Photographing Dogs: Get Beautiful Dog Portraits Indoors and Outdoors

Photographing Dogs: Get Beautiful Dog Portraits Indoors and Outdoors

If you’ve got a dog at home, we’ll bet you’ve tried to photograph it. But dog pictures don’t always turn out how you’d expect. The good news, though, is that with the right techniques, you can take professional-looking dog portraits at home. We’ll show you how.

Usually when you think “dog pictures,” you think of photos taken outdoors. But that’s only one way to do things. And in fact, you can take better dog photos indoors.

Dog Portraits at a Home Studio

A home studio can be a very attractive choice here. It lets you work with dogs much like you can work with people, and so it can help you get some very nice dog portraits.

For indoor work like this, you’ll need one or maybe two external flashes. The advantage of lighting in this way is that you can illuminate your pet from a direction of your choice and work with light creatively. You can also choose a neutral background that doesn’t draw your audience’s attention away from the portrait.

How to Photograph Dogs: a dog photographed with an external flash.
For this portrait, I needed soft light, so I used a Nikon SB800 flash. I connected it to the camera body using a synchronization cable and placed i on a stand. I  put a white photographer’s’ umbrella in front of the flash. I used a large gray box for the neutral background behind the dog. Nikon D800, Nikon 28 – 300/ 3,5 – 5,6, 1/250s, f/14, ISO 100, focal length 200 mm

How to Choose a Background for Dog Photography

There are several ways that you can create your background when you’re working indoors. For example, you can use a white sheet of paper to get a light neutral background. Or prepare a dark, contrasting background using black paper.

You can find large squares of paper in art supplies shops. You can also order a professional photographer’s paper background; these are sold in rolls with various widths.

How to Photograph Dogs: photo of a puppy on a white background.
I chose a white background for my puppy photo. It blends in somewhat with the dog’s fur. This makes details like its eyes stand out. Nikon D800, Nikon 28 – 300/ 3,5 – 5,6, 1/250s, f/8, ISO 100, focal length 300 mm
How to Photograph Dogs: photo of a dog on a black background.
A black background can be very impressive. It contrasts nicely with the dog’s white fur, which I’ve lighted with a single flash from the side in a way that keeps that light from hitting the paper. Doing this has kept the background black. Otherwise, the light from the flash would turn it gray. Nikon D800, Nikon 28 – 300/ 3,5 – 5,6, 1/320s, f/16, ISO 100, focal length 300 mm

Photographing Dogs Outdoors

When you’re photographing dogs outdoors, you have to rely on natural light. So ideally you’ll want to head out when it’s cloudy. Clouds soften the daylight so that the shadows it throws aren’t as harsh as the ones on a cloudless day.

Natural backgrounds offer more variety for pictures—but choose carefully. Your background should have harmonious colors that fit your canine model.

How to Photograph Dogs: photo of a dog taken by a telephoto lens.
I used a telephoto lens and a medium f-stop, and the end result was a small depth of field. The dog stood out, its surroundings were slightly blurry, and their colors fit the dog well. Nikon D800, 80.0-400.0 mm f/4.5-5.6, 1/400s, f/11, ISO 400, focal length 400 mm

How to Work With Dogs in Photography

Make sure that your photo shoot is fun and entertaining for the dog. It shouldn’t be too long. If it is, the dog will lose interest and will look tired, making it clear to everyone that you forced it to let you take pictures of it.

Motivate the dog with praise and treats during the shoot. That way, it will connect photography with something pleasant and will be happy to cooperate.

If someone offers to assist you for the shoot, then definitely pick up on that offer, and have them communicate with the dog, motivate it, and use snacks to tell it which way to look. That way, you can concentrate on photography.

How to Photograph Dogs: dog looking at its master.
This dog is looking lively, looking at its master, and looking forward to a treat. Nikon D700, 80.0-400.0 mm f/4.5-5.6, 1/250s, f/11, ISO 100, focal length 70 mm
How to Photograph Dogs: a dog with a toy.
You can give the dog a toy to play with during the shoot. It livens up the picture, and the dog will have fun and look more natural. Meanwhile, when you’re playing with the dog, don’t forget to set shorter exposures than you would when it’s calm. After all, you want pictures full of action, but not blurring. Nikon D800, 50.0 mm f/1.8, 1/400s, f/8, ISO 640, focal length 50 mm

Preparation Is Important

Think through and prepare everything well before you start taking pictures. Choose an environment, bring snacks, etc.

You have to prepare the dog like you’d prepare it for a dog show. That means grooming its fur and cleaning its eyes so there’s no sleep in them.

And to always stop working when the dog stops having fun!

How to Edit Dog Portraits

To make your work with your pictures on your computer go as smoothly as possible, shoot to RAW. That gives you excellent options for editing later on.

You can then edit the pictures’ exposure in Zoner Photo Studio—brighten the dark areas as needed and suppress overexposed areas. For example, use the Lights and Shadows sliders in the Develop module on overexposed white fur or fur that’s too black. With their help, you can correct any imprecisions in the exposure.

You’ll definitely also get good use out of the retouching tools. They’ll help you for example with cleaning up the dog’s fur and removing sleep from its eyes.

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AuthorVera Kuttelvaserova Stuchelova

I’ve been taking pictures since I was twenty, and teaching other people how to take pictures for the last ten years at two different universities. The genres I enjoy the most are landscape and animal photography, but experimenting at my home studio is fun too. I do a lot of shooting for photo banks. My other main hobbies are traveling and hiking. You can see my work at my website, as well as in several Czech magazines (Příroda, Naše příroda, and Digitální foto).

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