Picture Perfect: Tips for Great Dog Show Photos

You show your dog and have a nice win, and now you want to get a professional photograph. Has anyone ever taught you the “do’s and don’ts” for getting the best-possible picture? We do all kinds of preparation to get a win at the dog show, but when it comes to recording that win in a professional photo, most of us just wing it. A little preparation will vastly improve the quality of your next professional photograph.

To get some tips on what handlers and owners can do to help ensure a great win photo, I talked to several professional dog show photographers and asked for their advice.

Every dog show photographer whom I spoke to started with the exact same advice: Train your dog to have his picture taken. It’s unfair to a dog to expect him to fully cooperate with a brand-new experience in the middle of the hustle and bustle of a show setting.

Sure, your dog knows how to be stacked—but has he or she ever been asked to step up on a platform while a stranger with an unfamiliar piece of equipment hovers over him, and then suddenly there’s a flash of light? In addition to these new things, you’re probably all excited (which your dog picks up on), and you’re babbling on to the judge (who is a stranger). It’s easy to see how confusing the situation can be for your dog.

Training a dog to have his picture taken is mostly training him to accept a new situation. In some more enlightened handling classes, the instructor will stage a “getting a photo taken” session. If your class doesn’t offer such a session, get a couple of your dog show friends to reenact the situation, and give your dog some practice. Make sure to do both indoor and outdoor training.

Once you and your dog are comfortable with the basics, there are some finer points to consider. At what angle to the camera does your dog look best? Should he be set perfectly in line with the camera so you get a side shot, or does a slight angle work better? If your dog has great facial expression, you won’t capture it in a profile shot, but a slight angle of his head toward the camera will emphasize it.

Take a little training time and try out some angles in front of a mirror. If you choose to have an angled shot, tell the photographer so he or she can help you get the desired pose.

We’ve talked about the dog, now let’s talk about the human. We’ve all seen photos where the dog looks great and the human “ruins” the picture. Very few people look good when they’re photographed talking. “Come up for air,” and close your mouth before the shutter snaps.

Your dog has an ideal angle to the camera, and so do you. Want to look a little slimmer in the photo? All you need to do is angle your body so that you aren’t facing the camera head-on. Decide if you want to look straight at the camera (like a deer in the headlights) or look down admiringly at your dog. Don’t hold your head up so high that you get an “up the nostrils” picture. If the dog is on a platform, you’ll be holding the lead at a different angle than when you show. Where will your hands be in the photo? Work all of these things out in front of a mirror, and memorize your ideal position and have it ready for your next picture-perfect photo.

Carole Lee Richards, Weimaraner Club of America, April 2015 AKC Gazette