Your dog runs away as soon as you point your camera at his face. Yet, you dream of having beautiful photos of your adventure buddy in picture-perfect settings. You wonder, so how do others do it? It seems like an impossible task. It’s not easy to photograph a subject who runs away from the camera. 🙂
Here are some tips and tricks I learned from photographing adventure dogs over the years. I hope you find these helpful.
1. Sit, Stay, Good Girl!
I am sure this isn’t a surprise to you. Your dog must know the basic obedience commands such as Sit, Stay, Come and actually listens to you. Dogs are easily distracted by sounds and scents in the wilderness. Can you blame them? Everything is so much more exciting and interesting! Training is a must.
2. Nice to Make Your Acquaintance
Let your pup sniff your camera (or phone) at home. He doesn’t know what it is so when you point the camera at his face, he just wants to run away from this foreign object that makes strange noises. Xena is used to a camera but she still doesn’t like it when I put it too close to her face. Respect their boundaries.
A camera makes a sound when the shutter button is pressed. This can make dogs feel uneasy. Try silencing the shutter sound. If you want to leave the camera setting alone, let your dog get used to the shutter sound at home where he feels comfortable. Don’t point your camera at him yet but be near him where he can see you and take a bunch of random photos in the room. Keep doing it until he is used to it and resume doing whatever he was doing before. If he moves away from you, don’t move closer to him. Forcing a new experience is never a good idea. Let him warm up to it. Each camera has different sounds too. When I upgraded my camera, new noises startled Xena so I had to redo this exercise at home with the new camera.
If you use flash for your photography, let your dog get used to the flash feature. The bright light and the noise can be frightening to some dogs.
3. Minimize Distraction
Consider these possible distractions for your pup: dogs, kids, people, wildlife, a sound of waterfalls, a sound of waves, wind & rain
Find a quiet place where you two can be alone. If that’s not possible, find a spot where it’s not busy. If your dog can’t pay attention to you even before the camera is out, forget about it. Find a better place and/or a better time. If you have multiple dogs, try one dog at a time. Even with well-trained dogs, it only takes one dog to break the concentration of other dogs.
4. Get an Assistant
Still camera shy? Your dog’s favorite toy or treats can help. I don’t recommend you take a squeaky toy on a hike and annoy other hikers who come to enjoy the tranquility. If your pup is not a toy or food motivated, try candid pictures. Instead of trying to create a perfect moment, find a perfect moment in their element. Try a telephoto lens if your dog is super aware of the camera so you can keep your distance.
Ask another person to assist you. Have your assistant get your dog’s attention and you start shooting. Teamwork works! When I took this group shot, I had a helper. I was lying on the ground while my friend stood over me and had the dogs’ attention.
5. Be Ready to Capture Action
Dogs are easily distracted and constantly in motion. This can result in a lot of blurred pictures if you are not shooting with the right shutter speed. Out of focus pictures are no good no matter how cute your dog looks in the photos. If I have a nickel for every blurred picture of Xena… I shoot most of my adventure pictures in the Sports mode and Continuous mode. When we are exploring, we move through different settings constantly. I rarely have time to adjust the settings to get the right aperture and the shutter speed if I want to capture the candid moments. Having my camera at these settings, I am ready to capture happy Xena running toward me at any time or when she suddenly decides to race with her friend.
6. More Is Better
Always take more pictures than you think you need. Especially when you take action shots, not all shots in the sequence will be sharp so I recommend taking as many photos as you can. This way you don’t end up with all throwaways when you get home. On the small LCD screen of your camera, a picture might look good but you may find it less than perfect when you look at it on your laptop screen later at home. Try various compositions and angles for fun.
7. Make It Fun. Always.
Never force it on your dog. Make it fun for them. Use rewards. If they associate it with fun, they will naturally want to do it again next time. Xena likes to pose for a camera sometimes without me asking her. She does it at least once or twice on every adventure and she likes to use a prop like a cool rock. It cracks me up every time! She knows she will get a treat afterward.
When Xena’s not in the mood, she closes her eyes or looks away and gives me a long face. I respect that and never force her. You won’t get a good picture if your subject is not having fun so put away your camera and move on.
Some dogs are naturally photogenic but most dogs are not. I hope these tips help you to turn your four-legged best friend photogenic too!