Photos of Dogs
Two Things to Consider
Whenever I’m going to photograph a breed of Dogs I haven’t worked with before, I read as much as I can about its heritage. I find out what they were bred for, what their desired characteristics are and what people most appreciate about them. What is the appeal of that particular breed?
I also talk with breeders and owners about the more specific qualities of their canines. My goal is to create an image that does the breed, and the individual dog, justice. I want to show off the best qualities of each breed I work with, AND convey the individual dog’s spirit in my photos. So, research, which includes observation, is an essential part of the process and it should be done before ever picking up your camera.
Knowing the Breed
Knowing the breed is half the information required for capturing the spirit of the working dog in photographs. Getting a bit familiar with a particular dog’s personality is the other half, and you should never leave out this step. Little nuances in an individual behavior can really enhance a certain photo and, many times, the pup can help you decide where to take that shot in the first place!
Get to know a puppy before photographing him in order to be able to fade into the background during the photo session itself. As you get more in tune with the pup, he becomes more comfortable with you, trusts you to either touch him or simply observe him, and the session goes MUCH more smoothly. Even playful, friendly pups need to get used to you, or they will be more caught up in who you are, and in investigating your photo gear, than in doing what it is you want them to do, which is showing you what makes them so special.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you must not get caught up in the myth that puppies are hard to photograph. Yes, they move around all over the place, want to sniff your camera, lick your lens, climb into your photo pack and climb all over you. Yes, they run all over the place, will NOT sit still, and will turn their head or open their eyes JUST as you snap the shutter, and yes, you will throw away more images than you will keep. However, if you do it right, you will have some incredible keepers!
Working Dog Pups
"Working-dog" pups still have the drive and desire to work, even if they don’t yet know HOW to work. It’s in their blood, literally. Certain traits are preferred in certain breeds, and therefore, those traits are bred for, and they show up instinctually as the pup goes about its business, undistracted by you, the photographer. You don’t have to make an effort to illicit instinctual reactions, and the pup doesn’t have to be encouraged to demonstrate them.
What you do have to do is WAIT. Patience is a virtue with puppies, as anyone who has raised one will tell you. The same applies when photographing them. You must always have your camera ready. You must accept the inevitable fact that when you pull it out, your inquisitive pup is going to stop whatever he is doing and wander over to see what YOU are doing. You must expect to be EXTREMELY frustrated. Get past that, and you will wind up with some incredible puppy images.
I urge you to take pictures of your own dogs at all stages of their lives, even if they are not "exceptional shots of quality." Who cares! We never know how long our pets will be with us, and images of our best friends are powerful. Most times our own personal dog pictures make us smile. Sometimes they make us sad because certain dogs are no longer with us. But most importantly, their photographs have bought joy to our hearts, and the hearts of others, and though our dogs cannot always remain with us, their images stay with us all our lives.
Lights, Camera, Action!!! The Art of Action Shots
The key to getting successful images when photographing any dog event is to be in the right location and to know what you want to achieve. Again, it‘s a good idea to do your homework, so attend training, live hunt trials, or whatever the event may be, before your actual photo shoot to get an idea of what goes on.
Yes, I recommend not taking your camera to your first hunt trial. Having no camera to think about and fiddle with will force you to study the dogs, the sequence of events, and the light at different times of the day. Again, lighting makes a difference. It determines whether you get flat or rich photographic results. (An upcoming article on ‘Photography and Light’ will provide more detail.) Being "sans camera" will also free you up to talk with people and introduce yourself. If people know you and like you they will be more comfortable with you photographing their pets and even go out of their way to help you get positioned to take better shots.
Working dogs are very focused on doing their jobs, but just as aware of their environment, so I wanted to blend into the scene, rather than stand out and distract them, for the courtesy of the people working their dogs and for my own selfish reasons! A canine fully focused on doing his job is going to enable me to get exactly what I’m hoping for; a unique and impressive image.
Timing is everything when photographing dogs in action, so I used a motor drive in my camera which is a device that speeds up the film advance feature and lets me take frame after frame continuously, allowing me to shoot five frames per second as opposed to the usual one frame per second. This increases the likelihood of getting some real striking moments of action on film.
Shooting Set-up Shots
Some folks like to take posed, portrait-type puppy shots. I do too --- when the breed, or the dog’s special spirit lends to it. However, I prefer to show any animal in a natural setting doing what they are bred for. Any set-up shots I do, such as one where props are used, or where puppies are placed on a particular surface, or in a certain environment, is designed only to emphasize and correspond with the theme of the breed and/or the dog’s special personality.
Capturing the Spirit of Breeds
Certainly you want to capture the spirit of the breed AND of the individual dog when you photograph, yet I feel a truly successful photo is one that also brings out emotion in the person who views it. If my spirit isn’t stirred by an image, I have learned, no one else’s will be, so I strive to make people smile, either due to a ‘cuteness’ factor, or say "WOW!" because an image has a high degree of drama. I want an IMPACT image, one that people cannot put out of their mind.
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