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Photograph Your Dog Better Than a Professional

Photograph Your Dog Better Than a Professional
By Vincent Strangio

As a professional pet photographer (I only photograph animals, no humans at all) I am always asked by people why they cannot get their dogs to look the way they do in my photos. At first I usually tell them it is because I am a gifted genius and they are not...and walk away. After a few moments of stunned silence, I return with a smile, assure them that it's nothing too difficult and offer a few pointers. I also tell them that they should be able to photograph their dog better than any professional because they have something the pros do not and is the most important part of photographing dogs: time and patience with that dog. So if you really want to get the best shots of your dog, here is my advice, as this is the way I would do it if you paid me.

I am not going to go into how a camera works, or what all the settings do. Most people do not know and do not care. They want to just point and shoot so that is what I am going to assume you want to do as well. Any decent camera nowadays can take awesome photographs of the correct subject. So lets just make sure you have these few things set up correctly. First, turn the flash off. The flash from a point and shoot camera comes directly at the dog and is very unnatural and unflattering. I really doubt you can ever get a 'perfect' shot using an on camera flash. Even if the dog's expression was perfect and the background was perfect and everything looks great, it would have looked that much better had the lighting been natural.

So shut off the flash. Also, just set your camera to its automatic setting (if it has an action or sports mode use that one), so it automatically sets the aperture and shutter speed. Again, this is not about how the camera works, its about how to get the great shots...let the camera do the work.

OK, now we need to find the right time to get that great shot. This is where you have the biggest and most important advantage over any pro. The biggest advice I can give when photographing animals is you must have a lot of time and even more patience! Without either, do not expect perfection. So, with that in mind, either early in the morning or late in the day when the sun is very low, but still bright, take your dog outside. Lighting inside is usually insufficient or fake and unnatural. Make sure your camera is with you and ready.

Start taking pictures (or actually, just pretend to) of other things and ignore your dog. Stay fairly close to him but do not acknowledge him. Act like you are busy photographing other things but out of the corner or your eye, watch him. Also keep quiet and make sure no one else is around to distract him. If you were paying me to photograph him, I would tell you to go inside and watch TV or something, and keep everyone else inside so its just me and the dog. Let your dog relax and do whatever he does naturally.

All the while slowly get in a position where your dog is in front of something nice which contrasts his color and would make a nice background. Like a yellow lab standing in front of a green hedge, for example. If you have a black lab, you do not want them standing on a black driveway, get it. At this time of day, the sunlight will be low and soft, creating nice shadows. Move into position where the sun's rays are hitting your dog at an angle, not straight on. Now you are in prime position and all you need to do is be quiet and wait.

Eventually he will ignore you and start to do his thing. It may take 10 minutes, or it may take an hour but if you are patient, he will calm down and look very natural. Slowly follow him and start taking photos, moving very slowly and being very quiet. If he does something cute, slowly focus the camera and take the shot. Do not make any quick moves. I try and keep the camera up to my face for as long as my arms can stand it.

You should be able to get many great shots of him being him. If you want to get one with his ears up and alert, do not start screaming like a madman and getting him all excited. If you wait long enough, a car, bird, chipmunk, or something will get him to perk up. Or you can try and be very subtle and can make one or two very faint clicks or psst sounds, but that is it. Just be subtle. You only want him to perk up, not think you are calling him or want to play with him. One thing I like to do is throw a little pebble or stick into some bushes, when he is not looking, so it makes a faint noise. He will usually perk up and glance that way.

Take tons of shots. I am assuming you are using a digital camera. There is no reason not to take a million pictures. Most will stink, and you can delete those, but you will get some beautiful keepers. Many times, ones I thought would look great, came out poorly and vice versa. You just never know which ones will be the winners and the odds are in your favor if you take hundreds, versus dozens.

Lastly, do not use any treats. I rarely, if ever, use them. They get your dog excited and focused on you, which is what you do not want. If he is not doing what you want, you need to wait, period. Eventually, he will lie down, if that is what you are after. Or if you want him to perk his ears up, he eventually will, if you wait long enough, guaranteed.

So basically, there is no great secret. The trick is to be quiet, patient, and have a lot of time. If you think you are going to grab a camera and take 10 minutes to photograph your dog and be able to get great shots, do not bother. But if you dedicate a morning or evening to photographing and are willing to be patient and quiet for as long as it takes, its very easy to get great shots. And you have much more time with your dog than any professional photographer, so you should be able to get many more great shots...and for free, too!

Vincent Strangio is a Pittsburgh, PA based professional pet photographer specializing in animals of all kinds but only animals, no humans at all. His photography is featured on a dog and cat greeting card line sold in stores throughout the United States as well as on 5 different dog breed tee shirt , sweatshirt, mouse pad and throw pillow lines sold exclusively through his online store. To date, he has sold over 15,000 shirts bearing his images. You can see samples of his work here: Dog shirts, sweatshirts and mouse pads from Vincent Strangio, Pet Photographer

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