Shooting (pictures of!) dogs is like any other sort or photography with its own charms, quirks and complexities.
Some of the universals of portrait photography certainly apply- it’s always important (or at least helps) to work with: good lighting, decent equipment, a (marginally) compliant and/or friendly subject, the right approach, someone on hand to help, a little luck and so on.
Unlike human portraiture subjects your dog can’t be reasoned with using logic, can’t be made to understand that a flash won’t hurt it and may not wish to crawl out from under its hiding place once it has been frightened.It can’t calmed down with reasonable assurances, it may decide to mess on the floor and some have been known to attack photographers when spooked or goaded. Although on the bright side, they can be bribed with treats. You know, now that I think about it, I take back this paragraph’s “unlike human subjects” opener- what I’ve just described sounds a lot like my experiences with child photography. No, I kid. Mostly.
One thing dog and kid photography success stories definitely have in common is the importance of considering the subject’s personality and determining the context and character of a shoot based on it. For elucidation and clarification of that sage advice, read on.
The Beast’s Personality If you’re a masochist and aren’t particularly fond of your dog there’s a pretty surefire way to ensure that your shoot will be frustrating for both you and your dog and that your pictures will turn out stilted, awkward and mediocre: force it. For instance, while Dalmatians can be wonderful pets, they’re also an independent breed and hate being pushed into anything. If he’s not feeling it, attempting to drag your spotted buddy onto a fire engine and keep him still while you strap on his fire helmet will not be a treat for either of you. (Not to mention how cliché the photos will be.)
Is your pug an irredeemable couch potato (or dog-bed-potato, your-bed-potato, your-clean-laundry-potato)? If so, why not set up a portrait with her on the couch. Chances are she’ll be glad to cooperate. I can tell you from the sessions I’ve done professionally- I love lazy dogs. They’re ususally very sweet, are more liable to allow a camera right up in their face as long as they’re not being asked to pose or move, and they’re great for group shots.
On the other hand- is your Australian Shepherd an bottomless well of energy? Take her to the park or your backyard and leave her to it. When she starts doing her thing, record it. Playing fetch is a great way to get dog-charging-toward-you shots, etc. Play to your dogs habits and strengths. They’ll be happy and you get the best shots with an animal that’s comfortable, content and acting naturally.
Capture Context When you’ve established the session’s tone your dog feel better about it and the shots you get will be more representative of your buddy. I’m not saying that there’s no place for staged shots or more human-like portraiture choices of pose, position, backdrop, location or whatever else. For some dogs- fancy show dogs for instance- a regal bearing and flawlessly-held carriage in front of a dramatic vista or red silk draping will probably look great. With the wrong dog or wrong sort of dog though, it just ends up looking staged and artificial.
Ask yourself the following: How representative of my dog’s personality is his posing regally in front of a waterfall or keeping very still framed by a backdrop? If you like to share the couch with your couch potato pug- do it. Not only will the shoot be more comfortable it will reflect something unique about your lazy pug, not just posing dogs in general. Is there some special place your furry friend favors- indulge their personality and snap them where they’re happy. It’s like paperclipping a memory to every shot.