10 Tips for Photographing Fabulous Fuzzy Faces
1. Do your homework. Know what treats are the dog’s favorites. Know if Fido is friendly, timid, or aggressive (in which case you might want to double check your insurance policy!). Find out what the dog’s commands are. What signals or words are used to make him sit? Lie down? What other tricks can he do? Action shots are fun!
2. Educate your client – I mean the owner, not the dog! This pertains to people shoots, too. Make sure that they know what to expect and what you want their role to be. Unless I know that the dog is well trained and will listen extremely well to the owner, (I looooove photographing service dogs for this reason) I prefer to be in charge. When too many people jump in the mix and try to get the attention of the animal, the animal gets confused and overwhelmed and then tunes out, just like kids.
3. Safety first – for you AND Fido!
- When you first meet Fuzzy, do so politely and gently. Let the dog warm up to you if it is timid. Approach him WITHOUT your camera first. Some dogs can completely come unglued by the sight of that big, black, scary thing blocking your face. Let him sniff your hand. Make friends, but do it on doggie terms. I often introduce my camera, too, especially if I’m dealing with a nervous Nellie. I let them sniff it to see that it isn’t so scary.
- For the dog’s sake, do not put him in precarious poses, positions, or places. No shot is worth putting any client, fuzzy or not, in harm’s way.
4. When you’re ready to start shooting, think carefully about your settings, especially aperture. Many dogs, like my sweet Maggie, have long noses requiring a deeper depth of field than you’d use for humans in order to get noses and eyes all in focus. That said, shake it up sometimes and shoot at f 2.8 to blur the eyes for a specialized wet nose pic or flip it around for a crystal clear eyes shot that blurs the nose.
5. Have some tricks up your sleeve…treats don’t hurt either!
- How do I get their attention? I make a complete fool out of myself. No, really. My favorite way to get that cocked head, perky-eared look is to bark and/or meow at them and make all sorts of crazy noises. Tried and true, my friends!
- Once the crazy-photographer act has worn off, a squeaky toy can be effective. You could even start with that if you have a low tolerance for looking certifiable in public.
- Treats! I delay introducing treats until they are a must. Once a pup knows you have them, that’s all they seem to want – and will do anything to get to you to get them. That makes posing hard.
- On another treat note, make sure that any treat given is approved or even provided by mom and dad. Many dog owners, myself included, are fussy about what is fed to their fur babies.
6.Continuous focus is your friend. Depending upon the activity level of the dog, I’ll switch my focusing mode to “Continuous.” For newbies, that just means that when I push down halfway on my shutter button, my focus will stay on the dog, but my camera will continue to acquire focus as the dog moves.
Speaking of focus, focusing on a black dog can be tricky. The camera tends to hunt to find something on which to focus because the blackness confuses it. Try to put your focus point right on an eyeball where there is some differentiation in color.
7. Move around! Get low! Try different angles. Believe it or not, sometimes the best angle is from behind!
8. Pay attention to the background and foreground. Whether you are outdoors or in the studio, pay attention to what is going on around your subject – that includes the horizon. One of my personal pet peeves (pun intended!) is crooked horizon lines in photos. I find them terribly distracting. Equally distracting can be a trashcan, garden hose, discarded toy, or pile of dog doo. Thankfully, the doo can usually be edited out.
9. Be prepared.
- Bring a washcloth. If you are feeding dogs treats, their mouths will get icky. Having a washcloth or rag with which to wipe up the goo is way better than using your sleeve. Check eyes for icky stuff, too.
- Have a thin leash at the ready. Sometimes it’s nigh impossible to get a pup to do exactly what you want and a leash is necessary. (Assistants are helpful in this case!) Thin ones (leashes, I mean!) are easiest to edit out.
- Never put your camera away until the last second! With both of these shots I was walking away after doing family sessions and happened to turn around to see these wonderful faces looking at me.
10. Relax. Have fun. Go with the flow. Not all photos need to be staged or posed. Know when to call it a day. Take a minute to stop shooting now and then and give a little lovin’.