Tips,techniques, and examples on taking pictures of your pet Dog

This lens started out to be a general “how to photograph your pet”, but then I realized how different each type of animal is when it comes time to have a camera aimed at them. This is the first in a series of lenses about pet photography. We’ll start with our furry canine friends! To the left you can see my dog, Hailey, in her “oh-no-moms-got-the-camera-out-again” face. She’s a reluctant participant in this lens :)

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Pictures not noted with an author are (c) Susan L. Marsh (aka susanszoocrew). All others are property of their respective owners!

Types of pet dog photography
In my opinion, pet photography can be broken up into three different types.

First you’ve got the “quick! Grab the camera! Hailey’s doing something cute!” candid shots. These often capture the funny moments of having a dog.

Secondly there’s the semi staged shots. You tell your canine to SIT….. attempt bribery with a treat or praise and wait for the “perfect moment”. Usually you end up with the “there’s-the-camera-again” look….You attempt to set a scene (without the big lights/fancy backdrops of a studio) by using a sheet for a backdrop and moving the gross chew toys out of the way, that sort of picture.

Lastly there’s the studio shots. Set the scene, prep the dog (bath anyone?), camera on a tripod or other surface. Usually these involve a staged backdrop, special lighting, and whatnot.

This lens will concentrate on the first two types of pictures as that’s what most people will end up taking.

Equipment Needed to take Canine pictures
(besides , of course a dog!)
1. Camera.
This doesn’t need to be a fancy SLR digital camera with 20 lenses. You can use anything that will take a picture! I’ve seen great pictures done on a old disposable 110 (remember those?) camera, as well as horrible I-wouldn’t-post-that done on a $999 digital SLR. That said, when photographing pets you may want to try out the camera for noise levels and the startle factor. I owned a camera that had a really high pitched squeal as the flash warmed up-which eliminated the possibility of any candid shots indoors. Others I’ve used have had loud shutters, or beeps on digital camera telling you the picture was taken (I turned all those off on mine). Before plopping down money, see if you can hear the camera in action.

2. A finger or other way to push the shutter button.

That’s it! All you need is a camera! Everything else is optional and situational.

Optional equipment for canine pictures
1. A tripod
It helps to have a tripod if you’re trying to do a composed scene or your animal has a tendency to scramble away. Camera on a tripod means you can chase Fido without dropping the camera.

2. If no tripod, a neck strap.
I don’t recommend a wrist strap. It’s too easy to bang the camera against something as you grab for Sophie heading after that squirrel you just saw. Plus, they are thinner and can break. Invest in a neck strap!

3. Treats (aka, bribery)
With most dogs, the promise of a snack will keep them still long enough to catch that begging eyes shot. Or you can use the treat in action shots (see later paragraph)

4. Toys (aka, more bribery, and props!)
If your dog doesn’t respond to treats but will jump through hoops for a squeaky thing, grab the squeaker. Things that squeak are great for getting the dogs’ attention to look at the camera too! Toys also make great props and distractions.

Trust me, the dog is not going to give you an entire roll of perfect shots. I am happy with 1 out of 100 being useable. The dogs’ attention is going to wander…….her eyes will need wiping…..she’ll get tired of sitting and lay down and refuse to move….etc. Remember, all they know is you are yammering and aiming this black box at them. If you aren’t getting the results you want, try again another time!

6. If you’re doing posed, a backdrop
A simple sheet or comforter or chunk of fabric draped over a vertical object will suffice. You can also go all out and get rolls of paper. Another option is to set the f-stop low enough that the background is blurred (on point and shoots, there’s usually a portrait mode that will do that for you). Keep in mind that you’ll want some contrast between the dog and the background, but not too much. A black dog against a white wall usually ends up looking like a shadow unless you really fiddle with the settings.

7. A UV filter on the lens (if applicable)
If you have the kind of camera where you can add filters to the lens, I recommend a UV filter. They’re cheap, and a lot easier to replace when they get scratched than your camera lens. You will sooner or later end up cleaning doggie drool, nose prints, and tongue marks off the lens-especially if you’re like me and like to get up close. A few dozen times cleaning the lens, or one time with the wrong fabric (soft…..and watch out if you’re using your Tshirt in a pinch that it’s not dirty with muddy paw marks because the sand scratches) and you’ve got scratches!

8. First aid kit
This is more for you than the dog :). Watch where you are walking as you are backing up to get that perfect shot! Tetanus shots are not fun, make sure yours is up to date. And clip those claws!

9. Leash/harness/muzzle
Keep your dog under control at all times. If you take them to a park to get that perfect shot, keep them leashed-one squirrel and the chase is on! Bring a leash the color of the dog if you’re trying to hide the leash in the pictures. Muzzle is just in case (and assuming you know how to use it and put it on your dog). When I take my dog to the park, I bring the anti-pull spike collar. I only have to leave it on her till she pulls once (stupid squirrels) and then she remembers the rules and it can come off (kinda hard to hide it in pictures). Keep you and your dog safe! No picture is worth any harm to either of you!

Candid Shots
Candid shots, those spur-of-the-moment shots, are a mainstay of pet photos. A quick snap and Fluffy is forever halfway up a tree after a squirrel!

There is something to keep in mind about candid shots-you have to have a camera in hand to catch them.

If you’re after good dog photographs, keep your camera either within reach (if you’re just around the house) or around your neck. Make sure the batteries are charged and there’s film or a memory card with room on it loaded. Practice taking off the lens cap quickly. If you’re playing with your dog in the yard, go ahead and turn the camera on and take the cap off so you’re ready. Get into the habit of having the camera nearby and you’ll capture more photographs!

Many times with candid shots there will be a little bit of an opportunity to improve the picture. Let’s say you’re sneaking up on a puppy chewing a shoe. Quickly check the background for distractions (a table leg behind his head for example) and move to one side or the other to lessen the background distraction. Use something nearby to frame the shot if you can (see example below)-can you peek around the door and catch rover peeking around the other side? Check the scene for elements that can be removed or added. Can you get the dirty laundry pile out of the shot? Can you add a toy into the shot? In these cases, I’d take a quick candid shot first and then change things.

Here’s a great example of framing and a bit of focus work:
German Shepherd - ACEO 3 profilecardGerman Shepherd in Carrier by LivingLife, available on

Here’s an example of “catch it while you can!”. With a bit of preplanning this could also be staged. I do highly recommend turning off the computer before allowing any critter on the keyboard (if you don’t mind hair and drool in the keyboard that is). Certain combinations of keys pressed at the same time can *really* mess up your computer.

Chihuahua ego mousepad
Chihuahua with his own picture taken by deemac1, available on

Here are examples of “Get em while they’re down!” aka “Awwww, aren’t they cute when sleeping?” Not really staged, unless you’ve waited all day for them to go to sleep and are busy putting props on top of them in the picture :).

i iz snoozin poster print
i iz snoozin poster, taken by Highton Ridley, available at

Then there’s “adorable dog lying on the couch” shots, usually accompanied by the “why are you interrupting my nap?” look…..

Dog Shelter Business Card profilecard Blue eyed retriever on couch taken by country1969, available at

If you can get your dog to not immediatly come investigate the camera, you can get nose level shots. Either set the camera on the floor and use a wide angle and take multiple shots until you can get the whole head in, or alternatly lie down on the floor at nose level and snap away! That’s how you’ll get pictures like these:

Lazy Lurcher Poster printLazy Lurcher by mrscookiedog, avaliable on

Black Lab shirtBlack Lab on a shirt taken by PRPrints, available at

Here’s why you should keep the camera with you when playing with your dog outside! Keep snapping pictures when you see something cute, you never know! Also, one point about taking pictures with a digital camera of a pet is you need to do several of the same shot, as sometimes the autofocus may choose to focus on your dogs’ nose when you want the eyes to be sharp!

BQ- Cute Husky Mix Dog Postcard postcardHusky Mix puppy sniffing the ground, taken by patcallum, available on

Take a moment to enjoy life and smell the flowers card
Take a moment to enjoy life and smell the flowers byinspiredbygenius

Smile printWhite dog with saying underneath, taken by artformtheheart, available on

A great thing about candid shots outdoors is it gives you the chance to wear down an otherwise energetic dog and get a “happy” face picture from a dog who is wayyyyyy too used to a camera (like my dog Hailey…..the ears go back as soon as she sees the camera bag!)

Semi Staged Part One: The eyes have it!
aka the SIT! and click shot
Semi staged here means you consciously want the dog to interact with the camera (versus taking a shot of him hanging out in carrier or chewing on a rope or sound asleep on the couch).

My favorite type of picture is the Sit and Click type. You know the ones-grab camera, tell dog to sit, possibly holding a treat or toy up so they’ll look up, and get a picture that is mostly eyes. These can be very cute! I’m not talking about the computer edited pictures where they’ve blown the eyes up to cartoon size, I mean these kind:

Golden Retriever Blue Eyes Mousepad mousepadBlue eyed retriever taken by country1969 , available on

Black lab head shot happy with tongue close up mousepad
Black lab head shot happy with tongue close up by SusansZooCrew

Golden Retriever small sized stamp
Golden Retriever by deemac1, available on

Cute Puppy Design shirt Cute dog looking up by patcallum, available on

If you have multiple dogs and are lucky, the “SIT! Stay!” pictures become even more fun…..the nice thing about dogs is using a squeaky toy or treat means you can (usually) get both of them to look at the camera at the same time, like this:

Best Friends Forever Poster Print print
Best Friends Forever Poster Print by mvdesigns

A side note about small dogs: You may need to bend over to more of their level if you don’t want the “giant head tiny body” effect. Or use the zoom feature on your camera….this is assuming you want them looking up at the camera. If you want them to look directly into the camera, you’ll need to kneel or sit down at their level. Of course, this usually ends up with a dog in your lap and slobber on the lens!

Cute Shih Tzu Note Card card
Cute Shih Tzu Note Card by pixiestick

If your dog is pouting about the pictures and keeps showing you their “good side” (remember, dogs sniff butts first, so that’s gotta be the good side), try sneaking around from the other side…or even holding the camera out at arms length aimed at the front of the dog…or just take the “I’m not looking at you” picture!
Black Cavalier card
Black Cavalier by stdavid_2nd

As I mentioned before, outside after playtime is a great time to get your energetic/curious dog still long enough to take a picture, especially if you just *happen* to be holding that ball or stick they’ve been after….Keep an eye on shadows though, you don’t want your shadow over the dog or showing up on the lawn (unless that’s the effect you’re after).

Here’s Hailey after a romp in the woods (on leash….but I dropped the leash down so you can’t see it!) First, one angle:
Black Lab Mix dog happy grin against leaves mousepad
Black Lab Mix dog happy grin against leaves by SusansZooCrew

Then the head on shot:
Happy black lab mix dog with leaves in background mousepad
Happy black lab mix dog with leaves in background by SusansZooCrew

Valentine Boxer Dog T-shirt shirt
Valentine Boxer Dog T-shirt by anuradesignstudio

Semi Staged Part two: Adding Props and Posing the dog
aka “exercise in fun and frustration”
Then we have the almost studio shot but not quite pictures. This is when you employ any manner of props to have to do in a predictable (ha ha) situation for a shot.

For instance, sticking the dog in the mailbox and quickly grabbing a picture (make sure someone is there to catch the dog when it hurdles out!)
Mailbox Dog, hello card
Mailbox Dog, hello by Jenlin01

Then there’s the “add a costume/hat/antlers/wrap the dog in tinsel” shots. The picture at the beginning of this lens is an example of this.

One suggestion when using props is to move in close! Two reasons. First, you get a different vantage point from typical sit and stay dog pictures. Secondly, it allows you to grab the prop as the dog chews/throws/takes it off ! :)

Dog Eye In Blue Christmas Tinsel card
Dog Eye In Blue Christmas Tinsel by SusansZooCrew

This one used a bit of bribery too. Mess with the nose until the dog licks it and snap quickly! If you really want a setup, a dab of peanut butter works wonders…..just make sure they’re done licking it off so it’s not in the picture….

DogTongueOutBlueTinselsimpleframe card
DogTongueOutBlueTinselsimpleframe by SusansZooCrew

Nose again, this time with a prop balanced on it…….would your dog balance a treat on his nose long enough for a picture maybe?
Dog Christmas hat on nose, black lab mix canine card
Dog Christmas hat on nose, black lab mix canine by SusansZooCrew

Just make sure not to bore or agitate the dog when trying to get a perfect picture. Remember, patience! If the dog isn’t in the mood, try again another time. Maybe wait until after dinner so they’re full…….or before so they’re hungry and a treat will get you the world.

Studio shot examplesIf you really want a “nice” shot of your dog, there are many pet studios out there, as well as photographers that will come out to your house. Have your dog groomed beforehand, and decide beforehand what type of photograph you are going for-do you want an action shot (bring favorite toys)? Do you want a calm shot (maybe a trip to the park first is in order)?
If you feel you can take your own “studio” shots, go for it! Remember, proper lighting is key (watch those shadows) and make it fun for the dog and it’ll show in the pictures!

Yorkshire terrier card

Yorkshire Terrier with toys, by gavila_pt, available on

English Cocker Spaniel stamp stamp

Black English cocker spaniel by PaulCowan on

What to do with the pictures?
My favorite (in case you haven’t guessed) thing to do with my dog pictures is use them on to make all sorts of keepsakes and gifts. All of the images in this lens here are available there. Some of the above examples have had text or manipulation done already, and here are some more ideas for dog pet pictures!
Boxer Dog Magnets magnet
Boxer Dog Magnets by anuradesignstudio

Rat Terrier Bumper Sticker bumpersticker
Rat Terrier Bumper Sticker by lileaf

Postcard: Wanna Play? Wheaten terrier with ball and text, by wheaten

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