PHOtography Tips

Courtesy of:

Kids & Critters Photography
Jan Haderlie, Photographer
(714) 649-2861

For those who are interested here are a few suggestions I have found useful in getting good photos of your dogs.

I shoot outside in the early morning hours or late afternoon hours. The actual time will vary depending on the time of year and your latitude. You are aiming for the time when the sun is low enough on the horizon to not create shadows in the ears. In S. CA that is no later than 10am and no earlier than 3pm in the late spring, summer and early fall. In the early spring, late fall and winter the sun is much lower on the hoizon and you can shoot much closer to noon.

A slightly overcast day is the best lighting. It reduces the contast between the blacks and whites and allows more detail to be recorded on the film. The sun lower in the sky also helps to reduce the contrast.

I use Kodak Pro 400 MC in my medium format camera. It is a wonderful film for shooting dogs as it is a medium contrast film but is too grainy for 35mm use. I have used Kodak gold before Kodak started making the Pro 400 and liked it very much. It is available in 100 and 200 ASA and would be the best choice when using a 35mm camera.

A tripod is essential especially with a 35mm camera. You need the camera to be as still as possible for the maximum sharpness. A shutter release cord is nice to help ensure the camera does not shake as you press down on the shutter.

With a 35mm camera the lens should be about a 90mm for body shots and about 70-75mm for head shots. I leave background around the dogs so that if I have to straighten the dog when printing I have enough background to do that. The ideal print will have 1" to 1 1/2" of backgound between the dog and the print edge. A 35mm negative is much wider proportionally than an 8x10 is wide so if you concentrate on the top and bottom space the side to side will be fine.

I usually shoot at f11 and go down to f8 if needed. Much lower than that and you wind up with the dog out of focus at one end or the other. I do not use a flash.

A 3/4 view of the body is flattering for most dogs but do not get locked into only doing one view. Experiment and work with each dog to find the best angle. Remember to turn the dog to the non show side, it might be the best. You need at least one other person to manage the dog and some noise source. I have a recorder with various sounds that helps but a second helper is the best who can hold the noise source or be the noise source. This can get very silly and is not for the inhibited.

You need to get at dog level when photographing. This usually means sitting on the ground so bring something to sit on in case of snow, mud, or any other unmentionables you might encounter on the ground. Because I am moving to get the best angle of the dog I usually end up off the ground cover and covered with muck. A hazard I can not avoid.

The background should be at least 10 feet away from the dog. A park with trees and hills far away is my preference. Be careful that the grass is not too long. Also try to avoid the tree out of the head.

The keyword in doing animal photography is PATIENCE, PATIENCE. I have photographed dogs that only allow you to take one photo at a time and then the camera noise makes them move. The dog has all the control so getting impatient is not the answer. With enough time and film you can get good photos of your dogs. Good luck.

Here are some more tips, courtesy of Barb Moore, (

  1. Never take them outside!! Too many distractions (not to mention wind)! If you MUST do it outside, make sure the sun is more to the side of the dog rather than straight on. Will give a more 3D look to your photo.
  2. Put your camera on a tripod (table, etc.) and set it up BEFORE you start so the dog doesn't get bored and fidgety!
  3. Get someone to help you!
  4. Use a shutter release cable. Ask at the camera shop. They are only a few dollars and make life SOOOOOO much easier!
  5. Pull out those squeaky mice!! Have the helper watch you CAREFULLY and press the plunger on the release cable on your signal.
  6. Put your dog about 6 feet or more from the background (no kidding). This eliminates harsh shadows, etc.
  7. If possible, don't use an on-camera flash (borrow a camera if you have to). Instead, use a flash cable and have another helper hold the flash just a bit above and to the side of your dog (not too close). This gives you a 3-D effect instead of the very flat effect of a frontal flash. A bounce flash is a good alternative.
  8. DON'T position your dog with a window, mirror, or other source of light BEHIND it!
  9. Get as close as possible with your camera. Have your dog take up as much of the picture plane as you can!
  10. Never use film smaller than 35mm!!!
  11. Use a good brand of film. Even better, go to the camera store and ask for a "professional" film. For publication, slides are generally better than prints or negatives. Again, tell the clerk at the camera store what you will be using the photo for. He or she will probably be able to help you pick a film that is color balanced for what you need and one that is very sharp.
  12. The more film you use, the more likely you are to get the perfect photo. Plan on at least 2 rolls of film per dog.
  13. Bracket your exposures if your camera will allow it!
  14. Choose your background carefully. Don't use strong colors like black, white, or bright primaries. Don't use panelled walls as they reflect the flash and your photo will be overexposed.
  15. A "normal lens" on a 35mm camera (50mm lens) is often the safest to use. If you are using a snapshot camera (most have very short lenses), up close it will produce a very large head (or foot or tail - whatever is closest to the camera). A telephoto is a good idea as long as it is not TOO long as this can cause parts of the photo to be "soft" (not sharp). If you must use a telephoto (from 80mm up) use a very small aperture setting to keep the entire dog in focus.
  16. When photographing black dogs or blues with large areas of black, try using a big sheet of white foam core board to "reflect" light into black or very dark areas (you need a helper for this one). It is a trick professionals use to bring down contrast. Again DON'T have the sun directly behind you or use the flash on your camera. That is the cause of "dishfaced" dogs. The strong frontal light flattens the image. A slight sidelight will give you very natural shadows and the face looks rounded, as is should.
  17. Again, a common problem is "large" body parts. With a very short lens (shorter than 50mm) and at very close distances, any part of the dog that is closer to the camera than the rest of the dog will be distorted. Try posing the dog so that everything you want in focus is about the same distance from the lens. Unless you are very far away, don't have the dog in a down/stay with its head toward you. Try a sit/stay slightly from the side. If you are photographing more than one dog, pose them so all of them are about the same distance from the lens. Use the smallest aperture setting on your camera (it will have the largest numbers ie: 22, 16, etc.) to keep everything in focus.



And even more tips from Sandra L. Walroth (

I have been photographing dogs for about 3 years now, and have been lucky enough to take some pictures good enough to be used for advertising in the Pacesetter, International, and catalogs. Here are some of the things I am careful about.

Camera: I use an Olympus OM-10 35mm.

Lighting: The best I have found is outdoors, mid to late morning with scattered clouds. The pictures in bright sunlight have been too harsh, and the ones on overcast days have had no definition. It is very difficult to get good pictures indoors unless you have special photographic lighting.

Lens: Most of my good ones have been taken using a 38 - 200 zoom macro wide angle lens. I try to be around 10 to 15 feet away from the dog, and use the zoom feature to fill the frame with the dog (or part of the dog, i.e. head shot, etc).

Angle: I set the camera on a tripod, and have it set at the height of the dog's eyes. If the camera was too high, the dog was all head. On occasion I have had the camera slightly below the eyes to accentuate a wonderful underjaw, but be careful to not be too low.

Film: I prefer to use ASA 100 or 200 at the absolute fastest. Film any faster than this will result in grainy enlargements.

Background: The plainer, the better. I like to use either the front of a large field or a backdrop of solid trees or bushes. For sables and blues, darker than the dog is best; for tris, lighter. To blur the background, try using shorter depth of field (larger aperatures - the ones with the smaller numbers - i.e. f2 gives a shorter d-o-f than f16).

Misc: Be sure to photograph the dogs when they are fresh, and preferably a little bit hungry - they bait better that way. The dogs must be perfectly groomed, or the camera will pick up all the imperfections. Be sure there is not too much wind, or the coat will look strange blowing the wrong way.

Dog's position: The best shots I have are ones of the dog 3/4 (looking just past my shoulder), the next best are profile (if dog has perfect head planes). Be sure to critically evaluate the dog, and do NOT accentuate a fault - i.e. dogs with rounder eyes, shoot in brighter light; dogs with less than perfect head planes, no profiles; less underjaw, be sure to not shoot from too high; etc.

Help: This is probably the most important. Be sure to have 1 or preferably 2 other people with you. Be sure at least one of them knows the breed you are shooting VERY well. One person will watch the grooming (rough brushed up, topline brushed down, feathers and bloomers right, ears tipped, etc.) The other person stands just behind the photographer to get the dog's attention with a multitude of noise makers (be creative). If you are trying to get more than one dog, have additional people for the additional dogs. At one point, we tried to get a family photo (Mom, Dad and 4 11-month old puppies from the same litter) and out of 1 1/2 rolls of pictures, only got 2 good shots, We had both parents sitting together, 1 boy beside Mom, 1 girl beside Dad, and the other 2 puppies laying down in front - with only 2 of the dogs obedience trained. It took 5 people to accomplish this.

For every good picture you get, you will probably get at least 4 - 5 that are not good. Make sure you have lots of film with you, so you can shoot away - you never know when the dog will give you "that look". Be patient, and wait for the dog to bait. Watch for ears up, head up, legs four-square, tail down, etc.

If you try to get "action" shots, be sure to use a very fast shutter speed to stop the action. One morning I was photographing a Sheltie doing all levels of obedience, and used shutter speeds of 1/250 and up. To get specific shots, pre-focus and use a shutter-release cable so you can get away from the back of the camera, and watch the action so you can catch the dog going over the jump, etc.

A book that I found helpful was "Photographing Dogs" by Sally Anne Thompson. For those who try, good luck.


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