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How to photograph dogs – Dog Lovers Show Melbourne 2013

People often say never shoot animals or children, they’re a nightmare. I’ve never understood this. Maybe because the people that say this are going against the current. I mean, you can’t make a child or an animal pose, or smile for the camera, so why even try? To me it’s much more logical to go with the flow and let the subject determine when the photograph will appear. My interest is to wait for the moment and click when I see something worth capturing.

Last Saturday a group of us from the Melbourne Walk and Shoot Group met to go to the Dog Lovers Show. I had no idea what sorts of images I would be able to get because:

a) who knows if there’ll be enough light a big indoor venue

b) of how close I would be able to actually get to the dogs

c) of the ‘public space’ element – photographing people in public spaces

Lighting

Turns, out, between the pumping great lights inside the venue, at the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton, Melbourne, and the natural light spilling in the side windows, all was well. All I had to do was pump up the camera’s sensitivity to light starting from ISO 2000 to 6400 depending on how much light I actually had at a given moment. If the light dropped, I bumped it up. If I moved into a brighter area, I dropped the ISO again. The higher ISO settings do result in thinner files and more noise/grain. I don’t mind a bit of that, but for a whole collection I do like to have more control in post production, which I can achieve better with the lower ISO numbers.

Animals

Getting close to the animals is what I was hoping for.  There were many breeders there with fully grown dogs and then some had the puppies there as well.  Oh my God, I know, like ridiculously cute. Access to the dogs was very close up and personal, and people were allowed to cuddle and play with all the dogs.

People

I am always wary of photographing people in public spaces.  In this instance, conversations were struck before pictures were taken.  And actually a lot of people had cameras there, snapping away, so that made me feel a lot better. My way is the quick way, get the shot and don’t spend ages composing and thinking about it.  Otherwise people suddenly feel like they’re being watched and no-one likes that. If people don’t like to be photographed but somehow they will still end up in the picture, I use narrow depth of field, like F2.8, to place them at least out of focus so you can’t identify their faces.

Equipment

Keep It Simple Stupid. I hate lots of gear.  It gets in the way of good conversation and hurts my back. Shooting in public spaces sometimes calls for a wide angle perspective, so people’s faces are hardly recognisable, and they are part of a much bigger picture. Then I needed a portrait lens to get in nice and close to the wet noses.  So I took my one camera body, and 24-70mm lens.

OK, so here are the photos. Out of about 100, 29 have made the cut. They’ve all had some post production to bring them to life.

We sat down in the main arena to watch the Wonder Dogs.
Dr Katrina put on a show with the very well trained dogs.
We went for front row seats, to get a fairly clear view.
In this instance I could have used a longer lens, like a 200mm lens to get in really close.
Instead I just waited until the action came closer to me and meanwhile enjoyed the show.

In this first one we have the ‘hero’ Dr Katrina with the puppy.
And then the second line act of the sea of faces behind her.

At one point they were wheeling the dogs around in a kiddie truck.
I could see them coming.
I made a ‘peeping through’ composition with the children out of focus in front of me.
I had my focus pre-set, so when the dog wheeled into view, I was ready
.

Most of the action was down the other end,
so I decided to shoot the building itself with its great windows.
And I quite liked the line-up of faces there too, dwarfed by the window.

Never shoot kids, you say?
Why the hell not, they’re adorable!

Figuring out where to next…close in, and wide angle.

We decided we wanted to see the breeds.
Personally I love going for interaction and connection.
Now, dogs move a lot, and often very fast.
So it really is best to have the idea of what you want to shoot first,
and then when it happens, you shoot it.
In this case I wanted to photograph my friend transfixed by the dog.
So when I could see that eye-connection happen, that’s when I clicked.
And then the dog turned to me, looking suitably unimpressed!
Made for a great portrait, still leaving in the woman’s arm to add interest
.

I know, right?
This is totally for real, she was hugging a total stranger dog!
Again, I had my ISO, aperture and shutter speed ready.
So when I saw a beautiful moment, I just composed, focused and shot – bam
.

These little fellows caught my eye for two reasons.
1. They were all prim and proper on the table, nice and posed up.
2. The hair across their eyes made me laugh (and feel a bit sorry for them).
So therefore, there was a point of view to shoot for.
The first shot is what you’d expect, but then keeping the camera there
and just waiting a bit longer brought its own rewards.
The breeder raised her hand and suddenly we had a lively shot
.

It gets better.
So I turn around and see this funny little fellow all snuggy bunny on his owner’s shoulder.
The thing that got me was how cuddly he was on her shoulder.
So I made the composition about that – tight and snuggly,
just keeping in some of that great purple pile on her jumper.
The only thing left to do was keep the camera there and wait to see what would happen next.
It’s the conversation that people have with their animals that can make a great little story
.

Same again here.
An Australian Shephard puppy all gorgeous and cuddly.
And then he looked down and touched noses with the adult dog.
The portrait by itself is OK, but it’s really when something
happens that for me makes an interesting picture.

I looked down and saw this dog on the ground, the centre of attention to four people!
It must have been those eyes.
So when I had a strong expression, that’s when I clicked.

Sometimes the dogs were put in a cage for a little rest.
This one had gorgeous light coming onto him from the window.
So I captured a wide shot, of him looking all lonely and forgotten.
And then close up to get his sad eye in the context of the cage.

The beauty of capturing animals is to expect the unexpected.

So attentive!
He’s surrounded by all these people and yet you know he’s got his eye locked into his owner.
You’ll notice his eye is sharp and clear and everything else falls in and out of focus.
If you are working with shallow depth of field with animals or people,
it’s quite a good practice to focus on the eye and let everything else drop out.

I go to the Jack Russell section.
OH MY GAWD.
Are you frigging kidding me?!
The cage formed a natural border around these puppies.
The composition just needed their full bodies in it with the patterns of all the cushions etc.

Same again, you just don’t know what’s going to happen because dogs are so unpredictable.
I loved how the two owners were holding on to this little fellow.
Notice how I left their faces out, for their privacy.
You can see something is about to happen, so this picture is about the anticipation.

Sure enough, it’s on for young and old.
As with children, get down to the same level as animals and you see the world though their eyes.

Back to the event itself, and a wide shot to take in the whole space and context.
So many dog lovers!

And this gorgeous last one.
I could see someone getting a lotta love with all the hands everywhere.
People use their hands to express themselves.
This picture is about humans and their connection to dogs.
I tilted the camera diagonally to compose the picture for the hands, not the dog itself.

No, I didn’t take this fellow home, but gawsh I was tempted!

I hope you found this helpful.

B

Andrew Griffiths - May 21, 2013 - 2:12 pm

Hey Beth,

Great advice and a wonderful written blog post. Thanks for sharing. My little pooch is about to become a model!!!

Cheers,
Andrew

Beth Jennings - May 22, 2013 - 9:27 am

Awesome Andrew!!! I’m very chuffed that you dropped a comment in here – thank you and send me the pictures of your pooch once you’ve done them! B

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