Pet Photography: 7 Surefire Tips for Capturing a Dog’s Personality

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Pet Photography: 7 Surefire Tips for Capturing a Dog’s Personality

Pet Photography: 7 Surefire Tips for Capturing a Dog’s Personality

Ahhh…dogs. Those lovable furry creatures who make our lives so full of fun and fur. Where would we be without them? They are so dear to our hearts, yet only with us a short amount of time. Who wouldn’t want a million pictures of the big lug, he’s your best pal and he deserves it. While the pictures you are getting for yourself or your clients are great, they don’t always capture exactly what you were looking for. So here are a few tips that I hope will help you capture the true personality of the next dog you photograph.

Yellow lab smiling in fall leaves

1. Who is this furry beast?
Talking to the owners is the best way to start understanding the pup you’re shooting. Every dog has a distinct personality, even if they are the same breed. The owner will know the little quirks and hilarious things their dogs do, so start by asking them. Nothing sells a picture more than that “thing” that only Duke does. Not only will they want to buy it, but more importantly they will cherish that image long after Duke has gone.

You can ask things like what are his favorite things to do (i.e., go to the beach, chase frisbees, lie in front of the fire and gnaw on a special chew toy). Also, ask if he has any favorite words (like walk, kitty or treat) that will get his attention when you need it. Warning though, don’t over use these words without a few treats or he might stop listening to you. Ask if he likes his ears scratched or his belly rubbed. Once you get to know him a little better, he’ll love that you know his favorite scratching spots.

Dog and owner at the beach

2. Lets be friends
You can’t just roll right in and bust out your camera and start shooting. Most dogs won’t relax around someone they don’t know, swinging around a huge black object that makes funny noises. Similar to kids, they could be scared by it or even put on their guard. While that emotion may be distinct to the dog, it does not make for great pictures or for a good afternoon of shooting. Even if you know the dog well, it’s best to start off playing a little and getting re-acquainted.

There are many things you can do to get acquainted. Some suggestions are: spend time throwing the ball around if your furry client likes to fetch, or try playing tug of war with one of his favorite toys. It will wear him out a bit and you’ll gain his trust as a friend. Also by playing around, you will quickly learn what the dog loves and can possibly use those items you were playing with as props in some of your images.

Dog hanging out during a morning latte

3. Check out my gear!
After a little bit of play time and you can tell he’s feeling a little better about you being around, pull out your camera and just let him sniff it. Don’t try taking any pictures, just leave it out so he can see it and get use to it.

Next, make the shutter go off. You don’t need to point it at the dog, just have the camera make the sound. Did he cock his head? Does he still look interested? Afraid? Let him see it again and soon he’ll be okay. Now, not all dogs are going to be totally okay with you in their face with a camera. That’s okay too, it doesn’t mean the session is over. Bring out a longer lens and just get further away from the dog so they feel less threatened by your gear. Sometimes it’s just having it in front of your face that bothers the them. If they don’t mind the camera but don’t like it once you pull it up to take the shot, try shooting from the hip or the ground. Set yourself up on aperture priority and put the camera on the ground or in the grass or shoot while holding the camera by your side. You can get some great shots this way from a dogs perspective.

Dog looking right into the camera lens

This guy here was so curious and wanted to be by my side. I’d have him sit and stay and when I would get ready to shoot, he’d come bouncing up to sit by me. I shot this with my camera low on my body walking backwards with the dog. Lucky? Probably. Fun? Definitely!

Dog coming towards camera

4. So THIS is where you hang out?!
Once your dog is nice and relaxed, try shooting them in their environment. Again, this will go back to asking questions and talking with the owner.

Can you tell this dog LOVES the tall grass at the dog park. This is my girl Bailey, and throwing sticks into the summer grass and getting lost in the jungle is one of her favorite past times. I had to get one of her here. When she is long past her days of running free, I will always remember her at the dog park running in and out of the tall weeds looking for that stick. This is truly her in her element. It took a few tries, but I love how it turned out.

Dog running through a grassy field

This dog loves to snorkel for treats by burying her nose in anything to find her delicious snack. This was taken in the fall where she could plow through all the leaves and had a blast doing it. You can just see the spirit coming out of a dog who is doing something they truly love. Definitely something funny and unique that you will want to try to get some shots of.

Dog looking for snacks in the leaves

Dog looking up at owner while buried in a pile of leaves

5. Wooo woo woooooo and other fun noises
If you can make a sounds a dog hasn’t heard before you can usually get them to look at you with a curious fun look. Try making a kissing noise or clicking your tongue or using one of those trigger words you know the dog loves.  This pup was so new it was easy to get him to look at me funny. What was difficult was getting him to stay.

Puppy looking with tilted head at camera

6. It’s all about patience and enjoying the day
Dogs are not always going to give you exactly what you might think you want, but if you are patient enough, you can usually get something amazing. Let them run around and do their thing and be an observer. When the dog feels relaxed around you, they’ll go back to being themselves. That’s where the most wonderful pictures come from.

Dog on grass looking up and smiling

For example, I love the way dogs shake the water off their coats when they get out of the lake. But it’s tough to get the light right and background how you want it. So I set up here hoping he would get out and get in front of me and shake. I know right? Sounds unlikely, but with some coaxing and treats and a million dips in the water, it happened. All it took was waiting it out and having plenty of great snacks on hand.

Dog shaking off water from his coat

Some of my favorite sessions are with dogs and their owners. The interaction and love they share is something I strive to get on camera and it always takes everyone relaxing and just being in the moment. The pictures from this owner and her dog were captured from walking on the beaches and getting her dog Jonus to play in the water. It wasn’t all about a big special “photo shoot”, it was about spending a day at the beach with some friends. Once Jonus relaxed and realized we were having fun, it all came together. This can only come from being patient.

Many picture of owner and their dogDog shaking off water and getting small boy wet

7. Final tidbits
Photographing dogs is one of the most wonderful things I could think of doing for an afternoon. Go in with an open mind, a lot of patience and be ready for a lot of fun. Get amazing treats for your new friend, a good squeaky toy for distraction and take these few tips with you and I am sure that the furry mug on the other side of your lens will be showing his true personality in no time.

All of the examples posted with rounded corners were created using the MCP Actions Rounded Blog It Boards. They are fun and easy to use and my clients love the new storyboards they are getting!

Four dogs in a collagecollage of dog and owner

About Julie Clegg
I am currently living in the Seattle, WA area, and work full time chasing dogs and kids around while expanding my photography business. When not shooting for clients, I regularly shoot for iStockphoto and Getty Images and am a contributing photographer for CityDog Magazine. I was most recently voted 1st runner up in the Best of Western Washington for pet photography. For more information about my work and booking a session, come visit me at JCleggPhotography or come over and “Like” me on Facebook!

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  1. Meredith
    June 11, 2015 at 11:38 am —

    Did you have to get any kind of special license in order to photograph pets and sale the pictures?

  2. November 28, 2010 at 4:54 pm —

    Thank you so much for this post!! I volunteer with my local animal shelter and was recently asked to photograph our residents for the website. I’m a cat person myself, so the dogs are a challenge; add to that the stress of the shelter environment and a need to work with whatever environment presents itself at that particular moment, and, well, let’s just say I’m learning as I go!! These tips have given me some great ideas and I appreciate your sharing of them.

  3. Crystal aka momaziggy
    November 23, 2010 at 2:00 pm —

    This was a WONDERFUL post! Thank you so much for hosting this Jodi! And Julie, you have such a wonderful connection with the dogs you photograph and I’m over the MOON that you have that gorgeous blue pit on here as well. I’m an avid pit bull lover and it always makes me happy when people show what pits really are….big babies that love their owners and are a part of the family like any other breed. I also love the owner of that pit because you know that she is the right type of person to own the breed and shed such a beautiful light on the breed. So…thank you so much. I enjoyed all of your images, but the pit especially! I just wanna hug him!

  4. November 22, 2010 at 8:00 pm —

    These are such great images Julie! Thanks for sharing tips on how to photograph the “other children” in our families! They’re not always as cooperative; so this will be a big help.

  5. November 22, 2010 at 5:59 pm —

    I really LOVE this article with pet photography tips on MCP. Julie, your images are fresh, fun, heartwarming & beautiful. A professional “portrait” style photographer for 21 yrs facing the up rise in competition in the family, children & wedding market, I have decided to spend the future redesigning my studio image as a animal photography specialists that still does family, children and weddings. Family pets, cherished as much as our children,is a great market for those who love spending time with them and have the patience to get the shot. Thank You for your tips and encouragement. I am excited about this new artistic direction I’m going to explore with my talent.

  6. I love that you used a beautiful pitty as an example…and a wonderful example, as well! There truly are so many critters with so much personality!

  7. November 22, 2010 at 9:06 am —

    great tips!

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Pet Photography: 7 Surefire Tips for Capturing a Dog’s Personality