I’m not an expert photographer. I’m barely decent at taking pictures of people. I’d consider myself mediocre overall. I know some stuff about aperture. I can even shoot in manual mode.
But taking dog pictures, that’s my specialty. In the time I’ve had my DSLR, I’ve blown through 60 GB worth of memory cards. At least 55 GB were of Archie. I wish I were kidding (though if you follow me on Instagram, this wont surprise you). I also wish I knew all the stuff I know now when Archie was a puppy. His puppy pictures could have been so much better!
Here’s what I’ve learned since then, in not super technical terms.
1. Get Lighting Right
Yes, this is on every photography list everywhere. But it’s so true. Though pictures taken in the “golden hour” before sunset are usually the best for people, I’ve found that it isn’t quite as important with dogs. Outdoor shots at midday turn out much better than anything taken indoors at night. Maybe it’s because dogs faces don’t have so many bumpy things to make shadows (see, super technical). Either way, get outside with your pup or get near a window. We are lucky to have a big slider that lets in some good afternoon light. Perfect for an indoor shot or two.
Duh. Archie insisted I added this one. Bribery is a great way to get your dog to sit, pose, or run toward you for an action shot. Because I usually take 200+ pictures to get just a few really incredible shots, I make sure the treats are small. Archie is so food driven that we can get away with just giving him single pieces of dog food.
3. Fast Shutter Speed
When Archie is running, ball-retrieving, fur-a-flying, I need a fast shutter speed. For the first year, I didn’t realize just how fast was necessary to freeze him in the action. I go for 1/1000 or faster if the lighting allows. I want his furry little self to look crisp – no blurriness.
4. Lower Aperture (1.8-3) and Single Point Focus Area
I love taking close up shots of Archie where just his nose or eyes are in focus. Super low aperture settings allow you to capture the beauty that is just one part of your pup. For these shots I adjust my focus to a single point area focus (that means only one little red dot lights up when you are looking through the viewfinder, about to take a photo) and put it over the feature I want to highlight.
In the case below, the area focus was right on his nose. In most posed shots (this is
hard to do impossible in action shots, so I just leave it on auto), I put the single point of focus over the eye that is closest to me. The lower the aperture, the blurrier the background and the spot that the red dot was over will be the most in focus.
Here’s the thing that my newbie self did not realize when I bought my Nikon D5100: the kit lens does not have an aperture low enough to make this happen. After months of trying to achieve perfect blurry backgrounds (and failing), I took a photography class and quickly realized I needed a different lens. I opted for the Nikon 50mm 1.8. It’s cheaper than the 50mm 1.4 by over $100 and it does what I need it to do.
5. Let Him Have Fun
If your dog is bored with your portrait taking, that might show in the photos. I try to catch Archie in moments of joy while he’s doing something he loves. Bringing a ball back in return for a treat. Eating snow. Taking up 90% of the space on the couch. You know, his favorite past times. The best shots I’ve gotten are when he’s off leash in our apartment tennis courts (the only fenced in place we have) and he’s gallivanting around. It’s his happy place.
So there you have it. I’m no expert but I do have plenty of practice taking pictures of my dog. If you have any other suggestions, please add them below! I’m always on a quest for the perfect portrait of my Archie boy.