How to Take a Portrait Photo of a Dog

June 21, 2021 5 min read

Whether you have a miniature pooch like a chihuahua or a large Labrador, you’ve probably taken a few pictures of them both indoors and out. Here we look at how to create a great portrait photo of your dog, one that you’ll be more than happy to stick on the wall or post on social media. 

Snapshot vs Portrait

The first thing to consider is the difference between a snapshot and a portrait. We can all take snapshots and sometimes they turn out brilliantly. With a portrait, however, you need to put more thought into how your dog is posed, the lighting and what sort of story you want to tell. A good portrait will help create an amazing pet portrait for all of your animals.

Dog Portrait

In short, a portrait is deliberate – it can be static or full of motion and intrigue but it’s a picture you’ve decided to create rather than something that was given to you by a chance moment in time. 

Tips for Better Composition

To understand what makes an excellent portrait, you need to get more closely acquainted with composition. This is how all the different elements of your photo come together to create a certain impression. There are all sorts of tips and techniques such as the rule of thirds, filling the frame and using lines to lead the viewer's eyes to your subject. 

Our top tip: While there are composition rules, don’t be afraid to experiment and try new angles and styles. The good news is you can take as many photos as you like with today’s digital cameras. 

Choose Your Camera

Your choice of a camera can make a difference but is not as vitally important as many people think. You can take a really good dog portrait photo with a smartphone camera, sometimes better than if you have a fully functioning, state of the art DSLR. 

The key is not the camera but knowing how to use it properly. Take time to understand the different functions and practice with all the camera settings. 

If you are using a DSLR, picking a lens between 70 and 200mm gives you a lot of options when taking portrait photographs and allows you to fill the frame with little or no distortion. 

Bringing Out Your Dog’s Personality

A great dog portrait is all about bringing out their personality. It’s useful to sit and observe your dog and visualise what sort of image you want to create. If you have an older, less mobile dog, a picture of them draped across the sofa may be just what you are looking for. If you have a mutt that loves to rush about, your portrait may well be more animated. 

It’s critical to be aware of what sort of emotion you want to create – whether you want to show your dogs intelligence, quirkiness or their humour and think about how you are best going to illustrate this. 

Focus Points

One of the challenges that amateur photographers have is getting the right focus. This can take a lot of practice to get right, especially if you are using a smartphone. The key to any good portrait is having the sharpest focus on the eyes – the windows to your dog’s soul. 

Why Natural Lighting is Best

The more you can use natural lighting, the better. Unless you have a studio setup, it can be difficult to get the right levels of shade and light right. While many modern digital cameras will compensate for halogen or LED lighting, for beginner portrait photographers getting outside is a good choice if you want more depth and character to your images. 

Getting in Close

Especially if you are just starting in dog portrait photography, getting in close for your image is important. Many people make the mistake of not filling enough of the screen with their dog which makes it simply look like a snapshot. 

Of course, a lot depends on what you want to achieve. There may be times when showing the surroundings is perfect for the story you are trying to tell. Most times, however, filling the screen with your dog is the best option. 

Action Shots: How to Cope with a Moving Dog

Dogs and other pets have one troublesome property when it comes to portraiture – they have difficulty staying still. This shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing. Action portraiture is a lot more dynamic and can produce some amazing images. We suggest that you play around with shutter speeds for this. 

A fast shutter speed will freeze your dog in time and can sometimes look a little weird if they’re floating in mid-air. If you can add just a little blurring, it gives the sense of movement and can increase the dynamism of your portrait. Again, this is a matter of experimentation and the limitations of the camera you are using but it’s worth trying different speeds to see what works best. 

If you are capturing movement or want an action shot of your pet, using a camera that can take multiple photos when you press the shutter helps. Learning how to track and shoot is also a good skill to develop. 

Watch Out for Clutter

Many a great dog portrait has been spoiled by unnecessary clutter. This can be defined as anything that draws the eye away from the central focus. It can be background furniture, a shadow in the wrong place or kids toy hanging on the edge of the picture. 

Generally, the closer you get to your subject, the less clutter you have to contend with. If you are framing a portrait photo, be sure to check the periphery of the shot. 

Shoot Where Your Dog is Happiest

Location is important for any portrait and it’s a good idea to pick places where your dog feels at ease. This might be your local park or the living room. Dogs can find new places intimidating and it can make them less likely to behave naturally. 

Get Down to Ground Level

Angle is all-important when it comes to dog portraiture. Don’t be afraid to get down to your mutt’s level and snap away from there. It can create a new and interesting dimension for your photography. 

The Art of the Burst

Back in the day when we had film cameras, taking multiple shots with reckless abandon wasn’t an option. Today’s digital cameras mean we can take hundreds of shots in the space of a few minutes. Don’t be afraid to shoot away and use your camera’s burst mode if it has one. It gives you a lot more chance of capturing that great image, especially when your dog is running around. 

Practice Makes Perfect

Portrait photography is a skill that can be learned over time. It’s important to not just blindly take photos and leave them on your computer. Take your time to go through them and look at what works and what doesn’t. Reviewing your images can help you make better decisions when you’re out on your next shoot. 

Use Plenty of Treats and Take Your Time

Don’t underestimate the use of treats when you’re trying to encourage your dog into the right pose or location. They can be a great tool for keeping pooch in the right location and stop them from wandering off to a less photogenic place. 

The other tip is to take your time and be patient. Finally, the perfect portrait often comes along when you least expect it, so have your camera ready and keep on snapping.