Of all the activities you could engage in with your dog—agility, nosework, or simply taking a hike together—there’s one that probably doesn’t immediately come to mind: photography. Sure, we all have snapshots we’ve taken of our dogs over the years. But wouldn’t you love to have beautiful, lasting mementos? You needn’t be a professional photographer, either; I’m certainly not. And as far as quality, nowadays even the entry level DSLRs and advanced point and shoots are capable of producing great shots.
There are two parts that go into photographing your dogs: your skills, and your dogs’ skills. I’m not here to talk about the first part. Believe me, I’m still learning myself. But let’s consider what goes into getting a good photograph of your dog, or, even more challenging, more than one dog. First, the pose. Your dog will need to know a basic Sit or Down, or a Stand, if that’s your preference. Then there’s the Stay. You might think, Well, of course my dog knows Sit and Stay. But will he be able to do it at a public park or other place that offers a lovely setting, while other dogs and people are walking by? That brings me to the next skill: attention. It’s easy enough to call your dog’s name and get his attention in your living room, but again, what about with distractions? Photos of dogs looking off into the distance can be captivating, but most likely you’ll eventually want one of your dog looking at you, as that’s where the real connection happens.
Taking it to the next level, if you don’t want to have to Photoshop leashes out after the fact, your dogs will need solid off-leash obedience skills. (Don’t ever put your dog in a dangerous position to get a photo; if he doesn’t have the skills, have someone stand out of frame and hold a leash.) The photo above was taken with Bodhi and Sierra off leash, before we headed out to the park. The sky was so beautiful that I wanted to use it as a background. This was on a hill outside our house where bunnies and squirrels abound, and trust me, when we first got the dogs, I would not have trusted them not to bolt. Building up their skills took some time and practice. The photo below was taken at the park, where people were passing by with dogs.
Don’t think you have to have started these skills with your dog as a puppy. Just as with any other kind of training, dogs are never too old to learn. Both of my dogs came from shelters at around the age of two. It was pretty obvious that neither had received much if any obedience training. But, using plenty of patience, guidance, and rewards, they both learned quickly and enjoyed the process. Speaking of enjoyment, some dogs don’t love having a camera pointed at them. In that case, just pick the camera up, put it down, and give your dog a treat. Once he’s comfortable with that, pick it up, point it at him for just a second, put it down and treat. The next step would be to click the shutter while it’s still at a distance…you get the idea. The goal is that eventually, when you point the camera at your dog, he’ll actually look happy! I had to convince Sierra that the camera was her friend; Bodhi was apparently a model in a past life, and took to it right away. The only problem around my house is that when I want to sneak up and capture a heartwarming scene like my husband petting both dogs upon his arrival home after work, once the dogs hear the camera click on, they drop everything and run to me, tails wagging. I guess there are worse problems.
I hope this inspires you to get out there and shoot your dogs, in the best way possible. Oh, and not every shot has to be a portrait; sometimes the most engaging, heartwarming ones are actions shots or even our dogs just being plain goofy. Just get down on your dog’s level to make it more interesting. And don’t forget, models need to get paid! Bodhi recommends hot dog slices. Happy shooting!