Dog Photography Tips: How to Shoot Sharp Action Photos of Your Dog Every Time using this Easy Pre-Focus Method

95% of my photos used to end up looking like this:

Another blurry nose!
Another blurry nose! | Source

No More Blurry Paws - Capture Perfect Action Photos Every Time!

I love to take photos. And I take hundreds of pictures every week. I also love dogs, so most of my photos have a smiley canine or two in them.

There is just one tiny little problem - and its called Alfie. Don't get me wrong, he is the cutest, smartest and most adorable dog on the planet - but he is almost impossible to capture on film (or on memory card in my case, but you know what I mean). Even with his short little legs, he is faster than lightning and bursts through the frame quicker than you can say 'fetch'.

His tri coloured little face tricks the auto focus and light meter into melt down. And don't forget the almost continuous low light conditions of the British summer (and winter!) and I have pretty much everything working against me in my attempts of getting decent action shots!

Here’s how I learned to take incredibly sharp action photos of my dog by using an incredibly easy pre-focusing method.

© Linda Bliss 2013

Or like this:

That dog just never ends up in focus!
That dog just never ends up in focus! | Source

The Right Camera for Action Photos

I sometimes shoot with a 50mm prime lens, and sometimes with a 18-200mm zoom lens. Both are great lenses, but - the combination of a fast dog and not quite enough light still landed me with blurry dog shots on most days.

My old Nikon D50, was impossibly slow and quite frankly wouldn't take any decent shots unless it was bright sunshine and my subject was sitting perfectly still. So, I tried getting a new camera and I now shoot with a brilliant new Nikon D7000 D-SLR, and it has one of the fastest and best auto focus systems money can buy (unless you get a professional camera of course!). But even with this new camera, I found it difficult getting the focus spot on.

But, rather than blaming my tools and admitting defeat, I thought I'd try a new tactic. How about pre-focusing on the point exact point where I believe the action will happen, and then I don't have to worry about the autofocus not being fast enough?

The big plan - how to plan that pre-focus shoot
The big plan - how to plan that pre-focus shoot | Source

Entry-level Cameras that are great for Dog Photos

If you're looking for some info on good entry level D-SLR's for dog photography then check out my review of some of Nikon's beginner's cameras.

Want More? Check out these tips:

First Attempt

The first step was to get Alfie to sit still, with his back against a nice green backgrund - a hedge. That part was easy. Then I walked across the lawn, and sat down about five meters away from Alfie (who is still patiently waiting for his cue).

I used the autofocus to focus on a toy lying on the ground halfway between me and Alfie, changed over to manual focus (so that the focus would stay put) and threw the ball, whilst trying to frame the picture as Alfie burst forward to fetch the ball.

The idea was that Alfie would fetch the ball roughly at the point where I had focused on the toy. And it nearly worked! The shot already looked much better than my first attempts, but because the depth of field was too narrow at f1.6, and although the camera can shoot numerous frames per second, Alfie shot through the 'focus area' way too quickly and I still ended up with a blurry dog face and eyes.

1/800 sec at f1.6 - the pre set focus landed somewhere around Alfie's armpits. Back to the drawing board!
1/800 sec at f1.6 - the pre set focus landed somewhere around Alfie's armpits. Back to the drawing board! | Source

Learn Dog Photography from the Pros:

Second Attempt

I didn't touch the pre-set focus, and lured Alfie back into his starting position by the hedge and walked back to the same spot where I took the previous photos. Then using the S-Priority mode, I dialled up the f value to 13, bringing the shutter speed down to 1/500 sec, and hoped that the wider depth of field would allow me to capture at least one decent shot where most of him was in focus.

And although the framing isn't perfect, I'm pretty happy with the focus in these shots. I reckon with a little more practice, I might end up with some really good action shots in the bag!

This method can be used in a variety of situations when you know roughly where the ‘action’ is likely to happen. Its perfect for capturing groups of dogs romping, racing dogs, during a game of fetch or when photographing kids and dogs playing together.

What are your best tips for capturing doggie action shots?

I would love to hear your best ideas and suggestions for how to combat the dreaded blurry paws!

The Pick of the Litter:

1/500 sec at f13 - almost, almost in focus!
1/500 sec at f13 - almost, almost in focus! | Source
1/500 sec at f13
1/500 sec at f13 | Source

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Comments 28 comments

Linda Bliss profile image

Linda Bliss 3 years ago from San Francisco Author

A good photo needs all those elements I think, Thanks for stopping by! :-)


Linda Bliss profile image

Linda Bliss 3 years ago from San Francisco Author

He was having a great time! :-)


Linda Bliss profile image

Linda Bliss 3 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thats a really good idea, the technique works on both dogs and kids :-)


Linda Bliss profile image

Linda Bliss 3 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks for stopping by and let me know how you get on using the pre focusing technique on your doggies!


Linda Bliss profile image

Linda Bliss 3 years ago from San Francisco Author

This technique works just as well on running kids, cats, dogs or sports cars moving at high speed. Happy snapping!


Linda Bliss profile image

Linda Bliss 3 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks for stopping by Gus - I think the technique you're describing is called 'panning', and it really does generate some cool results. I might do a hub on that later :-)


Linda Bliss profile image

Linda Bliss 3 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks for stopping by - hope you found the tips useful :-)


Linda Bliss profile image

Linda Bliss 3 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks for stopping by - and I'm glad you enjoy my game plan, LOL! :-)


Linda Bliss profile image

Linda Bliss 3 years ago from San Francisco Author

Haha your description of your dog as a 'fat lazy dachshund' really made me giggle! Thanks for reading this hub.


Abbyfitz profile image

Abbyfitz 3 years ago from Florida

I love your hub, and Alfie is so adorable! I love your game plan!

I don't have to worry about my pics being blurry with my dog as he's a fat lazy dachshund lol but I'll keep these tips in mind if I ever get a dog with ambition


debris profile image

debris 3 years ago from Florida

Awesome, Awesome, Awesome Hand drawn game plan. By far, that is my favorite part of this hub. Excellent tutorial all around, but I really enjoyed the hand-drawn game plan. LOL!


Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 3 years ago from Hawaii

Awesome! Blurry pet action pictures are some of my most frequent shots. Great photos and advice and I love your diagram!


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 3 years ago from USA

Hi Linda - This is a really fine article because it is full of good information and advice. I don't try to snap photos of doggies at high speed, but, in the past I have made numbers of pix of moving objects of one sort or another - even with an old box camera. I simply moved the camera in the direction of movement at the same speed in which whatever it was moved - like a vehicle driving down the road at 70 miles per hour, for example. The object stays relatively clear in the photo while everything else tends to blur out.

Nice article here. Thanks.

Gus :-)))


ComfortB profile image

ComfortB 3 years ago from Bonaire, GA, USA

Very nice and useful tips in dogs photography. will have to translate this to when taking pictures of family and friends. I hope there'll be no more blurry faces or double takes.

Thanks, and congrats on the HOTD award.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 3 years ago from USA

Congrats on HOTD. This is a great idea and a wonderful way to capture those action shots. Loved your photos and drawings you used to illustrate your point.


randomcreative profile image

randomcreative 3 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

What a great idea for an article! Your tips are applicable for so many pet owners. Congrats on getting HOTD!


iiimusicfreak27 profile image

iiimusicfreak27 3 years ago

Oh this is wonderful! I myself love to take pictures and have two dogs - one of which gives me this very problem when it comes to pictures, haha. But pre-focusing on the area is very clever - Definitely trying that method out next time I want to catch my Buddy in action!


Keeley Shea profile image

Keeley Shea 3 years ago from Norwich, CT

I think I will use these techniques on my kids when playing ball. LOL! Loved the article - great tips! Congrats on Hub of the Day!


kingkos profile image

kingkos 3 years ago

hahaha nice shot well atleast you did not force your dog take the picture good job! dog lover


black_mezziah profile image

black_mezziah 3 years ago from Cebu City

Wow great post, nice shots as well, If someone's camera have a cybershot like sony does, you can capture moving things just like you have. But every settings you emphasize guess will help a lot.


Maria Cecilia profile image

Maria Cecilia 3 years ago from Philippines

Nice photos and nice tips, that's always my problem when taking photos of my dogs although I have a similar hub but mine is more on the rapport of the owner and the dog, this is more technical I guess and I really appreciate it a lot


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

People will find loads of uses for your info on shooting action photos. Congrats on your Hub of the Day award!


Linda Bliss profile image

Linda Bliss 3 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks for stopping by wetnosedogs! Yeah, dog photography is a whole lot easier when you have an obedient dog - or a good friend to help out :-)


Linda Bliss profile image

Linda Bliss 3 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks for stopping by wetnosedogs! Yeah, dog photography is a whole lot easier when you have an obedient dog - or a good friend to help out :-)


Linda Bliss profile image

Linda Bliss 3 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks for stopping by wetnosedogs! Yeah, dog photography is a whole lot easier when you have an obedient dog - or a good friend to help out :-)


wetnosedogs profile image

wetnosedogs 3 years ago from Alabama

Really great pictures. At least you can get your dog to wait on demand. Mine, yeah, they have trained me to wait. LOL


Linda Bliss profile image

Linda Bliss 3 years ago from San Francisco Author

Judi - thanks for stopping by! The best thing about digital cameras is that you can keep trying until you get the photos you want - and I'm sure Emmy will enjoy the treats she'll get as part of the process! Happy snapping!


Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 3 years ago from UK

Great photos Linda! I've just bought a new camera and haven't read the manual through yet - don't know that I'll be able to put your suggestions to use, but would love to think that I could get some decent action shots of Emmy.

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