8 Tips to Photograph Pets on the Move
Sit, Ubu, Sit…..and other things we wish our dogs did on command
I’ve been a photographer for over 7 years, and a dog owner for longer than that. I have no children, so a lot of times, when I want to practice a new technique or play with a new piece of equipment, my poor fur-babies get to be in the hot seat. It’s pretty comical now, because my 5 year old Australian Shepherd, Jasper, can be all cuddled up by me being sweet, and the minute I hold the iPhone up to snap a quick pic, he’s jumps down and hides. My dogs know a few commands, and can typically be bribed with some yummy morsel – at least long enough to snap a few shots – but not every dog I’ve shot is so easily lulled to stillness by a hovering handful of Pup-eroni. However, shooting dogs has become one of my very favorite things! So while all pet photographers hope for a dog with the training of a K9 police dog or Lassie, sometimes we get a dog more along the likes of Odie. 🙂 Here are a few tips for shooting dogs that just aren’t super interested in sitting still for a portrait session.
1- Always be ready! This seems pretty obvious, but sometimes, as artists, we try to make perfection happen, so we fuss with the collar or the leash, or move around to get good light or fiddle with any number of minute details. That is fine – we need to be our best and take the best quality photos we can of every subject, 2 or 4 legged! However, in the mix of all that, you need to have camera in hand and constantly be watching for the moments. The dogs more than likely aren’t going to come right up, stare smolderingly into your lens and wait for you to shoot. But, you can get some great shots of the fun pup playing with his/her master or being silly and running around. And you really never know when that dog might turn and walk straight towards you.
2- Always be prepared! Be sure to let your human client know to bring the dog’s favorite toys and treats along to the session, but you may want to bring some along too. I know my dogs get tired of having photos taken to the point that their regular treats sometimes don’t hold as much sway. That is when I break out the super special Scooby-snacks like bits of cheese or deli meat. It’s a whole new ballgame when smoked turkey is on the line! A dog may respond better to your new and interesting toys or yummy treats than they would with their usual fare. Just be sure you have toys that are age and size appropriate for the dog you are shooting, and ALWAYS get the OK from the dog’s human before feeding them anything.
3- Schedule Smart! Be sure you schedule your shoot in a location with plenty of space for the dog to roam and run and play. Try to find a spot with few distractions, and, unless the human is OK with it, you may want to avoid any place with water if you are shooting a retriever or spaniel or any other water-loving dog. They WILL find the water, and they WILL jump, roll, and dive into it.
4- Bid your personal space farewell! For the best shots, you need to be on the same level as the dog. The minute you sit or kneel, you will more than likely have your personal space invaded by the very curious pup. As long as the dog isn’t showing aggression, let him/her get to know you in their way. They will be curious about your camera, so be sure to protect that, but let the dog know you are OK. Give her a belly rub or ear scratch. Once she’s sufficiently checked you out, she will go about her merry way. The human client may also need to invade your space a bit too. Some of my best shots are from the person standing directly behind me, usually touching me, dangling a treat by my head, and leaning over to get the dogs attention. I’m sure to any passers-by, it’s quite comical. I don’t mind it, though, because it works. It helps to engage the dog and get them to look right at me, or at least in my general direction.
5- Plan on lots of action shots. The truth is, if a person has a very active or un-trained dog, they know it. So it’s not going to come as any surprise to them when their dog doesn’t sit still for 30 minutes and let you take his photo. Let his master throw a ball for him to fetch or just run around and play. Take a zoom lens so if the dog is a distance from you, you can still get some good shots. Some of my favorite shots of my own dogs are of them in mid-jump or running crazy. It’s who they are – believe me, it’s a way more accurate depiction of their true personalities!
6- Mind the collar and/or leash. On fluffy dogs, the collar isn’t much of an issue as all the fur tends to hide it, but with a short haired dog, you will see the collar and tags more. A lot of pet owners are OK with collar showing, but don’t want leashes showing. The trouble with that is, busy dogs typically have to stay on leash. So, just be sure the leash is arranged in a way that will make it easy to edit out in post-processing. Explain this to your human clients up front so they will know how and where to hold the leash for the best photo. And sometimes, you will get a great shot with some crazy looking leash in it. Edit it out if you can. If you can’t, give them the photo anyway – chance are they will love it.
7- Mind your words. A lot of pet owners view their dogs like children. They are loved family members, and because of that, their humans can be very sensitive about comments or attitudes directed towards their dog. The dog may be crazy and untrained and not super fun to be around. And while the dog doesn’t know what you’re saying, their human does. So be careful what you say and how you say it. Don’t talk about how badly behaved the dog is or how he/she just won’t listen. Your human client could take great offense to comments like that – whether they’re true or not.
8- Have fun. This should be a no brainer, but it’s a good reminder. Dogs are very intuitive to our feelings and emotions. They will know if you are tense or stressed. Their humans will also know, and if they feel you’re tense, they may become tense, increasing stress on the dog. That will not make for easy or good portraits. So, go into the session with the goal of creating a fun environment for the pup, allowing the human to enjoy and connect with their dog, and having fun for yourself as well!
Pet portraits are some of my very favorites, but they can be frustrating to shoot at times. Hopefully, these few tips will make your next session a little easier. And until Cesar Milan can make it to all of our houses and work his voo-doo magic on all our dogs, shooting our sweet 4-legged pals doesn’t have to be torture….for us or for them.