How to: Photographing an energetic dog

Blurred. Head outside the frame. Blurred. Blinking. Head turned away. Blurred again. Dog half outside the frame. Closeup of blurred nose... Have you ever tried photographing a very energetic dog? We have all seen the breathtaking images of cute fluffy pups sitting in flower field or a beautiful lab in autumn foliage and been inspired to shoot such photos of our own pooches. That's all difficult enough with a dog with low energy levels, but photographing a dog which just can't stay still presents it's very own set of challenges. To equip you for your next photo session and to show you what the reality of such a session looks like we have put together the most essential advice in photographing your next furry model.

 

Spend a moment getting to know the dog

This applies of course not only to energetic dogs, but to all dogs. However, energetic dogs and especially nervous dogs need familiarity to be able to relax. Just like with human models, you get the better photos with a relaxed model rather than with a tense one.

 


 
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Cookie's story

Cookie is a mixed breed male of two working dog breeds; Appenzell Mountain Dog and German Shepherd. He was born on a farm and given as a puppy to a man, who locked him up in isolation. Cookie grew up in his dungeon knowing nothing but hunger, loneliness, and the beatings from his tormentor, until finally the police found him and he was brought to a shelter.

His luck changed when the gentle people of the shelter prepared him for his forever home. After three weeks Cookie was adopted. Today he's still cautious towards strangers, but once you get to know him, he turns into a big playful goofball. His amazing intelligence, loyalty, and resilience make him to a great companion. Cookie is an active dog, who loves hiking, search games, and road trips.

 

 

Photograph at a location that fits the dog

Energetic dogs are often just too giddy to photograph in a studio setting. Trying to make a hyper dog sit still for the perfect shot is bound to end in frustration for both the photographer and the dog, not to mention the owner. Photographing outdoors does not only work better for an energetic dog, but also represents better it's personality as an active dog.

When choosing an outdoor location make sure to choose a safe and distraction free environment. A photo shooting situation is strange enough to hype some energetic dogs up, you don't want any additional factors to make a dog nervous. Think not only about lighting and area, but also what kind of activities a dog can do in the shooting location. Is there water if it's a water loving dog? Do you want pictures of a wet dog? Is there something to jump? Enough space to throw stick? What is your vision for the images? 

Tip: If you are planning a photo session in a hayfield or a flower field with an active dog, have a backup location ready. Your autofocus is sure to focus on the grass blades rather than the moving dog making it extra difficult to land sharp shots.

 
Could have been a great shot, but the focus is on the grass blades on the foreground.

Could have been a great shot, but the focus is on the grass blades on the foreground.

 

 

Choose the right gear

When shooting a dog in constant movement a good autofocus is a must. Other than that it makes sense to bring a good zoom lens. The images in this article were taken with a 70-200mm f2.8 zoom lens. A running, jumping, speeding, digging, playing dog is rarely in the right distance from the camera, and it is definitely hopeless to try to move yourself to the right distance chasing a running dog. A lens with proper zoom enables you to zoom in to the right distance and keep some distance to the dog hence not disturbing it and capturing more authentic images. Another important consideration is the shutter speed. Shoot in lighting conditions, which allow you to have fast shutter speeds. Dogs can be incredibly fast and agile, and you don't want to end up with all of your photos blurry.

 

Get someone to help you

A highly energetic dog needs someone to direct it, or it is just going to wander off to find something to do. If you want great shots, the dog needs to be steered to do the activities you are aiming to capture. An assistant is really great for these situations. Of course you can also take this role yourself, if you are photographing your own dog, but it makes a photo shooting a lot easier to have someone else interact with the dog. For example if you want to photograph the dog fetching a stick, you will have to throw a stick, grab your camera, and zoom on the dog when it's running back to you. Also, you will have mostly photos where the dog is coming towards you. These can be great of course, but having an assistant get the dog move in all directions gives you many more shooting angles to choose from.

The title image of this post was possible only with a person, who would occupy the dog and motivate it with treats to jump in the air.

 

Lots and lots of images!

Once you have everything planned and set up, the only thing left to do is to shoot, shoot, and shoot! It is rarely possible to predict what exactly your athletic model is going to do next, so you need to have your finger ready on the shutter button. Don't be afraid to take hundreds of images in one photoshoot. It's ok to have many failed shots. The important thing is to single out the rare pearls of good shots from between the bad ones. For the example shooting below we took around 100 photos, and most of them looked something like this:

 
Action captured sharp, but not from such a great angle.

Action captured sharp, but not from such a great angle.

Too fast!

Too fast!

 
 
He really likes sniffing.

He really likes sniffing.

Another not so great angle. Also focus is on tip of the tail rather than on dog.

Another not so great angle. Also focus is on tip of the tail rather than on dog.

 
 
Charming...

Charming...

Definitely too close for the lens to focus. Cookie is having fun, though.

Definitely too close for the lens to focus. Cookie is having fun, though.

 
 
Would have been great, but he ran away from the sun and to an area with uneven vegetation. There is hardly any contrast between Cookie and his background.

Would have been great, but he ran away from the sun and to an area with uneven vegetation. There is hardly any contrast between Cookie and his background.

Oh well...

Oh well...

 

 

Amongst all the photos there were around five usable images, sharp and displaying our dog beautifully as well as with emotion. Here are the two best ones:

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We had fun creating this How To photography tutorial! If you enjoyed it too, drop a comment at the bottom of the page or check out our other blog posts.

 

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