ears go up. I’ll ask about special toys that the dog holds dear and make sure they’re brought. Even armed with all this information, you must realize that the tricks work for only a few times and the dog gets wise to you very quickly so use them when you feel they can be optimized.

dog photography tips 2 pets russ burden
© 2007 Russ Burden

Friendly Environment: Whether you shoot in your studio, outdoors in your backyard, or at a local park, make sure that each environment is dog friendly. The studio is the most difficult  as you’ll have light stands and strobes set up, so make sure they’re secured with gaffers tape or other devices so they don’t fall if bumped. Have some toys that make strange noises to get the dog’s attention. Don’t have it so cramped that the dog won’t be able to sniff out its strange and new environment. In that he or she will be able to sniff the previously shot subject, set aside a time period for the curiosity to dissipate. Plan the length of your session to allow the dog to get comfortable so that natural looks can be captured. If you’re using strobes, pop them off periodically while the dog is getting used to your studio so the flash won’t be a total surprise upon taking the first image.

dog photography tips 3 pets russ burden
© 2007 Russ Burden

Don’t Hold Back: Here’s where a lot comes into play. Don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself making noises and getting low so you’ll be at eye level with your subject. As a matter of fact, it’s often appreciated by the owner to see you getting involved. Vary your focal lengths but remember to fill the frame. I use an 80-200mm zoom as it gives me a great diversity of focal lengths and works for small to large subjects. Don’t overlook a full frame face where you zoom in for a tight head shot. If I’m shooting outdoors, I may opt for a wider shot if the environment in which I’m shooting complements the dog. And most importantly, if the light level is low and you’re shooting outdoors, focus on the eyes to make  sure they’re sharp. If necessary, bump up the ISO to gain a faster shutter speed or aperture to net more depth of field.

To learn more about this topic, join me on one of my Photographic Nature Tours. Visit and click on the NATURE TOURS button for more information. Also, pick up a copy of my new book, Amphoto’s Complete Book of Photography. You can purchase a signed copy directly from me or visit your local book store or Amazon. Contact me at to order your signed copy.


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