By Matt Hands, a volunteer dog shelter photographer and guest blogger for dog insurance provider, Pets Best Insurance.
After taking hundreds of photos of my mother-in-law’s grandchildren and our family dog, Fiddler, she invited me to start volunteering at the Meridian, Idaho dog-only SPCA shelter with her. The shelter photographer was overwhelmed and needed help, and I was happy to oblige.
My first few sessions were challenging. Longing to run free and play, the last thing on a shelter pet’s mind is sitting still for a picture. The dogs were typically afraid, agitated and unruly. After weeks of blurry and overexposed photos, I developed some tips and tricks for photographing dogs.
To be sure, I am no dog whisperer. My success in capturing emotionally provocative photos for the shelter comes more from gimmicks than canine psychology. Simply put, different breeds have different personalities. Here are some simple tips and tricks for capturing a special portrait of your dog in an outdoor setting with a point-and-shoot camera.
1. Get the Lighting Right
It’s all in the lighting. Lighting can make or break a photo. Typically the best time to photograph is in the late morning or early evening when the light is filtered. Rich tones and colors tend to pop during these hours. Avoid using a flash, since it casts an unnatural light on the pet and can turn the eyes zombie-like. Use nearby plants and trees to add background texture and filter direct sunlight.
White pets are easy to over expose, so keep them away from bright or direct light. Dark pets are just the opposite. Avoid shadows when photographing a dark colored animal, and opt for a well-lit, but shaded area instead.
2. Give Your Subject Time to Sniff
Dogs are instinctively curious about their environment, especially outside. Unfamiliar territory needs to be investigated, so allow time for your dog to acclimate. This may take up to 10-15 minutes depending on the breed. An unneutered male dog likes to mark the territory as well. I usually spend this time checking the setting on my camera, and finding the right light, composition and angle.
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Keep distractions like people and other dogs to a minimum, and to remain flexible and mobile, skip the tripod. Instead, stabilize yourself against objects like trees and fences.
3. Take Lots of Photos
My personal favorite is a photo of my dog Fiddler leaping after a stick my son is throwing into a lake. Why is it my favorite? Because it’s a one-in-a-million shot. Active shots are the most difficult to capture, but if you have intermediate to advanced photography skills, a steady hand and ample camera memory, go for it. You may need to take 50 pictures to get a winner, but it’ll be worth it.
Once the activity has died down, go for a few calm and serene photos, which tend to be more focused and technically aesthetic. Give your subject time to rest, watch closely for that rare moment of serenity, then click away.
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