Guest blog by Keryn Bardwell, Head Trainer, A New Leash on Life Dog Training
Do you ever wish you could train your dog to just hold still and pay attention long enough for you to capture their essence in a single, framable and free portrait? As a fellow dog lover, I know how tough it can be to get that perfect shot when your dog just won't stay still or look in the right direction. The early days with my first dogs were tricky and I wish now that I had more lovely portraits from that era.
But fear not, because with a few tips and tricks you can become a pro at getting your dog to stay still for you to take some amazing pictures. In this blog, I’ll talk about the three things that you need to get that awesome shot, as well as some tips to make it better. So grab your dog and let's get started (oops that's four things)!
Three steps to the perfect dog portrait:
Step 1: Obedience - you’ll need a solid stay type of command
The first step to getting a great picture of your dog is to make sure they stay in place long enough for you to snap the shots. Training a solid sit or drop command will come in handy when you need them to stay put while you adjust your camera or find the perfect angle. You’ll want to use plenty of soft, calm praise if they hold still for you so you don’t overexcite them too soon.
A good sit and stay is required.
However, these positions can sometimes look a bit forced, so I like to have a “place” command, where I indicate where I want them to be, e.g. up on a tree stump, and that I want them to remain there. I let them find a natural and comfortable stance or position of their own choosing.
If they get down or move off, I say "no" without angst and walk them back to where I want them to remain before resuming my praise. Don’t use force or fear, teach them to learn to control their impulse to run off, and be patient it takes practice.
Practice these commands regularly with your dog so they get used to holding the position for longer periods of time and in different types of locations.
HINT: Teach a Release Command to let them know they are finished posing! Pick a word they don’t hear in day-to-day chatter. I use "free", and when said, it signifies that we are finished. They can now go off and do their own thing or come over to get their training treat.
Here’s my foster dog Arthur learning to pose on a stump.
Step 2: Motivation - you’ll need some awesome rewards for your dog
If you have a favourite squeaky dog toy or training treat make sure you hold it right next to the camera lens, hold the camera lens close to your face if you can, because they might just prefer to look at you. That will give you the best chance of capturing a pic of them looking directly at the camera.
HINT: Be careful not to overuse the training treat or toy as it may distract your dog too much or make them too excited. If they get down from their post or move away, I say “no” and lead them back to where I want them to remain, and we try again. Persistence without aggro is the key!
Step 3: Camera - the best camera is the one in your pocket!
You don't need an expensive camera to take amazing pictures of your dog. The best camera is the one you have with you, and that's likely your smartphone. With the advancements in phone camera technology, you can take high-quality photos with just your phone. So don't worry about investing in a fancy camera - just use what you've got!
Without needing to become a photography expert you can use a few simple tricks to get great and unusual shots. Try some of these:
- Try getting down to their level to take the shot or raising them up on something interesting like a log or bench. The angle you take the photo from can make all the difference in capturing the personality of your dog. This will help to create a more intimate and engaging photo that showcases your dog's unique character.
- Put your iPhone on Portrait Mode for a lovely blurring of the background without you needing to worry about focusing
Here’s a portrait mode shot I took of my own dog Jaffa with a lovely soft look and a nice blurry background.
- Put your iPhone into Burst Mode and start your sequence of shots before you hold up your treat or toy, or make a squeaky noise and continue the sequence till after they look or move away. When you review the whole sequence of shots you’ll be surprised how many good ones you will capture.
HINT: Here’s a guide to Burst Mode if you’ve never tried it
- If you are out in public and can't take them off the lead, hide the lead behind their body when you pose them or get your shot anyway as you can always edit out the lead.
HINT: I use an awesome free app called Snapseed to crop, edit, enhance or erase distractions. Download it and play around with some of its features. If you make several copies of your favourite photo, you can use different looks or edits on them until you find the ones that you love the most.
Remember, taking a great photo of your dog takes practice and patience. Practice your commands ahead of time. Remember to pack the things you’ll want when you head out and about with them. Take lots of shots, and don't be afraid to experiment with different angles, lighting and positions.
With these tips in mind, you'll be sure to capture some amazing moments with your furry friend. Happy snapping!
About the author: Hi, my name is Keryn and I’m a certified Dog Trainer. I’ve been working with dogs and their owners since 2003. For obedience training, I use a reward-based training method, without food reliance, and I specialise in in-home, personalised behaviour shaping. Treats are awesome for learning tricks, and I recommend everyone have a go at bonding with their dogs through training, but also not to be reliant upon the food rewards. If you’d love to know more about obedience dog training, you can find out more below.
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