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How To Photograph Dogs

Updated on October 9, 2014

Meet Lola!

Lola belongs to someone I know. When I was in his office, I saw her sitting on the couch looking so magnificent. So I asked whether I could photograph her.

We arranged a date and I came back with my camera- a Nikon D700 with 50mm f1.8 lens.

I was pretty certain that any kind of flash would ruin the lighting of the scene and would make Lola skittish. So I shot the scene by the light of the standard lamp and the light from the window. The window is out of the frame - over to the left of the standard lamp that you can see in the photograph.

It took a little bit of post-production work with Photoshop to even up the shadows, but apart from that there is no 'trickery' in the shot and this is how Lola sat on the couch.

That was when she was a puppy. Yes, I know - big puppy!

Well I saw her just yesterday and she has calmed down a lot.

She has a lovely, inquisitive look in her face and I get a kick out of this photograph because it is a glimpse into her youth.

Quick Tips For Photographing Dogs

Dogs Are Not People

It may not come as a surprise to you that photographing dogs is not the same as photographing people. We humans want to be photographed to show us off in the most flattering manner possible.

When it comes to photographing dogs though, anything goes because dogs are always cute, yes?

With that in mind, here are some tips about photographing dogs that you can also port across to photographing humans.

1. Longer focal lengths compress the scene

First let's clear up what we mean by longer and shorter focal lengths. In the context of photographing a person for a portrait, longer focal lengths start at around 85mm and go all the way up to 300mm or more.

Short focal lengths are anything from around 35mm down to as low as you can go... say 10mm.

Now it doesn't take a photographer to know that the further back the subject is from the camera, the longer the focal length you'll need to 'reach' all the way over to the subject.

If you use a short focal length lens from the same distance, then the subject is going to be just a tiny dot lost in the scene.

But did you know that longer focal lengths change not only how much is seen by the lens, but also what the scene looks like?

Longer focal lengths flatten out the scene - and that makes faces look more attractive. It makes noses look smaller and eyes look bigger.

Now think about a short focal length lens. You'd have to get very close to the person to capture a portrait, and that with a short focal length lens that is going to make the nose 'jump' out and look big, and the rest of the face will seem to be receding around the curves of the head rapidly.

Most unflattering.

But we are not so particular about how dogs or other animals look. They can look weird and yet they still look wonderful.

So tip number 1. is to use a long focal length lens or a short focal length lens. Well that might not seem much of a tip, but notice that I missed out a normal focal length lens. In other words, to add character - go to one extreme or the other with your focal length and avoid the middle ground.

2. Get at the same level as your subject.

Nothing looks more like a missed opportunity than a dog photographed from above - unless the dog is sitting and begging. So get down to the dog's level and see life from its point of view. Your photos will look much, much more captivating.

3. Shoot at a fast shutter speed

Dogs shiver, dogs pant, and dogs move all the time - even when they are not moving.

If you want your shots to be tack sharp, us a shutter speed of at least 1/250th of a second or shorter. You won't regret it.

And if that means cranking up the ISO because the light is low, then so be it because dogs are covered in fur and you won't see digital noise half as much as you would on a plain human face.

To see what a short focal length lens does to a portrait of a reindeer close up, take a look at this photo that I took a few weeks ago.

Sarah Vaughan - Whatever Lola Wants Lola Gets

How I got the title for this lens

As soon as I heard the name Lola, it brought to mind the song by Sarah Vaughan. If you haven't heard it, then you are in for a treat. It is a kind of a warning song. It tells you that the amazing creature Lola is so attractive and so determined that once you fall for her, you are lost.

Here's the first verse:

Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets

And little man, little Lola wants you

Make up your mind to have

No regrets, no regrets

Recline yourself

Resign yourself, you're through

Whatever Lola Wants - by the wonderful Sarah Vaughan

Behind The Camera

World Animal Day

After I had photographed Lola I had the pleasure of giving a print of the photograph to Lola's owner.

Then I incorporated a photograph of Lola into a World Animal Day ecard for last year's World Animal Day on October 4th.

If you are interested in getting involved in World Animal Day this year, and you are thinking that it is a long way away - well read this article about World Animal Day and find out how to get involved.

Last year, 730 events in 85 countries registered and took part.

As the World Animal Day mission statement says:

World Animal Day is the perfect opportunity to show you care about animals. We invite you to unite with animal advocates around the world and help heighten public awareness of animal issues and celebrate the contribution that animals make to our lives.

Silent Spring
Silent Spring
The seminal book about the damage done to the environment by pesticides

Lola poses to promote World Animal Day - World Animal Day is October 4th every year - Get Involved!

World Animal Day is celebrated worldwide, and Lola does her bit with a pose that shows just what is so special about animals and all the creatures of the world.

And if you are not familiar with the name Rachel Carson, an American marine biologist and conservationist who first worked for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, and who wrote back in 1962 about the damage that pesticides and other non-natural chemicals were doing to the environment.

She cited case after case where the introduction of chemicals into the ecosystem was damaging it in ways that prevented recovery.

She was fiercely opposed by the chemical companies and in some ways we can say that she won out and in some ways that the juggernaut ran right over her - witness the insane difficulty today of having a balanced discussion about the effects of insecticides such as neonicotinoids on honey bees.

Rachel Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter.

Dog Dogs
Dog Dogs
Dogs are invisible in some ways because it is easy to pass them on the street and not see them. After all, our live are busy and full of important things. But take a moment to see how proudly that little dog walks down the path; how endearing that pooch is when it looks at the world - these are just as much the important things that make up our days.

The Origins Of Dogs

From Wolves To Dogs

Dogs originated from gray wolves about fifteen thousand years ago. You can see the connection that has been accepted by scientists between dog and wolves since the days when they were first named scientifically.

That's seen in the Latin name for the domesticated dog - Canis lupus familiaris.

The word 'canis' means dog, whereas the word 'lupus' shows the connection with the wolf, and the 'familiaris' indicates that the dog is domesticated.

Dogs are fundamentally different from wolves in their behaviour. Wolves are not domesticated. They are a law unto themselves. Dogs on the other hand want to obey someone else's law - their master's law. They are not looking to challenge you: They are looking to obey you and follow you.

It is really important to understand that this is a complete break with the behaviour of wolves at the most basic level.

It's easy to see when the dog is small like this little fellow. Just looking at him we can see he is very different from a wolf, which goes to show what fifteen thousand years of breeding can do.

On the other hand, a large German Shepherd dog can appear very threatening. Just remember though what the dog really wants. He doesn't want to confront you: He wants you to tell him what to do.

Dogs and the Environment - The balance of nature - the unbalance in the world today

The biggest problem facing the world today seems to be us. There was a time when we could have wiped ourselves out. Today we can not only wipe ourselves out, we can make our passing most unpleasant and leave behind a stinking mess.

With great power comes great responsibility.

But beware of the red herring of 'the sky is falling'. We shouldn't have to wait for final proof that the sky is falling before we clean up our own back yard. It should be with joy that we do the housekeeping.

Animal Encyclopedia: 2,500 Animals with Photos, Maps, and More! (National Geographic Kids)
Animal Encyclopedia: 2,500 Animals with Photos, Maps, and More! (National Geographic Kids)
Because animals are the clearest thing we have to show us how to live in balance with nature

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