If there’s one thing my dogs love almost as much as food and sneaking into my bed, it’s being photographed. As a photographer working from home they’re always with me, and every chance they get they photobomb the scene I’m shooting. A workday with them is never dull!
For these photos, I was planning on shooting an interior scene, but as soon as I started, Mr. Bowie jumped into the scene. First, I tried to get him out of the frame, but he was very persistent, and I gave in. I took a few shots to make him feel included. Then Conrad got jealous and wanted in as well.
French Bulldogs are very much like small children in their personalities. They are super curious, want to follow your every step, and be included in everything. And they always want what the other dog is having; if not there will be drama 🙂
So my interior shoot turned into a little story about Conrad and Bowie. It gave me the idea to share some tips on photographing your dog and training it to be comfortable with the camera.
My dogs are very experienced models. They are nine and seven and have been used to the camera since they were puppies. Today, they are almost too good, meaning that when they sit in front of the camera, they pose like a statue staring straight into the lens.
Especially Mr. Bowie (the white dog). He can sit still in the same position for a long time, which is quite funny, but doesn’t always give the best pictures.
Encourage Interaction & Movement
When dogs (or people) sit in a static pose, there’s a chance the atmosphere will become too stiff and lack charm. When there’s movement and interaction with the subject, there’s another vibe; a feeling of personality, mood, and emotions.
So I do what I can to make him look in different directions. My best option is always to bring in Mr. Conrad (the black dog) and get them to interact with each other.
The funny thing about dogs is that they have different personalities, just like humans, and I’ve also noticed that some dogs have more facial expressions than others. Conrad can “speak” with his eyes and ears. His ability to express himself and show his personality is extraordinary. Mr. Bowie, on the other hand, mostly has this zoned-out face. He also has dementia which doesn’t make it better. So every dog is different to work with, and therefore, you need patience and empathy for their personality.
How to Train Your Dog to Pose
Every dog can learn to be a great model. Even if your dog is older, he can learn it. The key is to connect the camera with fun, positive attention, encouragement, and the final bonus; the treat. I’ve trained both puppies and older dogs, and my strategy is always to teach the dog to “sit, look and wait.”
To teach the dog to “sit, look and wait” he must first learn to sit. Assuming your dog can already sit on command, the next step is teaching him to look at you on command.
Sit down on your knees so your eye-level is higher than the dog but not as high as when standing. Show the dog that you have a treat in your hand. Then bring your finger up, point at your eyes, and say, “LOOK.” (Using fingers to show dogs what you want them to do is super important because dogs are very good at reading hand signs).
You want the dog to look at you, and focus on your eyes – not the treat. As soon as the dog looks you in the eyes (even just a little bit), he gets a treat. You give positive reinforcement and say “Good Boy” (or girl). The dog will become better and better at keeping eye contact for longer the more you practice.
When the dog can master this with you sitting down in front of it, you can begin to stand up and then move away from the dog. Always point at your eyes while you say “LOOK”.
When your dog can look at you on demand, you begin training it to master “WAIT”. While the dog sits, place a treat on the floor in front of him.
Point at it and say “NO”. Now stand up and take a step back while you hold your index finger up in the air in front of you and repeat, “wait, wait, wait….(pause a little to train the dogs’ patience)….then say in a louder voice, “get it!” Now the dog gets his treat – a reward for waiting.
Teaching the dog to wait with patience is properly the most important part. It gives you a calmer dog to work with, and if the dog gets impatient during the photo session, you just lift your index finger and say wait – this will remind the dog to be still and be patient.
The last step is to introduce the camera. Now you test this with your camera in your hand. Hold the camera up next to your eyes and say, “look”. The exact moment the dog looks at your eyes or the lens it gets a treat, a cuddle, and you say “good boy”.
Practice this moving further and further away. The goal is that you can have control over the dog from a distance just by saying wait, look and showing your index finger. That’s how I trained all my dogs, so I hope this might work for you and your dog.
Shoot From The Dogs Eye Level (not your own)
The best way to bring out your dog’s unique personality and create a more intimate perspective is to get down on his eye level. Make sure the camera focuses on the eyes by using single point autofocus area and moving the focal point over the one eye closest to the lens. Using natural light like a window also tends to make the eyes sparkle. A large window that’s not directly facing the sun will work best. Window light creates softer light and will be more flattering.
Best Camera Setting For Photographing Your Dog
I always shoot handheld when I photograph my dogs, and because they are so good at sitting still (most of the time) I can shoot with a fairly low shutter speed, but I never go below 1/100. I also like to shoot wide open with an aperture around f/2.8. This will help the dog stand out more from the background.
If your dog has a hard time sitting still, or if you want to include more movement/play/fun in your scene, use a faster shutter speed. Set your camera to shutter priority mode or manual mode, and use a shutter speed of at least 1/250 if possible.
For action shots, you can turn on the burst mode and the camera will take a sequence of fast images. This will give you a better chance to catch a great shot of your dog jumping, playing, running or cuddling with a person.
Edit Your Photos For The Best Result
Some dogs are more challenging to photograph well than others simply because of their fur colors. Let’s use my own dogs as an example: Conrad is black, which means he will stand out in a bright white interior scene. This can sometimes make him appear very dark, and I have to do some extra editing work to soften his dark fur, so he looks more natural in the frame. Other times, when he’s placed in a darker scene, he will almost disappear, and I can only see the white in his eyes.
A white dog like Bowie is also a challenge. I have to be careful that I don’t shoot too bright; otherwise, his white fur will be too highlighted and lose details. On the other hand, if I shoot too dark, he will look “dirty” and have a greyish tone. Bowie also has red undertones in his skin that I need to reduce in editing – otherwise, it can create unevenness in the photo.
Dogs with brown, creamy, and grey fur are easier to blend into a scene simply because they have milder tones. Black and white always bring a little extra challenge, but you can make it work with a little bit of extra editing work.
That’s it. I hope this was helpful and that you will have a lot of FUN photographing your dog.
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