Look at the Camera - Tips for Getting Great Photos of Your Dog

August 15, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Minnow the ChinookMinnow the Chinook

The main goal in pet photography is to produce a quality image with the dog looking at the camera; this may be easier said than done. I've shot photos of thousands of dogs, and I'm sharing some of my top tricks to get dogs to look at the camera in this blog. 

 

Actors and Non-Actors

Actors - Some dogs are naturals, and when I create their images, I think about how they could earn a living in front of a camera. These dogs are few and far between. I'll do my best to make your dog look like an animal actor no matter where they're at when we start their session. 

Dalmatian 2013 Top 20 Winner GCh/UKC Ch. Paisley Choco Chip Brownie Delite, RN - "Pauli"Dalmatian 2013 Top 20 Winner GCh/UKC Ch. Paisley Choco Chip Brownie Delite, RN - "Pauli"

Non-Actors - this group makes up about 97% of the dogs I photograph every year. These dogs may be easily distracted, think squirrel, or are shy about looking at a stranger with a camera crouching in their space. Fear not! I have some great tricks up my sleeve to get your dogs looking lovingly into your eyes from the finished photographs.  

Taga the Chinook Senior Souls Project Stanwood WashingtonTaga the Chinook Senior Souls Project Stanwood Washington

Tricks to Look at the Camera 

Is your dog on high alert seeking any movement in the compound, county, countryside? Getting those dogs to focus long enough to look in one direction may seem unlikely. I have some " go-to" tips after years of practice in my own business and on print photo shoots, commercials, and films. 

  • Unique sounds, toys, and movements
  • Quick clicker training with delicious treats (a clicker sounds like a camera shutter) 
  • Using cat toys for dogs 

Most distracted dogs will look right at my camera when I make strange sounds. If they don't dog those sounds, I have various animal calls to blow and a litany of prop animal sounds on my smartphone. If we have a baiter on site with us, they'll be making sounds, playing with toys, and moving in strange and intriguing ways to help your dog look at the camera lens. 

Fluffy the Vampire Labrador in a Minnesota WinterFluffy the Vampire Labrador in a Minnesota Winter

If the sounds and movement aren't cutting it, we'll do a quick training session with positive reinforcement. We'll be teaching your dog that the clicker and the camera shutter are sure signals that delightful treats are coming. Your dog usually will learn that it pays in tasty treats to look at the camera. I'll lure your dog's gaze toward the camera lens with a tasty morsel right at the lens, click, treat. In no time at all, your dog will be looking at the camera and lens, anticipating the click and treat. 

 

Cat toys with feathers are another excellent attention-getter. Flicking them over my head and then tossing it behind me gets most dogs looking at the camera while they try and find the bird that was flitting around moments ago. 

 

If you have a more reserved dog, you may be wondering if they are brave enough to survive these tricks. Don't worry; there are tricks just for them!  

 

Tricks for Shy and Nervous Dogs to Look at the Camera

Having a camera pointing at you may not be the most comfortable moment if you're shy, timid, or nervous. It's not unusual for dogs and their owners to need a little time to acclimate and figure out what is happening at a photo shoot. Here are three things I regularly employ to help dogs get more comfortable. 

  • Pre Photo Shoot Practice 
  • Give Me Space
  • High-Value Stinky Treats

Preparation is critical if you're concerned about your dog being uncomfortable looking at the camera. Be sure to mention that in the planning questionnaire to prepare together for a successful photo session. (Check out this post on preparing for your session.)  

Birchwood Beagles as seen on The National Dog Show on NBCBirchwood Beagles as seen on The National Dog Show on NBC

For very nervous dogs, we'll start our session about 30-minutes early. We may or may not shoot during this get-acquainted time. They'll be able to sniff me, my assistants, the gear, all while getting plenty of tasty treats. That little bit of extra time to gain comfort and confidence may make the difference in getting the best shots during the official session.  

 

Some dogs prefer a lot of space between people they don't know and their personal space. I'm good with that. I have a telephoto lens (Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM) that allows me to reach out and touch your dog from about twenty-five feet away. Being that distance away from your dog makes me more interesting to look at too. This lens is my favorite and captures beautiful images, including close-ups, without invading your dog's comfort zone. 

Rocket the Brittany Mason City IowaRocket the Brittany Mason City Iowa

Super stinky, high-value treats are part of getting dogs to look at me and the camera. I play Nosework with my dogs, and I've learned how incredible the canine nose is. Dogs possess up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to about six million in humans. The part of a dog's brain devoted to analyzing smells is about 40 times greater than ours. We'll be tempting your dog's nose with super odiferous treats like tuna, peanut butter, hot dogs, liverwurst, and more. These treats will direct your dog's gaze right toward the camera. 

 

Of course, the number one trick to working with animals is patience.

Australian Cattle Dogs in MinnesotaAustralian Cattle Dogs in Minnesota

 

 

 


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