Today’s digital cameras are simply mind-boggling.
They do virtually everything for you. Automatic exposure. Auto white balance. Autofocus.
You can even tell the camera what type of scene you’re shooting, and it will choose the right settings for you.
These cameras can do everything by themselves …
MAKE a great picture of your dog.
That’s up to you.
Every time you look at Facebook, I bet you’re “liking” some photo because the person is your friend.
But often in the back of your mind, you’re going: “Ewwww, that’s a terrible photo.”
Of course, no one is saying that about YOUR photos. Yeah, right!
Even the best of us have posted a few “dogs,” so to speak.
So I’ll share some of the inside secrets that we professionals use to make our photos stand out.
Whether you shoot with an iPhone, a little point-and-shoot or a sophisticated DSLR that you just got for Christmas, these 21 tips and concepts will help you take better photos of your dog.
Maybe even great photos.
1) Don’t shoot just one picture … shoot 100
Let’s face it. What are the odds you’re going to get that one great shot of your dog on the first click of the shutter?
I’ll let you in on a little secret. Professionals regularly shoot a lot of pictures just to get that one “right” photo.
Think different angles and different focal lengths. It’s digital! It’s not like you’re wasting film. Go for it.
2) Now, delete 99 of them
Well, you don’t have to delete 99, but DON’T LET ANYONE SEE the photos that didn’t make the grade.
OK, sometimes you’ll get 2 or 3 nice shots, but the rest really need to go. It’s call editing.
Pick your best. Get rid of the rest! That’s the discipline of great photographers.
(Pssst. You don’t actually have to delete them if you don’t want to, but at least hide or archive them away somewhere. Out of sight. Out of mind. And that way you if you later discover someone famous was in the background, you can sell it to The National Enquirer!)
Besides, all those pixels take up too much space on your hard drive.
3) The worst time to shoot outdoors
High noon is a great time to have an old Western shootout. But it’s the worst time to whip out your camera.
In the middle of the day, you’re going toe-to-toe with the harsh light of the sun and the sun will invariably win.
4) The best time to shoot outdoors is just before sunset
It’s often called “golden hour,” and the light is beautiful.
Light is coming from lower in the sky, shadows are longer and there’s more warmth.
And when the light is warm like that, it just gets better and better until it simply goes away.
But that doesn’t mean you should shy away from an overcast day.
Overcast skies create very soft shadows and even light, and that, too, can offer just the right mood.
5) The next best time to shoot outdoors is just after sunrise
This too is the “golden hour.” And the light is also beautiful.
There’s no real difference except that the light starts out lovely and then slowly gets worse as the sun rises higher in the sky.
The biggest negative: Who wants to get up that early and traipse around with a camera?
Well, I do, but that’s just me.
6) Hold your breath
Getting unwanted motion in your photos?
Then use this little trick.
Just before you click the shutter, hold your breath.
And then click.
Another technique to keeping your camera steady is to hold your elbows tight to your side. Now you’re acting as a tripod … or to be more exact, a human monopod.
Either way, you will be still when you click the shutter.
7) Get close
Unless you have a really great zoom lens or some other long glass, the biggest mistake most people make is that they don’t get close enough to the subject.
So ZOOM with your feet.
8) Use your surroundings to make it visually interesting
Look for ways to draw attention to what’s going on in your picture. You can do this with leading lines (like a fence in the background) or framing (like a doorway or window).
9) Crop your pictures
What’s important in your picture?
Well, if you didn’t zoom in with your feet to get closer, then you’re going to need to cut out the unnecessary crap that distracts from the REAL PICTURE!
You can do that with a simple editing program after you shoot (even your iPhone has one built in).
Many ho-hum photos can be saved and improved by cropping for impact.
10) Don’t shoot with a flash
Unless there is absolutely no choice, never shoot with a flash.
Done poorly, your dog will look like he’s hiding in a dungeon.
Oh yeah, and he’ll have evil red eyes, too.
Whenever possible, shoot with natural light. Plus, today’s digital cameras can do amazing things in low-light situations.
11) If you do shoot with a flash, get it off the top of your camera
This is a more advanced technique requiring equipment to fire the flash that’s not attached to the camera.
Generally, light that comes from the same direction as the camera is pretty boring.
Put a light to one side and BINGO, you have drama.
12) Keep it simple
Don’t cram too many things into the frame.
The fewer distractions in the photo, the better. Every photo should have a main focal point. Make sure the person viewing the photo goes to the place you want them to.
And while you’re at it, don’t stick your subject smack dab in the middle of the photo. (BTW that’s called applying the rule of thirds. Click here to see a full explanation.)
13) Crouch down
Try a different angle. Crouch down, kneel, get down on your belly to be on the same level as your dog or put the camera on the ground and point it upwards.
I guarantee that your photo will be more interesting.
14) Climb up on a ladder or a tree or a porch
Again, a different angle can make a boring picture interesting.
So try getting up high. And see the world in a way most people don’t.
15) Don’t shoot into the light (or sun)
Unless you’re shooting silhouettes, or seeking a backlit photo, you’ll seldom get a decent picture shooting into the sun.
Now you’ll frequently hear that you should shoot with the sun behind you.
That’s better than shooting into the sun.
The best, though, is to shoot with the sun coming in from an angle, not straight on. That will give you more interesting light.
And, if possible, use a lens hood to keep stray light from entering your lens!
16) Hold the camera level
Unless you’re trying to be artsy, hold your camera level. It’s much easier to fix this BEFORE you click the picture.
There’s nothing worse than seeing photos that lean. People and dogs shouldn’t be standing at an angle. And this definitely isn’t what we mean when we say the “Berner Lean.”
17) Be a fly on the wall
The best pictures are the ones you capture when nobody is paying attention to you.
That’s my photojournalism background talking.
While posing your dog isn’t a bad thing, try letting him be himself. Give him a toy in the backyard and let him play while you shoot pictures.
Being a fly on the wall and catching little moments requires two things. You must have great patience, and you must have a camera handy all the time.
18) Take advantage of shadows
Look around for ways to include shadows in your pictures. That’s right, shadows!
When you have shadows, you will have interesting light.
Maybe a fence nearby is throwing light in a cool pattern. Or perhaps your dog is casting a shadow that makes an intriguing shot.
Always be on the lookout for those and other different ways to photograph your dog using the light that’s there.
19) Don’t ‘chimp’
You see it all the time. Someone takes a digital photo, then stops, looks at the back display, and oohs and aahs about their great picture. (The pros call it “chimping.”)
That’s OK once in a while, particularly if you want to check exposures.
But if you’re looking at the back of your camera a lot, then you’re very likely missing great moments.
Your dog is doing something amazing while you’re futzing around.
Don’t miss your personal Pulitzer Prize.
20) The catchlight in the eyes
Whatever light you are using, always look for a “catchlight” in the subject’s eyes.
You know that little twinkle in the eye. It’s what gives a photo a little something extra.
Without a catchlight, the eyes are lifeless.
It’s the reflection of the light source in your subject’s eyes. It could be the sun, a flash or even the light from a nearby window.
So you may have to reposition yourself to capture it.
21) And after all this … Break the rules
All of these tips are great tips. But don’t rigidly follow them.
If you get too caught up trying to not make a mistake, you’re making a mistake.
Get comfortable with these concepts. And once you are comfortable:
Break the rules.
You’ll probably end up with artistic masterpieces. Or at least some really good pictures.
Ruth Taylor says
Excellent advice Eileen, thank you for the great tips!!!
Eileen Blass says
I have a painting instructor that says “If the art police say not to do it…do it anyway!’ Very good article. I am going to have to wake up early because we don’t ever see the sunset at our house. Too many trees on the west side! Thanks for sharing your knowledge.
Eileen Blass says
Always good to have some rules down pat…but so great to break them and make some different art 🙂
Michelle Vanderslice says
Thank you! You offered so much insight and so many tips that I never even thought of although they are all kind of common sense! Thanks again for the expert advice. I’m looking forward to my next “photo session” lol
Eileen Blass says
Thanks Michelle! Many more sessions to come 🙂
Toni Davies says
I’ll be taking more pictures and working very hard on my patience. Catching that glint in the eyes will take me some time but, I love a challenge. Thanks for the great advice!