Become a Dog Portrait Master in 7 Steps

A few years ago I was out with my friends and suddenly ran out of space on my phone camera… I’d only owned this phone for a short time and had been saving money so I hadn’t been out for a while. At this moment I realised that I had countless dog portraits, virtually day by day documentation of the first six months of my pets’ lives and virtually no human shots! I noticed that dog ownership had made me a more prolific photographer and that my pets had become an integral part of my family, so I started to think of ways to improve the dog portraits I was capturing.

Friends for life. Photograph by Dawid Sobolewski
Friends for life. Photograph by Dawid Sobolewski

Dogs and humans share a special symbiotic relationship, so in return for our care, structured exercise regime and of course food, they consider us to be part of their ‘pack’. This relationship allows us to feel a level of understanding with our furry companions seeing as humans can interpret the emotional states of their dogs and vice versa.

1: Keep your camera phone accessible

Most online advice for dog portraits are written from the perspective of a professional photographer, whose job is to contrive and stage shots with an animal they don’t really know. So the focus of these tips will assume you are always with your faithful friend and companion. This brings us to a really important tip that will revolutionise the way you document your dog’s life. It’s important to always be ready to flip out that camera phone anytime your dog does something cute. My patented personal strategy is to always keep my phone in the same pocket and use a wallet chain attached to the case (all of this costs very little on eBay). This way I can pull out the phone, access camera mode and start shooting at a moment’s notice. It also makes you less likely to lose your phone, which will now be virtually theft proof.

Sometimes impromptu photos are surprisingly good. Photograph by Tanja Heffner
Sometimes impromptu photos are surprisingly good. Photograph by Tanja Heffner

 

2: Portrait time is nothing to bark about!

To capture good dog portraits you should ensure he or she is comfortable around cameras. Now your phone is always in the same place your furry friend will know when you are reaching for it. This is why it is best to keep photo time casual and nothing to get amped up about. You want to document your friend doing what comes naturally, so let your dog get used to you taking snaps while out walking then you’ll be all set to make some masterpieces.

Once your dog feels comfortable. their true identity shines through. Photograph by Nidhin Nundackal
Once your dog feels comfortable. their true identity shines through. Photograph by Nidhin Nundackal

3: A break from the old routine

A friend of mine has a golden retriever who loves cameras, I guess because she realizes that when one is pointing at her she is likely to get treats and attention. She has even run into the shot for other people’s’ family photos in the past! Because she knows what her owner considers to be her ‘smile’, the dog has a habit of always striking the same ‘pose’, meaning dog portraits of her started to look very similar. I convinced my friend to break up the routine and take her by surprise with some action shots. We got some amazing photos just by both of us taking photos of her simultaneously. Because photographing the dog had become such an important part of their relationship I took many photos of owner photographing her posing dog from a different angle. These were some truly original and effective dog portraits featuring the owner. Next, we both called the dog from far away and took it in turns to photograph her, using a close zoom and a fast shutter speed.

Get a friend to shoot a dog and owner portrait. Photograph by João Victor Xavier Recife.
Get a friend to shoot a dog and owner portrait. Photograph by João Victor Xavier Recife.

4: Infinite chances to get it right

I generally accept that at least 50% of my photos will not be ‘keepers’. We’re not professional photographers so this is nothing to be ashamed of. Also, now photography is a digital medium we can delete failed attempts on mass. This wasn’t the case 20 years ago! You only had 24 or 36 photos on a reel and it would cost money to turn these into photographs (meaning that when they were printed you had forgotten the circumstances behind taking the snaps). Trial and error have become the best way to learn about using a camera phone, so by accepting that you have virtually limitless photographs you can stop worrying about mistakes and keep shooting until you capture that vital image.

An image taken on the fly can pack a punch. Photograph by Ayla Verschueren
An image taken on the fly can pack a punch. Photograph by Ayla Verschueren

5: A shot in the dark

For night time photos, flashes can capture one well-planned shot if you are lucky, but I find it easier to use a smartphone torchlight so they are less alarmed when the shot is taken. I often find when I use a consistent light in this way they are likely to get on with whatever they were previously doing ready for me to capture it. Similar to your relationship with your dogs, you have to get to know your camera phone! Play with it and work out its pros and cons, google your phone brand and watch instruction videos for the camera function on YouTube.

Consistent lighting creates less drama! Photograph by André Spieker
Consistent lighting creates less drama! Photograph by André Spieker

6- Improve your dog’s modeling career

Training is vital! If you can get your dog to patiently sit, this will increase your chances of getting that perfect shot. Dog training programmes are really accessible on YouTube, so it really is a great resource if your dog needs a bit of help in becoming a better ‘sitter’ for dog portraits.

An obedient dog is the pet photographer’s best friend. Photograph by Andrew Branch
An obedient dog is the pet photographer’s best friend. Photograph by Andrew Branch

7: Be bold and experimental

Hopefully you will now always have your camera phone with you and have a good idea how to use it. If you seem to always be getting the same kind of photos, be creative. Try crouching down for close-up shots, shooting out of a window and zooming in while your pet looks up at you, perhaps even lying on the floor while they excitedly make a fuss over you! Put them in interesting places (so long as they are happy to be there) and keep snapping away. It is wise to check your photos every day, keeping them on a file on your computer so your phone memory doesn’t overflow.

Use props to prop up your photos! Photograph by Marion Michele
Use props to prop up your photos! Photograph by Marion Michele

So you feel you’ve taken the perfect dog portrait? Then why not have it made into a beautiful painting that will stand as a treasured lasting tribute to the special relationship you have with your pet? The emotions your friends feel when they see the digital image on your camera phone will pale in comparison with their excitement when they see it gloriously rendered in traditional media in your home! At PaintYourLife we believe that today, art can be a priceless heirloom that is affordable to anyone. Check here to order now…