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The Woof Guide: How to Photograph Your Dog

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If truth be told taking photos is not one of our strongest points. However in pursuit of perfecting our craft, we’ve turned to someone who's an expert at photographing pups, Craig Prentis, a.k.a The Dog Snapper, for some advice.

Putting us immediately ease, Craig says: "Never work with kids and animals? Controlling the uncontrollable? Both are age-old sayings, which I've never really got.  Sure both fidget, get easily bored and always seem to have something more interesting to do than pose for a camera but you don’t need to ‘pose’ your subject each and every time. My whole style is more about documenting scenes rather than making it a big ‘photo shoot’." Sounds simple eh? Craig shares his tips to help you get the best out of photographing your dog.

Equipment: while he mostly uses professional digital SLRs with fast lenses (they allow you to photograph in all sorts of conditions), he also champions the Smartphone, which he carries with him at all times. Use your camera phone in the right way and they are more than capable of producing good results.

The light: if indoors, avoid photographing your dog in the darkest corner. Instead move towards the window. The key is to try to work with as much natural light as possible so you avoid using the on-camera flash. For the best pictures, Craig advises you do them outside. Cloudy or overcast days often work well, as the light is fairly soft and even. Bright, sunny, blue-sky days are great in some situations but not always the best for portraits. The light is a lot harsher producing greater contrast and shadows, so he suggests you find some shade instead. Warm morning and evening light is always lovely, which is pretty handy seeing that's when you are most likely to be walking your dog.

Flash: unless you can control the power and direction of artificial light, it’s best avoided. Built-in flash on compact cameras, Smartphones etc just give a harsh, unflattering look, which often resulting in ugly red-eye. 

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The angle: varying the angle you shoot your dog at can dramatically alter the look of the picture. Instead of taking every shot at standing height where you look down at them, try getting down lower. Being at their eye level often makes for a much more interesting shot. If you have a Dachshund be prepared to get on your belly.

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The eyes: with a straightforward shot of a dog sitting and looking up at you when taken from above, get the eyes in focus because that’s what the viewer hones in on when viewing a portrait photo. 

Eye contact: when taking a portrait shot, avoid holding the camera right up against your face, as without the eye contact, your dog is likely to look away. If possible, get yourself a wingman who knows your dog to stand behind you and talk to him - that way they can hold his attention why you take the shot. If you are on your own, try the Smartphone because it’s easier to maintain eye contact while you get yourself set up to take the shot.

Treats: he doesn’t use them himself but admits most dogs respond well to the odd bribe. They’ll quite happily sit still and concentrate hard on a treat held just out of view while you get your shot.

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The details: Craig loves the variety that photographing each dog brings – the array of shapes, sizes, characteristics and personalities. He advises that you try to pick out little details, which are individual to your dog or their breed when composing your shot.

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Puppies: tricky! When very young, try to get someone to hold them up or build a little barricade that they have to get over that way they’ll be upright, with their head up but kept in a fairly boxed in position.

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Daft dogs: does your dog do things that make you smile? Think about how they react in certain situations. Do they stick their head out of the window as soon as they get into a car or carry unfeasibly large sticks on a dog walk? Capture those moments and you’ll have a photo to treasure forever.

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The environment: backgrounds are important. Look for clean backgrounds that don’t distract from the main subject. Avoid things like lamp posts coming out of your dog’s head – never a good look. On the other hand, think about using the natural surroundings to enhance the overall look. You don’t always have to have your dog large and in the centre of the picture.

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Complimentary colours: is there a common theme with your dog’s colouring and the surroundings for example a Red Setter photographed in a sea of Autumnal leaves.

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Apps: there are plenty of free apps available for your Smartphone such as the photo-sharing software Instagram. The square format harks back to the look of the Polaroid and many retro-looking filters can be added to the picture before sharing on social networks.

Go monochrome: everyone loves a bit of black and white. Nowadays it’s simple to do a B&W conversion without using the latest Photoshop software.

Finally … don’t push it too hard. If it’s not working, try another time. If you can’t get a good shot while they’re running around on a walk, wait until they get back home when they’re pooped!

For more on the Dog Snapper's services visit Thedogsnapper.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @thedogsnapper or on Facebook.

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All images © The Dog Snapper 2013.

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