12 Professional Dog Photography Tips

September 5, 2016

I was so excited when Devon Life magazine commissioned me to write a new series for them called Devon Dogs – until I realized I had to do the pictures as well as the words! It’s one thing snapping your own dog when you’ve got all the time in the world and quite another when the clock is ticking and it’s a strange dog in an unfamiliar setting so I decided to get some expert guidance…

Here 4 professional pet photographers (and the inventor of a handy new dog photography gadget) talk us through some of their best shots/tips!



1. For this image (above) we spent a while getting the dogs used to standing together, closer and closer until the positioning was just right. Then we had one person walk slowly left of the camera and one right so that each dog would look in opposite direction. Patience was vital and there were quite a few outtakes!


2. The truth behind this shot is that, just off camera, we had a person through a treat high into the air to have the dog look up and appear to be howling. Also we shot at dawn on the ideal cloudy morning to create an eerie background.


3. To draw this Weimaraner’s attention in the direction of the camera we had the dog’s owner kneeling just behind the photographer with a squeaker to create a nice engaged expression. If it’s just you and the dog, one especially helpful trick is to take the squeaker out of the toy and place it in your mouth so you can squeak it with your teeth to get the dog to look your way while keeping both hands free for the camera! 



1. First and foremost you have to know your dog model, which means asking the dog owner as much as you can about her dog and ideally taking some time to meet the dog before you shoot. On set you have to work be flexible and work what the dog is happy to do. I’m a huge training nerd and so paying attention to stress signals is hugely important to me, so that the models stay comfortable.

dog chewing bone

2. It can be tricky to keep a wiggly puppy still. This Samoyed pup wanted to explore and play so a huge bone was a great way of bribing her to stay still for some shots as well as a good mental exercise.

golden retriever wearing helmet to illustrate professional dog photography tips

3. This Captain America shoot was challenging because it was outdoors and in a noisy, busy dog park full of scents and exciting distractions. What made it possible was a good fit of helmet, sturdy straps to keep it in place plus lots of baloney!


white dog against a black background wearing blue boy or girl tag

1. One of the keys to photographing dog portraits is making sure that you have a background that contrasts with the color of the dog’s fur. A light or white dog (like Toy Poodle Oliver here) works best with a dark background and vice versa! Make sure you seat the dog on the same color chair, or stool as the background so it blends.
gracie-shadow-photography-tips 2  gracie-front-lit-photography-tips 2
2. Natural light offers the best shadows and highlights for a dog’s face but if you are opting for studio lighting, keep in mind you want to shine the light straight on to the dog’s face rather than the side-lighting sometimes favored with human portraits. You can see the difference clearly above as modeled by Boston Terrier Gracie.
Boy or Girl Tags
3. The Adobe Photoshop program is great for minor touch-ups and layering images. We had great fun with the Don’t Look Under Me montage for our website. (above).


1. I think one of the easiest and cheapest ways to improve your photos is to use a reflector to direct the light onto the dog, both to fill in harsh shadows and to create sparkle in their eyes (as above with Ruffy). This reflection in the eyes is called a catchlight (this is where my business name, Fetchlight, originated!) and catchlights are really important in order to make dogs look alert and full of life!

(Full post on How To Use A Reflector coming soon!)

BellaLucky_32_fetchlight_small 2

2. Sometimes backgrounds that look great to the eye don’t translate in photo form so I would advise planning the location in advance, visiting and taking a few test photos with your handbag or own dog in the place where you are thinking of photographing your model dog, even just with your iPhone, to get the exact spots, angles, and times of day for best sunlight. You’ll be able to tell the scale of background items then, as well. With pet photography, planning everything you can in advance is important because often you can’t plan on what the dog will want to do that day!


3. If, like Belinda, you experienced the tricky problem of a male dog’s bits creating a distracting element to a portrait, I have 5 possible solutions: 1. If you really want to show the dog sitting and facing the camera, position your camera so that one of his front legs is covering his bits. 2. Have the dog sit somewhat sideways, but their head will be looking at you, so their back leg may cover the bits. 3. Have the dog stand, lay down, or walking (like Kaku the Chinese Crested above) instead of sitting. 4. Use Photoshop to add a bit more shadow to the area, to not attract so much attention down there. 5. If small dogs are sitting in grass it may be high enough to cover their bits, provided your camera angle is low (as with Porter the Jack Russell below).

jack russell by coast dog photography tips
Thank you so much to Ben, Zinna, Julie & Jen for their super-duper professional dog photography tips! Now a little something for the iPhone-snappers – one of the things I struggle with the most is getting Bodie to look at the camera, so I love the concept of this new gadget… 


Jason began designing the Pooch Selfie back in 2014 after a backyard aha moment. “My wife was trying to take a selfie with our dog Logan and he just would not look at the camera. I jumped in for the assist and grabbed the one thing I knew he would pay attention to – a tennis ball. After manipulating his attention to get the perfect selfie, I realized I was on to something!” The project exceeded their goal on Kickstarter x7. “Public reception was great so I spent the next 2 months getting Pooch Selfie manufactured and we officially launched our commerce store in January 2016. We are now on Amazon (for $12.99) and getting great reviews!”

Here’s how it works: Simply click the squeaky tennis ball holder onto your phone then opt for either the traditional grinning selfie with you and the dog (as above) or use it as a focus tool with multiple pups:


And if everything goes according to plan you can end up with a soulful shot like this one Logan (left) and Sadie (right):




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