In the Garden: Pet Photography
Learn how to take outdoor pictures of your dog from this talented photographer.
More than 30 years ago, I checked out a library book that changed my life. How to Photograph Cats, Dogs, and Other Animals, by Walter Chandoha, really resonated with me. With my background in art and love for animals, I knew it was something I wanted to try.
As a professional photographer, I’ve been taking pet pictures in the garden for decades and specializing in it for the past 10 years. It comes naturally to me: I work in my garden just about every day, and my dog, Ben, is always with me.
A few years ago I got an email from Walter Chandoha complimenting me on my work, and I was excited to tell him that he was the one who started it all! Now I’m hoping to pass along some of my knowledge to others, the way his book passed along so many ideas to me. Here are my top tips for taking pet photos in the garden.
Keep your camera handy. You never know when dogs are going to do their best stuff. You don’t want to be deadheading your flowers with your camera in the house when they start being particularly cute. Keep it nearby at all times so you can capture the moment naturally.
Shoot at your pet’s level. I have a selection of benches, chairs and little tables I like to use, all yard sale finds. It helps to put yourself at eye level with your subject. This also helps prevent escapes!
Use bribes. Treats are a good way to get and hold a dog’s attention. Let’s face it: Most dogs would rather take a nap than pose for a portrait. So use lots of praise and your dog’s favorite treats to get the picture you want.
Know when to stop. If your dog is hot, thirsty or just bored, it’s time to stop the session. Never get mad or impatient; a dog will pick up on this, and then the session is over. You want this to be fun for both of you. If you really need to get a specific shot because those Knockout roses are in bloom and it’s going to storm tomorrow, try taking a break. Walk the dog around the house a few times, give it a drink and then try again. If you force it, the final product will suffer.
Keep it simple. If you have a friend or family member to help you, things will go a lot smoother. But use only one person: Six people making squeaking noises at the same time will get any dog to run for the house! Use a helper your dog knows and trusts so you can stay behind the camera. When Maggie or Molly moves for the sixth time, your helper merely eases her back into position so you can snap your shot right away.
Don’t give up. Patience and persistence will pay off with beautiful images. Just keep shooting away. Modern digital cameras let you take hundreds of pictures in a matter of minutes. Simply delete the ones you don’t like and use the ones you do.