If you are like most dog owners, just about any photo you take of your dog will make you smile. This is because our dogs can be genuine characters, and we love to capture all the crazy stuff they do and the sweet moments they give us.
However, you can do some simple things to make your photos even better and increase your chances of getting some real "wall hangers."
Before becoming a dog trainer, my first career was as a photojournalist. For 28 years, I photographed professional and college sports, breaking news, celebrities and entertainers, presidents and politicians, and just about everything else. Having been a dog trainer for three years, I have some excellent insight into getting some great shots that combine photography skills and knowing dogs.
During my photography career, I used expensive SLR cameras (the expensive ones with interchangeable lenses). Still, today's cellphone cameras are pretty good at doing many things only pro cameras were once capable of doing. Of course, cellphone cameras have a few limitations, which I will discuss later, but the best camera in the world is the one you have with you when you need it. More times than not, we all have a camera phone nearby, so that is what I will focus on (pun intended).
Keep Your Phone Handy
Anytime you are interacting with your dog, get in the habit of having your phone around. I am constantly reaching for my phone because my dog has suddenly done something unexpected. You will miss some great moments if your phone is not in your pocket when you take them outside or if it is not beside you on the couch when your dog finds a unique position to lounge.
Dogs do a lot of cool things spontaneously, and you should be prepared. If possible, set your phone to have your camera immediately available on the lock screen, so you do not have to spend valuable seconds searching for the camera app.
Remember The "Three Ss"
Three things are key ingredients for a great photo: Subject, Situation, and Surprise. The subject, of course, is the dog. The situation is usually the environment, for example, the backyard, the swimming pool, the lake, the kitchen, or the sofa. The third element is the surprise factor, which is perhaps a bit unusual for the subject in the situation. What separates most of us from the chef when cooking in the kitchen is the seasoning, the surprising taste that puts the flavor over the top.
Some examples of "the surprise" in our dog's photos would be when our dog is wearing a hilarious costume, when they shake the water off their fur after a swim, when their expression favors a smile, or their nose is covered with dirt after digging up the flower bed. The surprise is often the reason we choose to take a photo. The surprise can be a number of things, but it is the thing that makes your image something more than just a photo of your dog.
Change Your Point of View
Most photos of our dogs are taken from the same angle we most often look at them, downward. However, studies have shown that photos showing everyday things from an angle that we do not often see are visually more attractive.
Try some other positions. Take the picture from the dog's eye level or lower for a change. The smaller the dog, the more impact this will have. Also, try some shots from a higher level than usual. Stand on a step or chair and maybe catch their shadow on the ground.
Use Noise, Toys, and Treats
Most dogs will respond to the squeak of a toy or any strange noise you can make. A good whistle from your lips can get them to turn their heads and raise their ears. Their expression can be the surprise you are looking for. Tails will be wagging as they try to understand what you are doing. The sillier you can be, the better.
Reward them with treats – the modeling fee – for doing a good job, and they will most likely do it again if you need them to.
Basic Obedience Skills Can Help
Basic obedience skills will be invaluable in getting them to pose correctly. A dog who knows how to sit, down, watch, and stay will be an excellent model for you. Getting your dog in the proper position and place and staying there while you take their photo will make a photo shoot much more manageable. Obedience training will also make them more likely to look at you and the camera.
Do Not Block Your Eyes with The Phone
Dogs typically pay better attention to you when you are looking at them. Have you ever tried telling your dog to sit and then turning your back when they do? Only a well-trained dog can restrain the urge to ignore you when you are apparently ignoring them. The same is true if you hold your camera phone in front of your eyes while attempting to take a photo. Most dogs only get rewarded when you are looking at them. In fact, the act of looking at them is one of the forms of attention they crave.
Hold your phone down just a little to maintain eye contact while taking the photo.
Think About the Light
Good lighting can make a great picture, and bad lighting can ruin a good moment. If you are indoors, window lighting is best. Window lighting can add dimension through the shadows it creates, sort of a Rembrandt effect. Window lighting can separate your subject from the background and create a natural look at the same time.
If you are outdoors, try to keep the sun at your back and therefore shining on your dog's face. Dark, ugly shadows could obscure your dog's face if the sun is at your dog's back. Also, be careful that your shadow does not fall on the dog while the sun is behind you.
Zoom In and Zoom Out
Before zoom lenses were added to camera phones, the only way to zoom in and out was to use your feet to walk closer or further away. Zooming out or using a wide-angle lens offers you a way to show the environment, like at the beach or in the mountains. A wide-angle view can also create some distortion with your dog's face if you hold the phone close to the dog.
Zooming in or using a telephoto feature allows you to get a tight image of your dog and exclude things in the background that may be distracting.
Either way, these are good tools to use in exercising your creativity.
Camera Phone Limitations
Refrain from using the camera phone's built-in flash or lighting. Dog's eyes are highly reflective. A light shining directly into your dog's eyes when the ambient light is low will result in two demonic-looking, glowing spots where their eyes are supposed to be. Unless this evil look is what you want, just avoid camera phone lighting altogether.
Secondly, camera phones are not good at stopping action. They do a decent job in bright sunlight, but anything less will likely yield a photo with some amount of blur if your dog is moving. Shooting in a "burst mode" will help you catch the moment of peak action that you are looking for, but the moment will likely not be sharp. This is one thing SLR cameras with adjustable shutter speeds still do better. With a camera phone, a video of a moving dog is the best way to go.
Get Apps for Photo Finishing
Now that you have a great image of your dog, you can still improve it by using a photo finishing app. Many different apps for photos are available in your app store. Some are free, and some cost a few dollars.
With apps, you can add a variety of different effects, make areas of the image lighter or darker, remove unwanted elements from a photo, add a glow, add text, or blur a background. The sky is the limit when using apps for photofinishing.
There are many apps available, and some are more user-friendly than others. My personal favorites are Snapseed, Camera Plus, and Enlight.
The Most Important Tip
The photo should mean something special to you!
Our dogs are special members of our lives. They communicate through their body language and the things they do, how they look, or how they stand. Try to capture their personalities and why you love them in your photos. Our dogs probably mean more to us than anyone else, so try and take pictures that capture the things about them that make you happy.