If the surrounding light is good and there is sun to warm the whole scene you will get great dog shots. Early morning or late afternoon walks when the shadows are long is an especially good photography time. Dogs are fun to photograph on the long walk – especially among trees. The sunny glade is suits dogs of all one colour. The dappled or variable light under trees helps relieve the single fur colour. Dogs of spotted or patchy appearance are best in open light. Dappled sunlight through the trees clashes with different fur colours.
The tree filled environment provides great ‘snuffle’ shots. Dog owners will recognise what I mean immediately. Dogs love to get their noses stuck into a pile of leaves or around trees and other forest objects. Snuffle, snuffle… Nose down and actively being dog-like makes a great shot. Your capture of these moments gives away the essential characteristics of the animal and it portrays well in that type of environment. Where possible make sure that nice soft shadows emphasise the body shape. Shadows also bring out the position of the dog in its environment – so work them in where you can. In any good photography the shadow is the shape defining feature that makes the photo have depth and texture.
As with most good modern photography “less is more” is a truism for dogs. If they are snuffling in the forest then try to capture them with an uncluttered background. Try to see them as part of the environment, but don’t make it too complicated. If with children then see if you can capture the animal with them and against say a grassy background. More clutter than that and you lose the focus of the dog to the background or other incidental subjects. With action shots, dog at full pelt or jumping, try to make sure you have worked them into a position where there is a plain background. Then the sleekness of the lines or the position of the animal in the air is captured without distractions round-about.
If you are taking action shots the animal will be busy with the action and less involved in the photography so you can take more shots. Use burst mode (multiple frames per second) to ensure that some come out. When the dog is quiet they may be cooperative. If not then get someone else to distract the dog from your activity as the photographer. That way you will get more shots.
When you are out for a walk with your dog try not to use treats to encourage photographic situations. They will totally distract the dog from doing natural things when they are in a condition of heightened alertness for a hand-feed. It is better to wait and try to capture that type of alertness when they are doing something natural like ‘hunting’ for something in the woods. Wait for them to lie down or to ‘investigate’ or whatever. They will eventually do it. Reserve the treats for more ‘artificial’ situations like the studio or at home when doing photography.
You can excite the “alert” pose or response by fooling the dog that something of doggy-interest is happening. Be ready with your camera, then, when the dog is not looking, throw something into bushes or nearby where it will make a slight noise. This will cause that wonderful pose that dogs do with the pricked up ears and intense stare. This ‘virtual hunt’ expression is a great shot for dogs. You have to be quick to catch it. After the initial pose the dog may rush to investigate. The resulting quick and elevated bounding movement is also worth capturing.
Walking with dogs, especially when in an open or wooded type environment, is as near to natural as you are likely to see them behave. So you can mimic natural noises to get them excited. Try making little noises, squeaks or breaking twig sounds. They love the ‘hunt’ and giving them some stimulus will get them into the mood. As they rush about you have an opportunity to catch this natural behaviour. Stimulating noises can be used anywhere, not just the park, to get the dog interested. So think about the sorts of noises your dog likes and use them in the next photo-session.
Photographing Dogs series links…
Photographing Dogs – Part 1 – Getting Started
Photographing Dogs – Part 2 – What to focus on.
Photographing Dogs – Part 3 – Getting the shots
Next article: Photographing Dogs – Part 4 – Practical Issues
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