Photographing Dogs and Puppies

by photography

Photographing dogs is difficult. The best tip to anyone attempting to take pictures of their dog is to engage the dog in your photo session.

Getting perfect pictures of dogs is almost impossible if you approach it the wrong way. Photographing pets is a similar process to taking pictures of toddlers.

You will get the best images of your dog if they enjoy the session and your main job as a photographer is to make the whole event a fun game. At the same time, you have to find a balance so that the fun does not get out of hand. If your dog just runs around all the time, you will only get one type of shot.

Some dogs take no notice of the camera; but others are interested in the strange object and must be allowed to sniff over the equipment and satisfy their curiosity before they are willing to co-operate.


Dogs which have been over-petted are generally difficult subjects because they take little notice of commands to keep still, beg, etc.

It is always unwise to try to manage the animal and take the photograph too. The handling should be left to a helper who has been told in advance what sort of picture is required. The owner is not always the best person for this because the dog is apt to concentrate too much attention on him. The average dog can generally be relied upon for a certain amount of co-operation if treated sympathetically.

The Best Time

Just before his regular mealtime a dog is alert and willing to do everything he can to help if he knows that he will be rewarded with a tit-bit. After his meal, he will be less anxious to please, but he will also be less fidgety. Each time has its advantages and will result in pictures of quite a different character.

But the important thing is to let the dog please himself; no attempt should be made to force or threaten him or the resulting picture will be a sorry affair. If he cannot be tempted with a reward and refuses to respond to a normal command, he should be left for a time.


There must be complete freedom to shift the camera position, so it is better to work out-of-doors. If the dog is allowed to find a favorite spot in the garden, he is less likely to wander off than in strange surroundings. If he can be persuaded to stand or sit on a box or table, so much the better. This brings him up nearer to camera-level and prevents him from wandering too far afield. Animals always photograph best from a viewpoint more or less on their own level; high viewpoints make them appear stunted and out of proportion.

Attempts to introduce humor into animal pictures by dressing the subject up in hats or clothing merely inspire the contempt of anyone who cares either for animals or photography.


Direct sunlight is a very contrasty form of lighting unless it is accompanied by plenty of indirect light from other sources- white clouds, light-coloured walls and similar reflectors. If there is no such reflection, it must be provided or the range of contrast between the highlights and shadows of the subject will be too great for the sensitive material to record.

A white cloth or a sheet of white paper can be made to reflect the sunlight into the shadows so long as it is not brought close enough to distract the subject. The reflection from a mirror or bright metal sheet is too harsh and directional. Properly handled, the reflector can be made to bring out detail wherever necessary. It can also be used to throw a catch-light into the eyes, or accentuate characteristic features.

Try to avoid distracting background

Sometimes, staging your pet in a known setting can enhance the special qualities of your dog. A small dog for instance may benefit from being photographed off the floor. This makes your pet look not only bigger but more important and dominate the shot.

Small dog photographed on kitchen counter














 Image credits

Most of the time however the background should be kept as plain as possible, preferably contrasting in tone with the dog's coloring. It is a mistake to pose a black or brown dog against a background in shadow, or a light-coated dog against a white or sunlit wall. Bare brick walls and trellis-work fences should be avoided along with all backgrounds with an assertive pattern or texture. The mottled shadow pattern of foliage and trees, and the spotty effect of light-coloured flowers are examples of backgrounds that have ruined more than one good photograph.

A plain neutral-coloured piece of cloth or blanket without folds or creases makes an admirable background- dark for light subjects, and grey or cream for dark. The background should be supported about three to four feet away from the animal, so that it can be thrown out of focus and kept free from the dog's own shadow. If the camera has a fixed focus lens, even greater care must be taken to see that the background is free from folds or creases.

The blue sky makes an excellent background; to make use of it, the dog must be made to stand on a low wall or the roof of a shed. Under these circumstances a colour filter must be used to correct over-sensitivity of the material to blue, so as to give tone to the sky area. It is better to choose a cloudless blue part of the sky than to include distracting cloud shapes. When, using the sky as a background, it is wise-to watch out for neighboring chimneys, pets and antennaes. The filter, of course, calls for an increase in exposure.


Side lighting, i.e: with the light falling across the subject at about 45° from above and slightly in front- is best, as it gives good modelling and shows up the texture of the dog's coat. Flat or frontal lighting destroys texture and modelling because all the shadows are cast behind the subject, where they cannot be seen.

Back lighting, i.e: when the sun shines from behind the subject, creates a halo of brightly, lighted fur or hair around the subject. At the same time, it leaves the background in shadow so that the subject stands out sharply from it. Since it also leaves the front of the dog in shadow, the exposure must be increased some three to four times to record detail in the deep shadows. Back-lighting calls for a deep lens hood or some equally effective shield to prevent the sun from shining directly on the lens.

Taking the Picture

The spot should be chosen and all the necessary preparations made before putting the dog in position, because animals become bored, and show it if they are kept waiting in one place for long. The lens aperture and shooting distance should be worked out to give the necessary depth of field with a shutter speed of 1/50 second or faster.

The dog should be photographed from a viewpoint at about the same level and from an angle at which he appears in three-quarter view- i.e., neither square on nor in sideways view, but somewhere between the two. The head should be in such a position that nose, eyes, and ears can all be kept in sharp focus.

It is most important to catch the dog when it is wearing a characteristic expression. Large breeds, like Alsatians, Great Danes, etc., should be taken when they are looking dignified and alert, whilst terriers are more suitably shown in a playful mood.

It is easier to deal with a sitting animal than one which is standing, and there is less risk of movement. But photographs taken to depict show points need standing positions which clearly show the typical features to advantage. This sort of photograph calls for the cooperation of an expert in the breed.

A suitable word from the owner just before the shutter cjicks will make the subject prick his ears, open his eyes and generally look alert and keen. But such encouragement must be used sparingly or the word will either lose its magic, or excite the dog and make him uncontrollable.

Another person's help can often be very useful in attracting the dog's attention. They can hold a favourite toy or a fresh bone and often obtain a useful reaction, or if some completely strange plaything is presented at the critical moment, the result is often highly amusing and worth photographing. But the dog must not see the object until just before the shutter clicks or the element of surprise will be lost. And such tricks seldom work twice at one sitting.


Head-and-shoulder portraits of dogs require even greater care. There is always a risk of distortion in a close-up picture. Good quality lenses of normal focal length will allow considerable enlargement of a portion of a negative or cropping of a digital image, and in practice it is better to work at 6 feet and enlarge the negative than risk distortion by coming close to the subject.

The most satisfactory way out is to use a long-focus lens as it gives a large-sized image at a reasonable distance. With the decreased depth of field of such lenses, accurate focusing is essential. Head studies of long-nosed dogs, like Borzois and collies, are difficult because the depth of field must be considerable to cover the entire head from nose to ears. Here again three-quarter and profile studies are preferable to full-face portraits.

Action Photographs

Action photographs of dogs out-of-doors call for shutter speeds of anything from 1/200 to 1/500 second.

A running dog is best photographed by swinging the camera in the same direction as the movement, and making the exposure with the camera actually moving. If the dog is jumping over an obstacle, the shutter should be released at the top of the jump when he is moving neither up nor down.

An alternative way of photographing dogs in action is to use a synchronized speed flash or flashgun. With these aids, movement of almost any speed can be frozen.


Good indoor photographs can be taken of any normally well-behaved dog. It is better to choose a room with plain distempered or papered walls and a floor-covering that is without a pattern. As much of the furniture as possible should be moved away to leave a reasonably clear area for working in.

Reflectors and/or artificial lighting should be brought in to relieve shadows and the subject should be posed as near the windows as possible, but away from shadows cast by the window-frame.

The camera should be mounted on a tripod or support and worked at the fastest shutter speed that conditions permit. If Photoflood lamps are used, they should be kept well away from'the animal or it may be distressed by the intense light. Flash, on the other hand, does not often worry animals, and electronic flash, in particular, seems to go completely unnoticed.


Two or more animals together are very much more difficult to photograph than one. As soon as one looks right, the other is sure to move. If the dogs are free to roam about, it is wise to use as small a lens aperture as practicable to get the maximum depth of field. But the table-top technique is probably best, with willing hands to hold the dogs. The helpers should let the dogs go an instant before the shutter clicks, while at the same time another assistant makes a sudden noise or shouts to attract the heads around into the same direction. Such groups should never be attempted single-handed, nor even with only one helper.

Photographing Puppies

Most puppies are intensely active, and unless the subject is very young, or full and sleepy, the task of photographing it should be treated as action photography.

An old slipper or hat, held out by the assistant, can generally be relied upon to start something worth photographing, and a sudden strange noise will often make the puppy stop short in an interesting attitude. A sleepy pup cradled in a box or basket is easy to photograph and generally worth taking. It is particularly necessary when photographing tiny puppies to keep the camera down to their level.

Updated: 08/31/2013, photography
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Lesley on 03/26/2013

Wow! I don't write here on Wizzley but you have done a fine job and they should be grateful to have you, this is an amazing article on photographing dogs!

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