Sharpening Your Skills in Pet Photography during Social Isolation
If you are like many people I know during this time of social distancing and working from home, the only friend you may be hanging out with regularly is your best friend… your doggo! While they might be super excited to have you around all day long, you might be struggling to come up with things to do to keep them active and to keep yourself from going stir crazy. Snapping pics of your pups is a fun way to train with your dog, a great opportunity to hone your photo skills, and may even bring you some internet fame!
Training your Pup
Before we go any further, make sure you have worked with your dog over time and done some basic training to teach them simple things like sit, stay, lay, and recall, or the ability to come to you on command. Daily training teaches them to learn new skills that will aid in photo sessions. If you plan on using a DSLR camera and lenses or other equipment, introduce them to your camera gear slowly and with lots of positive reinforcement, like treats and praise. Consider silencing all sounds on your camera, like the focus beep or shutter, to prevent any possible reactivity or anxiety.
Choosing the Right Camera
As for choosing a camera, I always say the one you have in your hand is the best. Using either a phone camera or point and shoot camera is always quick and simple and probably the easiest way to get great shots of your dog at the moment. It comes down to being inexpensive, lightweight, and straightforward. They require minimal setting adjustments when your focus is on your fur baby. If you are just sharing online and posting to social media, most phones have great editing tools built-in as well to get the perfect post-edit pic. Many up to date point and shoot cameras even allow you to upload photos directly to your phone for nearly instant sharing. Some popular point and shoot cameras on the market are the Sony RX100 IV, the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III, Fuji’s X100T, and the super durable Olympus Tough TG-6.
But if you’re ready to up your game, some great entry-level mirrorless and DSLR cameras for getting started are the Sony A6400, Nikon D3500, and Canon SL3, just to name a few. A camera with an interchangeable lens will allow you to maximize your creative control. Lenses with lower apertures will enable you to have a greater depth of field control, giving you the ability to blur the background. Zoom lenses will allow you to focus in close to your dog without getting in their space. And wide-angle lenses let you get right up to them and give some unique distortions or even a fisheye view. If you are just beginning to learn camera settings, almost every camera system has a full auto mode as well, in case you prefer to let the camera do the work. Over time, implementing new tools into your repertoire, like a wireless remote or lighting, will give you endless possibilities for learning new photography skills.
Once you have your camera of choice and your furry friend, start shooting around the house. Setting, lighting, and even your dog’s mood or activity level will affect your photos. Most dogs tend to be more stationary and still while indoors. Since lots of natural window light will provide the best results in detail and color of your images, try setting a bed near a window. Make sure to get down on their level to get a great perspective. I almost always recommend focusing on their eyes to show their personality. Get creative by adding lights, such as string lights to the scene. If you can do so, get outside in a comfortable but controlled environment for great action shots or to perfect your pup portrait photos. Early morning or late afternoon lighting is generally the most attractive light for any photography. But also work around your dog’s schedule, and exercising your dog before shooting will help calm them down some. A slightly hungry dog will also be far more attentive if you provide positive reinforcement and treat rewards for being a good model. When giving commands, be firm but not harsh. Understand that most dogs, especially high energy working breeds, want to please their humans.
Positive reinforcement is an essential part of a great bond with your doggos. Like any other type of training, learning a new skill such as being a good dog model or being a good dog photographer for that matter, takes practice and patience. Always reward them for a job well done with verbal praise and high-value treats. Never be angry with a pet for not doing what you want. If a dog is not cooperating for a photo, remember, they are just a dog. Know when to take a break, put down the camera, and play. Allowing your dog to play is often the best time to get those great action shots! For you, the reward is having a happy dog that loves you and is tired at the end of a productive day.
Sharing the Love
Once you get the hang of it, photographing your pets becomes a great way to document their lives and the special bond you have with them. Sharing your memories through social media by creating your dog’s own personal accounts where it’s allowed, like through Instagram, can also open up a whole new world of possibilities. Connecting with other pet lovers can expand your training and pet care knowledge base. Seeing other people’s pets and their adventures can give you great new ideas for things to do with your dogs, the best gear or supplies to use, as well as creative inspiration through photography. But more than anything, with so many polarizing differences in the world around us, pets are a terrific way to bring people together in the community.
In my personal experience, photographing my pups and sharing those photos through social media has led to some of the greatest experiences. I’ve had some amazing adventures, taken some of my favorite images ever, and even started a dog-related podcast. The friendships I’ve formed with other dog owners, both in real life and online around the world, are something I cherish. I look forward to seeing those familiar furry faces daily. I know that I can always reach out to the dog community for advice, or just a heartwarming reminder that we are never alone, even in this challenging time of social distancing and sheltering in place.
Author: Nathan Berry
I’m Nathan and I am the photo and video lighting technician for Lensrentals.com. In my free time, I can usually be found trail running in the backcountry with my dog Roux, taking photos, and hosting the Adventure Dog Podcast.