In case you hadn’t noticed, some excellent advice on puppy photography was written up on the FREE Forums last week! It was so good, I wanted to make sure everyone was able to learn from it here on the blog. Thank you @buddingphotographer for these 12 great tips!
@hannahm, this topic is written especially for you. I saw your puppy pictures that you submitted for the PRO Critique webinar, and mentioned it to my sister. She said, “We should do a write-up of some tips for puppy photography, since we do quite a bit of puppy photography ourselves!”
So, without further ado, here are 12 tips for photographing puppies.
TIP #1: Have oodles of patience
Puppy photography is not something where you just go out and snap a few photos and come back with adorable pictures. You have to work to get a good picture of a puppy!
TIP #2: Enlist some aid, find a good helper
We have taken thousands of puppy photos, and believe me, an extra set of hands is invaluable! The photographer is supposed to be taking the pictures, not trying to pose the puppy and make it sit still. . . . You as the photographer have to be ready to capture that split-second when the puppy is holding still and looking good! Let the assistant be the one to run after it when it dashes off, catch it, and try to make it look good.
TIP #3: Watch the background
As @jamesstaddon mentioned in the PRO Critique webinar, your background is also very important to the success of your photo. Since we have lots of puppy photos, we can probably give plenty of examples of bad and good backgrounds. We just went looking through our files, and came up with a few. . . .
In this example, I was taking pictures for some of my relatives. I was shooting indoors because it was wintertime, and the lighting was rather bad. I did not have my speedlight at that time, so I was shooting at high ISO. It was near Christmastime, so we put their little Christmas tree in the background. Good idea, but bad implementation… It almost looks as if the tree is growing out of the puppy’s head. (That’s not a good thing).
Here’s a slightly better background, using the “real” big Christmas tree.
This might be a slightly “better” example of a bad background. In this case I didn’t have a helper, so I had to put the puppy on the picnic table bench so it wouldn’t run off! As a result, I didn’t have much control over the background. One redeeming factor in this case is that the background is nicely blurred. And that is a tip for later on. . . .
And here’s an example of a better background. It’s definitely not perfect by any stretch, but it’s a good step in the right direction anyway! I usually shoot a little bit more to the right, so that bright area in the left wouldn’t show up, but the puppy had a mind of it’s own! Sometimes it’s a compromise between a good background, and a cute pose.
TIP #4: Get down to the puppy’s level
I’m often lying on my stomach in the grass to get pictures like the one above.
TIP #5: Watch your puppy’s ears
A dog’s face shows it’s mood just like humans do. And the position of it’s ears has a lot to do with how happy (or sad/angry) it’s feeling. On multiple occasions I have had 2 nearly identical pictures, but in one the puppy had perked up it’s ears a little, making a much cuter, more pleasing picture.
TIP #5-1/2: Try to keep the puppy’s head up
He’ll look better if he’s looking right at the camera, not down at the ground, or up in the sky.
TIP #6: Don’t be afraid to take lots of pictures!
It’s not uncommon for me to do a photoshoot for a litter of puppies and come away with a couple of hundred images. I know that the last thing you want to do is sort through 250 pictures after putting up with wriggly puppies for the last hour and a half, but that’s part of being a puppy photographer!
TIP #7: Keep out of direct sunlight
This is one rule that you really shouldn’t break. It shouldn’t be too hard to find some shade somewhere! Also, as@jamesstaddon mentioned, you could try some fill-flash if the eyes are a little on the dark side. Thankfully you’re starting out with light-colored puppies! I have the hardest time properly exposing black puppies!
TIP #8: Improvise
Speaking of light colors; if you have to photograph indoors for any reason, try a light blue or pink pillowcase/sheet for a background. If nothing else, a white background is a good neutral one. Here’s an example of a light background taken indoors (with a speedlight):
TIP #9: Use some props for interest’s sake
A nice prop can make a good picture into a great picture! We’ve used many many different props, from pumpkins, to potted flowers, to baskets, to clothes baskets, to little red wagons!
TIP #10: Make the subject pretty
Take a minute or two to brush the puppy’s fur and make sure there’s not any “goop” in their eyes. It’s amazing how something like that won’t show up until you get a perfect pose, and then it’s hair is all mussed, and it’s eyes are draining.
TIP #11: Make sure that your picture is sharp, of course
If you spend a little time browsing puppyfind.com, you’ll see plenty of blurry photos. There are 2 major challenges to overcome, motion blur and improper focus. To prevent the motion blur problem, keep your shutter speed to aminimum of 1/100, ideally more like 1/160 or 1/200 (Or even higher if you have enough light). As for focus, well that’s a little more tricky. . . . Manually select a focus point for sure, don’t let the camera try to guess where you’re wanting to focus. I usually use the center focus point since they’re generally the most accurate (at least in older cameras). If you’re worried about breaking the rule of thirds by always having the subject in the middle, then try backing off, and cropping to a thrid later in post-processing. Shoot in lots of light, camera AF systems are getting better all the time, but the more light you have, the better chance they have of achieving a good focus. Remember that AF systems work by detecting contrasts. So don’t put your AF point on the broadside of a brown puppy’s body, and expect it to be able to tell when it’s in focus. If puppy has dark eyes/nose, use that as a good contrast point to focus on. The eyes are the most important thing to be sharp; if you can get the puppy’s eyes in focus, then you’ve got a good photo (sharpness-wise anyway).
TIP #12: Sharpen in post
Speaking of sharp . . . there’s some computer work involved as well! And one of the most important things is sharpening. Puppy hair and whiskers almost always need a little sharpening to make them pop and look really sharp (when they’re viewed at web-size especially.) If you’re using Lightroom, set the “Radius” for sharpening to at least 2, or 2.5
TIP #13 BONUS: Buy yourself a “Nifty Fifty” lens (optional)
In your case, it’s the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 One of the best things I did to help my puppy photography was to buy the nifty fifty. It has a nice wide aperture, so you can get lovely out-of-focus backgrounds. It’s also plenty long in focal length so that you don’t get wide-angle distortion. Being a prime, you don’t have to worry about zooming in or out, and no problems with variable apertures either! I recommend that you shoot between f/2 and f/3.5 as a good compromise between optimal sharpness and good background blur.
Whew, is that enough to get you started? Let me know if you have any questions! I’m sure you’ll have some after trying to decipher my writing!
Now isn’t that some great advice! You can read the entire thread here: 12 Tips for Puppy Photography. As I hope you can see, the Lenspiration Forums are a great place to grow. A member recently posted:
Thank you for the tips! This forum has been so helpful for me to learn from, and I’ll be practicing everything discussed here!
Feel free to ask any question of your own on the Lenspiration Forums! It’s free for everyone.