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National Dog Photography Day: 7 tricks to take great dog photos

July 26 is National Dog Photography Day, and, if you ask Sydney pet photographer Allira Fontana, it is one of her favourite days of the year!

Allira has been taking photos of dogs throughout Sydney for over 10 years. Her years volunteering for local dog rescue groups and photography private clients have seen her meet all types of dogs, including excitable puppies, nervous young dogs, untrained adult dogs and older seniors.

Taking photos of your own dogs can be so fun and rewarding. With the rise of dog social media accounts and influencers, more people than ever are keen to learn the ropes of dog photography. But, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to photography. From camera gear to positioning to reading the light, getting the best photos of your pooch isn’t straightforward.

This is why we asked Allira for some tips on how to take better photos of your dog at home, with the help of her two rescue dogs Chico and Archie.

1. Eye contact is important, except when it isn’t!

For the majority of the time, you will want your dog looking at you and your camera when taking their photo, with their ears forward. Ears and eyes forward create an engaging photo; it draws the viewer in and keeps them admiring your photo. But, rules are meant to be broken right? 

Having your dog look away from the camera can also create an artistic and thought-provoking image. It can take some practise to get your dog looking away at the right angle, but when you get the angle you can create some lovely variety in your images, just like this photo of Archie posed on a tree stump. I simply threw a little twig in that direction and as he looked snapped the photo. 

Struggling to get your dog to look at the camera? This is when treats, toys, squeakers and trigger words such as “walkies” or “dinner” come into play. Each dog is different, so you may need to try a few of these out to find what catches your dog’s attention the best.

2. Get down on your dog’s level

This is one of the most important tips when it comes to photographing dogs. Don’t be afraid to get down and dirty! My knees, elbows and clothes are always covered in dirt after a photo session, and this is the exact reason why I wear black clothing. I always get down low to capture dogs how they see the world. It also shows the surrounding background properly and creates distance between your dog and whatever is behind them. 

You can see from my examples here (above) that the lower I photograph Chico, the more background you are able to see (below) and less of the grass is advisable. 

Just like in Tip #1, you can definitely break the rules and take photos from above looking directly down onto your dog. I don’t recommend a lot of photos like this, and keep an eye on the ground around your dog for distractions. Lush green grass, brown Autumn leaves, flower petals and plain coloured floors work best, as Archie shows us here.

If you struggle to get down low or have a very small dog, you can safely put the dog up on top of a ledge, log, bench or on a tree stump so your dog is now on your level. Keep reading for my tips for capturing dogs on objects below.

3. How to read the light

My style of photography is very recognisable. I mainly photograph in the last 2 hours of the day as this is when the sun is lower in the sky and gives off that beautiful golden glow my photos are known for. As the sun gets lower and lower in the sky, you need to be careful the sun doesn’t shine directly into your lens too. Although this can create a really artistic image, be mindful that too much sun flare can wash out your entire image. 

When I look for a spot to photograph a dog in, I look for sun shining through the back of either trees, shrubs or hedges. I then sit the dog at a distance from the bushes, and always make sure that the dog is looking out into a big bit of open sky. 

As you can see with this example image of Chico, I had him sitting in front of a shrub with the sun shining through the leaves. 

If you are taking photos of a dog and you are under thick tree coverage, your images can come out very dark and you also run the risk that the sun shining in the background will overpower your dog, just like in this photo of Chico and Archie together. 

You can also keep an eye out for the sun shining directly onto the leaves of trees or bushes, and then place your dog in the shade in front to capture some beautiful colours behind them.

Chico shows us this while he is posed on a log with the wattle flowers drenched in sunlight behind him. 

4. Use the environment around you

If you have fallen logs, stumps or rock walls at home, you can safely pose your dog on them to create images of your pooch posing proudly on them. Safety is always my number one priority when photographing dogs, so please don’t force your dog into a position where they are nervous or at risk of an injury. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more important than your dog’s safety. 

Archie loves posing, and shows us how he can stand nicely on a little rock and on top of a tree stump.

If you don’t have anything to pose your dog on at home, you can always keep an eye out during your local walks for a quick photo opportunity. You can usually find fallen logs or tree stumps scattered throughout local bush walking tracks, or benches in parks. Still can’t find anything? Get some cut tree stumps destined for firewood and bring them home to create your own photo spot in your garden.

5. 3, 2, 1, ACTION!

Action images are so fun to capture, but can be a bit challenging. Capturing your dog in action with the help of someone else is much easier, as they can help position your dog and guide it where to run. Just like before, I always get down super low to the ground and capture the dog at their level. For this image of Chico, I was on my belly with the camera almost touching the ground. 

There are two ways to go about action images.

One way is to have your dog at a distance from you, either in a sit and stay position or have someone leash your dog, and then call your dog to run straight at you. If your dog is toy or ball obsessed, you can also get someone to throw the toy or ball directly at you.

The second way works especially well for a toy or ball obsessed dog and you don’t have someone to help you. Ask your dog to sit and stay, walk away 15-20 metres and place the ball or toy down on the ground and walk away a few more metres. Get down low and release your dog so they run straight at the toy or ball while you snap away. You can also get some cool images of your dog right at the moment they grab their toy.

You can also experiment with getting your dog to run directly across the front your camera from one point to another, capturing them in full stride.

The success of action images comes down to two important things, your camera’s capabilities and your skill level. Every camera has a different FPS number, which is frames per second. This is, you guessed it, the amount of frames (or photos) per second your camera is capable of capturing. The more higher end your camera is, the more FPS it is capable of capturing. I photograph with a Canon R5 and it is able to do about 20 FPS. If you are not sure what your camera’s FPS is, you can quickly Google it to find out.

Action images are not always perfect each and every time either. Dogs move fast, really fast, and auto focusing can struggle to keep up sometimes. Don’t be disheartened if you keep missing the focus, it takes time and practise to keep your auto focus on the dog.

6. Soulful silhouettes

One of my favourite types of photos to take are silhouette photos. How your photos turn out will depend on the sunset and whether or not you have a big open sky with no distracting things in the background. 

For these types of images, you want to expose your camera for the sky and not for you dog. This means your dog will be completely black while the sky is bright. For best results, place your dog side on to the camera to capture their full profile. 

If your dog is looking directly at you, it will look like a black shapeless blob as you can see by my example of Archie. 

No it is not a bad photo, but the previous photo of him side on is much more impactful and easier to see him. 

7. Keep it fun

Above all, remember to enjoy yourself and make sure your dog is having fun too. When I photograph my own dogs, I only take photos for 5-10 minutes at a time then take a quick break. 

Asking your dog to sit still for a long period of time is boring, especially for an active species such as dogs. Nothing is worse than taking photos of bored dogs, because it does show in the photos. You want your dog to learn that sitting still and posing for photos only happens for a few short minutes, and that you will get back to all the fun things shortly. 

Did you find these tips useful? If you are looking for even more tips you can join Allira’s Facebook group dedicated to social media pet photographers with lots of tips, tricks and content ideas. You can join the group by clicking here.

To learn more about Allira and the work she does, visit her website

Follow her on social media on Facebook or
@allirafontanaphotography on Instagram.

written by Allira Fontana, June 2023 for Australian Dog Lover (all rights reserved).

Photography Credit: lead shot by Mel Hayes Photography; all others by Allira Fontana Photography

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