A friend sent me a photo of her young chocolate Lab last week. The dog was sitting nicely with a pheasant in his mouth, but the Lab had a head the size of a Neapolitan mastiff, the diminishing body of a Chihuahua and a wicked case of redeye. Poor pup. His awesome first retrieve deserves a much better picture to remember it by.
Digital cameras make it easy to snap pics in the field, but really good dog photos take a little more thought. Here are four tips that will lay the foundation for great dog shots.
1. See your dog eye-to-eye. Get down on the ground or put your dog on the tailgate of your truck, so the camera is looking directly at the dog, not down on it. If you take photos standing up over your dog, the result will probably be the Mr. Potato Head Effect – a dog that looks like its head is too big for its body. Taken on the dog’s level, your subject will look proportionately correct. Whistle, do your best goose call, or have someone wave a hat in the air. Dogs’ personalities and moods can be seen in their eyes, ears and tails.
2. Zoom in. For great photographic portraits of your dog, the closer you are, the more detail your picture will display. If the dog is facing you, position it in the middle of the image. If it is facing left or right, try to leave some extra space on the side to which he’s facing. That will give the picture a better sense of depth and won’t “trap” your subject inside. Remember to keep the sun or the light source behind you so the dog’s face won’t be in shadow, but make sure your shadow isn’t in the photo either.
3. Use the technology. For motion shots, use autofocus and the “sports” or “continuous burst” mode on your digital camera. When you hold the shutter button down, your camera will take several pictures in a row quickly, focusing it for you. Try to move the camera with the dog – panning along with it – if the dog is running across in front of you. If the dog is moving towards you or playing in one place, hold the camera steady. Some of the images will be blurry, but you should get at least one or two frames in which your dog is in sharp focus as it moves.
4. Experiment. Try different compositions and effects. Compositions with odd numbers of subjects (three dogs, five birds, etc.) are apt to be more visually interesting than groups of two or four. Similarly, varied sizes and positions are more eye-catching than simply lining up people and dogs. Also keep in mind that composing the picture in halves can be dull. If half the image is dark and half is light, it’s boring. Make it one-third dark, two-thirds light. One quarter sky, three-quarters ground, etc.
Remember: Dogs are dogs, and they won’t always cooperate. Be patient. Take your time. They’re worth it.
Nancy Anisfield, an outdoor photographer/writer, sporting dog enthusiast and bird hunter, serves on Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Board of Directors. She resides in Hinesburg, Vermont.