How to Photograph Dogs: What is Aperture and How can it Improve your Pet Photos?

A shutter speed of 1/1000 sec and an aperture at f/ 5.6 keeps this dog's face in perfect focus, whereas the background has been blurred...
A shutter speed of 1/1000 sec and an aperture at f/ 5.6 keeps this dog's face in perfect focus, whereas the background has been blurred... | Source

Learn about Aperture & Depth of Field and how it can improve your Dog Photography

Taking dog photos is not easy at the best of times and I imagine there are probably more budding dog photographers just like us out there, trying to get to grips with all the buttons and settings as the same time as wiping the lens clear of dog drool and keeping an eye on the dog so he doesn't take off with the tripod.

So, I thought I’d go through some camera basics and how they apply to dog photography. Lets start with Aperture and the Aperture Priority Setting!

What is this Aperture Business?

Without getting all too technical, Aperture controls how much light strikes the image sensor. The ins and outs of camera body parts has always bored me to tears, and to be honest all you need to know is that the Aperture is basically the opening that lets the light into the camera.

The Aperture can be big or small, and is represented by a series of f- numbers. Annoyingly the smaller the f- number, the bigger the Aperture, or opening, and the bigger the f-number, the smaller the opening and less light is let in.

You'll hear seasoned photographers talk about 'opening up the lens', or 'stopping down the lens'. All that means is they let more or less light into the camera - easy peasy. Check out the examples in my cheat sheet below.

Source

How changing the 'Depth of field' can make your Pet Photos look more Professional

So Why Do I need To Know About Aperture?

The best thing about Aperture is that it controls depth of field and as soon as you get the hang of it you can use it to create some funky creative effects, to blur out a cluttered background behind your dog (no more laundry or kids toys in the background ruining your best shots!), or creating a cool foreground blur.

The easiest way to learn about how to use Aperture for creative effects is to set your camera to the 'Aperture Priority Setting' and shoot away. Yes, if you go to photography school you get to learn how to do all of this on the manual setting, but I like short cuts!

All SLR camera's look different, but essentially you're looking for something called 'Aperture Priority' and on my Nikon D7000 this setting is indicated by the letter A. I'd recommend you refer to your manual to work out how to change the f-number.

Aperture Setting Examples

Portrait Perfect

Set the Aperture to a low number between 1-5, and try to focus on your dog's eyes. Upload the photo to your PC and see where the blur ended up. Depending on what lens you've used, how far away from your dog you were standing and what the overall light conditions were a couple of things might have happened with the focus point and the depth of field.
Ideally, your dog's eyes and face are in perfect focus and the background is nicely blurred out - congrats, you've just shot a perfect portrait!

Perhaps your dog's eyes are in focus, but his nose and ears are blurred out - this could happen with a really small aperture number and as long as the actual focus ended up where you intended, its a technique you can use to create some really creative compositions with foreground and background blur.

Perhaps your dog's nose is in focus but his eyes are blurry? Then you've probably focused on his nose, and because of the narrow depth of field his eyes have been blurred. Try again and focus on his eyes, or dial up your f-number.

Of course you could also use this technique to really highlight what is special about your dog - try focusing on his name tag, that funny shaped dot on his ear or his gigantic paws and you could end up with some really personal doggie portraits.

The eye is in focus, but the narrow depth of field has blurred out the dog's nose and the background at 1/320 sec and f/2.8
The eye is in focus, but the narrow depth of field has blurred out the dog's nose and the background at 1/320 sec and f/2.8 | Source
1/50 sec and f/13 - giving this image a bigger depth of field, meaning its in focus front to back
1/50 sec and f/13 - giving this image a bigger depth of field, meaning its in focus front to back | Source

Using Aperture to Combat Background Clutter

Aperture can also be used to blur out unwanted clutter in the background - no more laundry and kids toys in your shots! Check out the examples photos in this article.

Sharp all the way
Set the Aperture to a high number - from 7 and above. This should land you with a very wide depth of field, in other words your photos should be sharp back to front. Traditionally this is a setting used by landscape photographers but as a dog photographer you might want to use a higher f-number for photos of dogs playing, running, or lounging in the shade with their pals.
In low light conditions, or with fast moving pooches, you might still find that you end up with a little blur where you don't want it - but that's a whole new lesson all together.

Compact Cameras

If you don't have a fancy D-SLR camera you can still achieve some f these results. For a small aperture number look for an automatic setting called 'portrait'. Its usually indicated by an icon looking like a lady wearing a big hat and its a setting that should blur out the background nicely. For a big aperture number look for a setting called 'landscape', usually indicated by an icon looking like a mountain.

Have you used Aperture to create a stunning doggie portrait, or a creative dog pic, intentionally or not? Tell me about it!

The puppies are sharp in the foreground, whereas the bigger running dog in the background has been blurred out at ashutter speed of 1/500 sec and an aperture f/4.8
The puppies are sharp in the foreground, whereas the bigger running dog in the background has been blurred out at ashutter speed of 1/500 sec and an aperture f/4.8 | Source

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Comments 6 comments

Traci 17 months ago

I know that this is an older post but I just had to tell you how helpful it was. I am trying to improve the photos I take of my foster dogs. Great info and explained in a useful way.


efren ene l0pez 2 years ago

interesting and useful at all are your articles on how to inprove photography.thanks for the tips on how to use aperture to create real good pictures.


CarNoobz profile image

CarNoobz 3 years ago from USA

Another great way to get that nice blurred background is to simply use a longer lens. A 200 mm lens at f/5.6 and shooting from farther away can look just as good if not better than an 18 mm wide angle lens at f/ 2.8.

Also, I've found that using a macro of any focal length can make a difference too. I have a Sigma 18-50 mm macro, and it blurs out the background really well, especially when shooting only inches away from the subject.

But of course, nothing beats a fast 50 mm or 85 mm at f/1 or 1.8.

Great tips!


Linda Bliss profile image

Linda Bliss 3 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks for reading my hub about dog photography Peggy. Aperture priority is my favourite setting as it gives such creative control of your d-slr.


sallybea profile image

sallybea 3 years ago from Norfolk

Interesting and informative hub with some lovely images, thanks for sharing


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

I need to use the portrait setting more. Thanks for the demo with your cute dog as subject matter. The blurring of the background can be a real plus in many instances as you demonstrated. Up, useful and interesting votes and will share with my followers. Thanks for the camera training tips.

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