SMILE—LET’S SEE THOSE PEARLY FANGS (Tips on Canine Photography)

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Naturally, our pets aren’t going to smile for the camera—at least what we would consider a human smile. There are, however, assorted techniques to take impressive canine pictures without needing fangy grins. Below are some of the basics: In General
  • Consider your pet’s energy level. If you want posed pictures, the session may be more productive if he’s a bit on the tired side, so exercise him beforehand. For action shots, save the exercise for the session itself.
  • Keep in mind the colour of your dog’s fur and use a contrasting background so he doesn’t blend into it.
  • Experiment with a variety of exposures—different angles, close-ups and wide views.
  • Keep a camera nearby for unplanned moments.
  • If possible, use soft, natural light. Too much bright sunshine outside can turn eyes into squinty slits. Firing a flash indoors can cause red, green or a yellowy glow eye and wash out your subject. Take advantage of any window light—I often place Tessi by our patio doors. Whether indoors or out, using a combination of fill (low-level) flash—offered on most cameras—and natural lighting, you may achieve the right balance that brightens up those peepers and enhances the fur. (This is where digital is more convenient than film. You can experiment, see the results right away and delete where needed.)
  • Squat or kneel down to your dog’s level. You become part of his world, which offers a more realistic view of him and a direct connection with him.
  • The eyes are expressive, reveal emotion and are what draw us to any living being. They should always be in focus in a photograph.
  • The biggest challenge I find when posing dogs, is getting them to stay when I crouch down to their level. They usually stand up and walk towards me. Teaching a basic “stay” makes the process easier. A number of years ago, I dogsat an exuberant, untrained 11-month-old boxer for a few weeks. With a bit of coaching, he was soon modeling like a pro.
  • Our four-legged subjects won’t usually look towards the camera, since they can’t detect you behind it. Have another person stand close to you to call to him. For extra incentive, the assistant can hold a toy or a treat.
  • Another way to get your pooch to look at you is to make strange or goofy noises. Tessi’s gotten used to the sounds, so now I have to excitedly ask: “Where’s Daddy?” or “Where’s the squirrel?” It works only because she knows enough to not dash off to look.
  • Include your pet’s favourite toy as a prop, not only to help him feel more comfortable, but to add a personal touch to the resulting picture.
  • If your dog won’t stay still, try letting him play or wander a bit. Then suddenly blurt out his name. This may stop him long enough to for you to capture a “posed” shot.
  • The one issue frustrating me now that I rarely carry my SLR camera and use my compact camera more often is that I find sharp action images difficult to capture. For any type of camera, set the highest shutter speed the lighting conditions allow for. (Higher speeds need a brighter sky. Consider morning and evening light—each awards more pleasing results.) If you’re not up on photography lingo or your camera doesn’t give you the option, use the action or sports setting generally offered.
  • To achieve that one great action shot, be ready to take lots of exposures—many of them will be duds, which you can easily delete. You could even try setting the camera on the continuous shooting mode also usually provided. Then you’ll end up with a myriad of shots to pick from.
Most of All
  • Have patience.
  • Have fun.
In the process of taking your dog’s picture you may be surprised at discovering interesting aspects of his personality. While in one session, a doggy parent I know quite well was sitting with her guy. She kept telling him what a good lookin’ boy he was. His responding growls showed his fangs—but I don’t think in a smiley way.

(c) Cheryl Smyth, 2014


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