Edition Dog and Natures Menu Calendar Competition: Photography Guide

Picture Pawfect

Words: Alison Gallagher-Hughes

To help you prepare for our competition Alison Gallagher-Hugheslooks into what it takes to become a sure shot at pet photography.

Every once and a while your dog provides you with a picture-perfect moment…usually when you don’t have camera or mobile to hand. And when you do, with the aim of capturing the perfect pet portrait, you are rewarded with a sudden movement and woosh, a blur of fur leaves you pressing the delete button.

Edition Dog is asking readers to submit their best pet pictures for inclusion in its 2020 calendar. In order for your furry favourite to be in with a chance, first of all, think about technical. Many of us take most of our photos with a mobile but specifications on phones vary greatly depending on the age of the phone.

Check your camera settings to ensure that you are taking images at the highest resolution possible – for our purposes we will need to reproduce the winning pictures at 300 dpi (dots per inch).

Taking photos with your mobile however, has its advantages. Our phones are generally to hand, providing us with the immediacy to capture a moment as it presents itself (as long as the phone is switched on). Although the default settings may be sitting on auto focus, other speed settings can be applied so, play around with these features in various environments – indoors and out – in order to become more familiar with what your camera phone has to offer and what works best.

Many of the current mobiles have special features within their cameras including multiple lenses that provide a variety of visual perspectives, night modes, stabilisation, AR (augmented reality) and bokeh (blurred background).

Phone cameras replicate many of the features offered by the digital SLR (single lens reflex) camera. The latter provides much greater versatility but requires a greater level of knowledge and skill.

Most digital SLRs will have an auto setting which mean that starting to use it is not such a great leap forward from using a mobile. However, like any piece of equipment, the user will need to take time to learn how it works and what settings to use for various effects.

It is a journey well worth taking as the investment in time pays great dividends and unlike traditional film cameras, their digital capacity means that you can keep your finger on the shutter for continuous burst shots and select the best of the bunch – an ideal approach especially when attempting an action shot or photographing dogs in a natural setting. In these type of scenarios, a 1200 shutter speed is recommended along with a forward lighting trajectory. Having a dog head facing towards the camera means the light highlights the subject and avoids bright spots which would detract from the composition if backlit.

Now for the creative part: Edition Dog contributor Amanda Forman, who runs Rutland Pet Photography, says that the most important thing is to work with the dog, understand its needs and work the shoot around them to ensure that you are getting the best from the dog and that the animal is comfortable with the process.

“Animal welfare is the most important thing,” she highlights. “Whether it’s in the studio or on location, the dog has to be comfortable with its surroundings and the activity going on around it at every stage of the process.

“During a professional shoot, I like to have the owner attend so that they can engage with their dog, not only to work with commands but to vocalise which usually results in an appealing head tilt and the opportunity for the perfect shot.”

Despite the love of “Tongue out Tuesday” images on social media, the photographer should try to avoid any shots where the dog looks as though it is panting. This can be an indicator that they are feeling distressed or over-excited and tend to get overlooked if submitted for a pet photography award.

Within the studio Amanda recommends:

  • Setting the scene with diffused lighting and/or props. Prepare for your shoot and try and have everything in place and at hand to maximise the chance to capture those moments when your dog responds. Diffused lighting can be produced with constant lights or linked to the camera as a flash. The light can be bounced on to the subject using a professional reflector or a DIY alternative such as a white synthetic table covering pinned to a wall. Try using use an aperture of F8 or above to ensure the nose is sharp.
  • Flash photography – if using a flash, test the dog to see how he or she responds. It is important that the dog is comfortable with this process. A scared or uncomfortable dog does not make for an ideal subject. If a dog is food orientated, their tolerance of the flash can be increased with a treat at regular intervals – a positive reinforcement of behaviour as long as the dog is calm enough to accept the learning process.
  • Attention grabbers – anything that squeaks or makes a noise will help draw the dog’s attention. These can be regular dog toys or sounds that will draw a response such as bird or animal sounds. Alternatively, noise makers from children’s party bags can work a treat. If you are likely to be photographing your dog on a regular basis, it may be worth investing in a selection of noise makers attached to a chain which you can wear – keeping all the apparatus you need closer at hand.
  • Two’s company (but three can be a good crowd) – having someone with you when photographing a dog is a real advantage – particularly if that includes the owner/s. Not only will the presence of the owner make the dog more comfortable but also the engagement with make them more responsive. Never underestimate the power of the voice. A little “baby talk” will provide opportunities for eye contact and that perfect display of personality – the head tilt.
  • Treat time – reward your dog at intervals, affirm their patience and behaviour and don’t be afraid to take a break. Your dog will have a boredom threshold and will tell you when they have had enough. You can always return to it later.
  • Look at me – dogs have a great nose. Their ability to detect scent can work in your favour. Try affixing a treat to/near your camera. The strong-smelling foodstuff like a fishy treat, liver paste or dog-friendly peanut butter will do the trick.
  • Get the lowdown – big up your dog by getting down to their level. Lying flat on the floor, propped up on your elbows will get great results. It will also provide a better perspective and show your dog in all their glory.

If you are considering a location shoot, then you can work with the dog for longer. They will be naturally stimulated by what’s going on around them and capture the moment or if using commands to encourage the dog to sit or lie down. Take play breaks to stop your dog from getting bored.

If you worry about taking your dog off a lead in a public place, then don’t. Again, working with someone who can hold a long lead or tethering a dog to a corkscrew anchoring device is better than them being distracted by a bird and running off. Leads can always be removed from the final picture in post-production.

Try and find a location without a distracting background. Award-winning pet photography is achieved by making the subject stand out. If there’s a bright spot – sun appearing through a row of trees for example, the viewer’s eye will be drawn to the light as much as the main focus of the composition.

If photographing more than one dog, try getting a helper to walk them around in a circle before getting them into position. This ‘corralling’ process will often help your dogs to settle closer together for you to photograph.

And finally, be patient. It may take a good many shots to achieve the perfect image and only then with the benefit of post-production, particularly when trying to achieve an action shot – that one in 20 or even 40 capturing in a burst process may be ‘the one’. As they say practice make perfect for or ‘pawfect’ as may be the case.

Thank you to Amanda Forman. Amanda will be judging one of our categories.

Amanda Forman has been a professional photographer for six years and specialised in pet photography for two.

She is an Associate Photographer within the Master Photographers Association – a qualification that takes time and dedication to demonstrate a collective experience of skills and output.

Amanda began her professional career as a wedding photographer but when one of her couples brought Alfie the Terrier to a pre-nuptial session, found a new path for her creative skills.