By John Rourke
Not many people realise it, but before I started travelling and shooting Motorsport, photographing pets was a major part of my business. I would shoot a lot of equine and dog portraits with the odd cat, snake or rat thrown in now and then. I still run Pawfolio, but it’s now more a project of love, or reserved for when people who know me as ‘the pet photographer’ really want me to shoot their most beloved….. not the kids, yep it’s always the dog!
I see a lot of people posting photos of their pets on instagram lately, with some pets even having their own pages. So I thought I would put a few tips together that might be fun to try out if you want to get a great shot of your own pooch…. some of the tips might even work on pictures of the kids too!
For my doggy model, I’m going to use Bria aka ‘The Beast’, my beautiful Sprocker Spaniel. These shots all involve natural light as I wanted this article to be of use to everyone. As long as you have a camera and a lens you can get stunning shots of your beast without expensive lighting.
In my ‘Pawfolio’ bag. Don’t panic! You don’t need all of this! this is just some of the equipment I use on various shoots… If you have only one lens and a camera you’ll be fine 🙂
Camera: XPro1, XT1, XT10
Lenses: 18mm F2, 35mm F1.4, 10-24 F4, 90mm F2, 50-140mm F2.8
Lighting: Ambient/Natural Light
Extras: Dog, lead, willing assistant (wife, kid, person you met on a dog walk?), dog treats / squeaky toy / bouncy ball / whistle, silly voice, insurance (if you want to shoot other peoples dogs!), mobile phone
Top Tip! Things become massively easy in life once a dog knows how to sit, stay, and look at food!! this is where all that training pays off! You will need a few basics such as;
Sit, Paw, Down/Sleep, Stay, Come…
(We had to learn some of these commands in polish once for a clients dog we photographed.)
A food-orientated dog is perfect, if this isn’t working then it’s down to the favourite toy, bouncy ball or failing that, making stupid noises…..dogs love this! The right noise will get a dog to tilt it’s head in a way that looks cute but whilst saying ‘what are you doing, human?’
Play with your beast first;
- this builds a little trust between the dog and yourself.
- It’s fun for both of you,
- it burns off the dog’s energy reserve
A few minutes playing around the kit isn’t a bad thing either, it lets the dog know that the camera is nothing to be worried about and not something strange and dangerous…
Around the house – Your own dog
Ideal for practice and often the easiest of images to shoot are where the dog is relaxed in their own surroundings or favourite spot. I normally wait for ‘Beast’ to find somewhere nice to settle or I encourage her to sit roughly in the right place. Quite often I’ll pap her as she drifts off to sleep. These are candid based shots but can turn into gorgeous intimate photos.
I use any of the following 18mm f2, 35mm f1.4 and the 90mm F2 mostly to achieve the shallow depth of field for this type of shot. The XF35mm f2, XF16, XF23 and XF56mm would be amazing also. Any lens at F1.2 – F2 will make a stunning image. I often use the X-Pro1 and X-T1. The OVF on the X-Pro1 can be really useful in hybrid mode during low light if the EVF wont preview the shot.
#Tip – You can put the Fuji camera to silent mode if the dog is too distracted by the shutter sound. Beast used to hear the shutter then pounce on me because she thought the sound meant that the shoot was over.
The candid shots I usually try to get for every dog shoot are:
That big snuffler is amazing. Shot at 1.2 or on a Macro it makes a stunning detailed image.
The texture of the pads or the hairy paw is beautiful. If it’s your dog, hold the paw and capture a paw & hand selfie #TooCute
Like any face or portrait I shoot, I always focus on the eye closest to me. If you shoot the furthest one and the closer one is blurred, the image just looks wrong – please don’t do it!!
#Tip – Try shooting the dog from ‘a dogs view’ or from below the dog looking up. Crawling around in the dirt is just an everyday thing for me, but I think it’s really worth getting the unusual perspective. This is also now where the flip out screen is genius and the X-T1 or X-T10 becomes king.
That said, don’t rule out the standing up traditional viewpoint. Sometimes if you stand right over the dog looking down, you get that ‘puppy face’ beaming back up at you, and there is nothing cuter.
For outdoor shots, choose a nice spot your dog is going to love and that has some features or atmosphere about it. The beach is an awesome place for dogs, and one of our favourites, with lots of space, great light, and lots of zooming. For this a 90mm, 50-140 or the new 100-400 is ideal because the animal can move around freely but you can still fill the frame. This situation is ideal for the X-T1 or X-T10 because of their high frame rate. I would probably go for the X-T1 more to help keep the sand, salt and spray out of the camera. I would also recommend the weather resistant lenses for this type of shoot. A rogue wave splash or a shake down from the Beast can spray your gear from a surprising distance.
Rivers are great too, but always check the current is safe. Look for a spot on the bank with space and great moody lighting, perhaps between some trees. You should make sure your beast can get in and out easily, and I always have someone with me to throw a ball or something safe for the dog to chase, or I sometimes just sit and watch the animal play and have fun on their own.
My favourite lens for outdoor dog shoots has to be the 50-140 F2.8. With good flexibility and a shallow depth of field at F2.8 there’s always gorgeous bokeh in the background. I try to keep the shutter up between 2000th and 4000th of a second to keep the motion frozen. If the light is changing or the dog is running through light and dark patches, try ‘auto ISO’.
Set the the auto ISO range function to work between ISO 200 and 6400. To control the aperture, try to stay in the range of F2.8 – F4/5.6 or if you want some amazing textural shots and there is loads of light, dial in F8 – F11. Again get low… I have the tilt screen for this, or just get in the dirt and sand and the shots will be amazing.
You could also try the 16-55 F2.8 if you want the shot to be a little more environmental, shoot wide and get more of the landscape in your photos. When you print this type of shot they look great printed large.
If you want to get really creative try ‘panning’ the dog. This is a technique we use on the track to shoot cars at the races. Select a shutter speed between 1/8th (very creative) up to 1/200th (suggest you start there and work your way down to 1/8th), and rotate your body at the hips following and tracking your dog as it runs past. You want to work your shots at slower and slower shutter speeds to create a wonderful action arty shot…
More about the author
John Rourke has been shooting professionally for 15 years and is the owner of Adrenal Media, the Official Photography Agency for the FIA WEC (World Endurance Championship), and the ELMS (European Le Mans Series) including the world famous ‘Le Mans 24hr’. He shoots all of his professional and personal work on Fujifilm X series cameras.