Australian photographer Alex Cearns of Houndstooth Studio, who specializes in dog photography, has perfected the art of bringing dogs' vibrant facial expressions to life in her various heartwarming images. She previously has taken photos of dogs demonstrating a “Zen-like” state and more recently a series of dogs smiling. Here, she offers five tips for capturing your canine in that perfect Kodak moment:
1. Make it Fun
This tip is the most important of them all. Nothing is worth doing if it’s not fun. The simple key to capturing a dog on film looking relaxed and happy is to create an environment that makes him feel safe and at ease. Know your dog when selecting a time and place. Just like people, some dogs are active in the mornings, while others prefer to be up and about in the afternoons. Choose your dog’s optimum activity time and use it to your photo taking advantage. Dogs’ moods reflect in their faces and body language, and by making their session a positive and fun experience, they will see their photo session as an adventure and reward you with big smiles and cheerful energy.
2. Load Up on Toys and Treats
Consider: Does your dog respond best to toys, treats, or both? Use what he loves to your advantage. If you wave a treat under your dog’s nose then pull it upwards, chances are he will look up at you. Take those few precious seconds to get your shot. Likewise, if a squeaky toy or tennis ball makes him perk up, hold it near him to get him interested in it and then snap away while he is intently waiting for you to throw it. Be sure to offer regular rewards, including praise, otherwise you may find your pooch’s attention will begin to wane.
3. Get the Timing Right
Waiting until that split second moment of a perfect photo opportunity presents itself requires anticipation and timing. Have your finger on the trigger before you squeak the toy or present the treat to capture the instantaneous reaction. This is something you will get faster at the more you practice, and the development of digital cameras means you can take as many shots as you need to in order to get the photo you are after.
4. Be Patient
Patience was the first thing I had to learn when I started photographing, and it’s even more crucial when taking portraits of animals. Repeating movements and words calmly and gently creates the relaxed atmosphere that, as explained above, is so important for the session. And remember to stop the session before your pet becomes bored or frustrated to maintain a positive association with the camera.
I like to think of patience in dog photography as a three-step process:
- Calmly wait until your pooch subject does what you want
- Take a burst of images to increase of odds of getting “the perfect shot”
- If you miss the right moment, start over
5. Be Creative
Experiment with different perspectives, angles, and vantage points. There aren’t really any hard and fast composition rules with photography, and sometimes the most interesting images are off center or a bit quirky. Take a series of images while lying on the ground and shooting from their point of view, or consider taking photos directly at their eye level while they are sitting up, or shoot from above, pointing the camera straight down at them. You even zoom in for a close up nose shot, or detailed eye image.
Also, consider the setting. Be sure to check your background for objects beside or behind your subject. Chairs, people, rubbish bins, light posts, other dogs (to name but a few) can all "photobomb" your subjects, which can ruin (or in some cases enhance) a photo.
Good luck and happy shooting!