If you want to capture stunning photos of your (or your clients’) dogs, then you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, I share my best tips and tricks to take your dog photography to the next level. I discuss lighting, composition, and settings; I also offer plenty of fun little tool ideas to enhance your dog photoshoots, such as fairy lights, prisms, and more.
Ready to capture some creative dog photography? Then let’s dive right in, starting with:
1. Use window light for a flattering effect
Great dog photography starts with great lighting, and for me, that’s window light.
Window light is beautiful, it’s (generally) soft, and it’s great for brightening your subject while letting the background fall into shadow.
To see the power of window light, take a look at these two images:
Not only does the window light brighten up key parts of the dog – while letting other parts fall into shadow for a more three-dimensional effect – it also lets you use a low ISO and a faster shutter speed, which will give you sharper, higher-quality images.
By the way, if you prefer to use flashes or studio strobes, that’s okay, too! Just make sure to cover them up with a modifier for that soft, flattering effect.
2. In a pinch, use your phone light
While window light (or carefully modified artificial light) is ideal for dog photography, it’s not always feasible to shoot near a window.
After all, you might be lounging around the house, notice your dog doing something cute, and want to capture it on camera. In such a situation, you simply cannot move the dog near a window for that perfect lighting! Nor will you have time to set up some flashes or strobes.
So what do you do? The next time you’re faced by a difficult lighting scenario, try whipping out your smartphone, turning on the flashlight, and pointing it at your dog. Test out different angles (45-degree lighting and other forms of sidelight tend to work great!).
3. Create a stunning tinfoil background
Are you a fan of beautiful round bokeh? In my experience, a lovely bokeh effect can take a mediocre dog photo and give it an eye-catching, professional look – but stunning bokeh isn’t always so easy to create.
Enter an amazing DIY dog portrait tool:
Simply take some tinfoil, scrunch it up, and unfold it. Position the tinfoil behind the dog, shine a light on it, and – voila! – you’ll get a jaw-dropping bokeh effect:
This technique does require a bit of practice, but to get started, experiment with a wide aperture (f/2.8 is a good starting point), and be sure to move your dog out in front of the foil (the greater the separation between the dog and the foil, the better the background blur).
I’d also recommend you use a short telephoto or zoom lens, preferably above 50mm, and make sure that your foil completely fills the background. Finally, if you’re struggling to get bright-enough bokeh, try lighting the background separately from the dog (here, your smartphone can be a big help!).
4. Shoot dog reflection photos
This dog photography tip may be a bit unconventional, but it’s about as simple as they come, and it’s a great way to capture creative dog shots.
The next time you’re near some water, such as a puddle or a pond, ask your dog to sit. Then carefully angle yourself so that only the dog’s reflection and feet appear in the photo (you may need to get down low).
Then, in post-processing, you can flip the image to create a fantastic illusion:
Cool, right? Of course, you can always experiment with zooming in for reflection headshots, including more of the dog in the photo, and so on.
5. Use a mirror to create negative space
Minimalist dog photos are beautiful; the dog generally takes up a small portion of the frame while the rest of the shot is covered with empty space (e.g., a white wall or an out-of-focus foreground element).
Now, you can always create minimalist shots by working in a large, empty environment, but what do you do if you’re photographing in your house? How can you capture minimalist shots with cluttered surroundings?
It’s simple: Bring in a mirror.
Then widen your aperture to create a narrow depth of field, zoom out to include the dog small in the frame, then put the mirror close to your camera lens. Make sure that the mirror doesn’t cover the dog but does cover the rest of the frame.
That way, if your aperture is wide enough and the mirror is close enough to your camera lens, the mirror surface will be obscured, giving you a beautiful stretch of negative space:
6. Use fairy lights to spice up your dog photography
Fairy lights are cheap, they’re simple to work with, and – when used carefully – they can create stunning bokeh effects:
So grab some fairy lights (Christmas lights can work, too!), then position them in your photo background. You can also have your dog sit on top of them, then shoot down from above.
For the best results, make sure you use a wide aperture. And if the fairy lights aren’t sufficiently blurred, try moving them farther into the background and/or bringing the dog forward.
7. Use perspex to create beautiful foreground reflections
Reflections are a great way to enhance your dog photos. And you can get especially cool effects by positioning a reflective object close to your camera lens, then tilting the object until it creates a reflection of the dog.
That’s how I captured this image, which features interesting reflections along the left-hand side of the composition:
I like to use perspex for this trick – I carry a square of it wherever I go – but you can get a similar effect using a smartphone!
8. Use a prism to create stunning effects
Handheld prisms will create an effect similar to perspex, except the result tends to look far more psychedelic and feature interesting colors:
So if you’re after an especially wild effect, grab a handheld prism, then try placing it between the dog and the camera lens. Feel free to experiment with different angles and different distances – depending on the position of the prism, you’ll get all sorts of interesting results.
9. Shoot into the light for a flare effect
Most photographers try to avoid flare in their photos – but did you know that, by embracing flare, you can capture wonderfully creative results?
Of course, you don’t want to let flare dominate your compositions. But if you can keep the flare to one side of the frame while positioning the dog elsewhere, your main subject will stand out and you’ll get a lovely effect:
How can you create flare? One method is to shoot outside or near a bright window; you’ll need to position the dog so the light comes from behind and shines straight into the lens.
But another, easier way is to simply bring out your trusty smartphone, turn on its flashlight, and shine it directly into the camera!
10. Shoot from a low angle
If you’re after beautifully composed dog portrait photography, then I highly recommend you pay careful attention to the angle of your camera.
You see, many beginner photographers shoot dogs from a standing height, but these images often turn out very detached and even static.
Instead, I recommend you get down on the ground, which will give the viewer a completely different perspective and create beautiful foreground and background blur:
Plus, a low angle will give the viewer a window into the dog’s own little world!
I generally recommend you use a wide aperture for a nice shallow depth of field effect, and you can always combine the low-angle perspective with some of the tricks I’ve shared throughout this article (such as a perspex reflection!).
11. Keep the nearest eye in focus
My final dog photography tip is an essential one:
Always focus on the eye that is nearest to the camera.
And get that eye sharp.
You see, your viewers will pay attention to the subject’s eyes – and if the nearest eye is sharp, then people won’t worry so much about the rest of the image. For instance, as long as you have a sharp near eye, the dog’s body, and even the dog’s nose, can be heavily blurred.
On the other hand, if the nearest eye is blurry, then the image will immediately feel confusing and unbalanced.
So whatever you do, make sure to focus on the nearest eye (here, your camera’s animal eye AF can be hugely helpful!).
Dog photography tips: final words
Hopefully, you now feel inspired to capture some stunning dog photos.
Just remember these tips, and you’ll get incredible results.
Now over to you:
Which dog photography trick do you plan to use first? Share your thoughts in the comments below!