- Once you know the breeds and how the dogs of those breeds must be portrayed, there are a number of photography tips you must learn for specific situations.
- Dogs with black or very dark coats: Because dark colors absorb so much light, you’ll need a three-light configuration to cast enough light. One light should be focused on the rear of the dog, with two others at 45 degrees to the front of the dog.
- Increase contrast: Use a black background to help to emphasize a light-colored coat.
- Correct lighting: Use the minimum amount of lights to produce photos of a dog with a pleasantly glossy coat.
- Experiment with exposure: It’s best to shoot at various apertures and shutter speeds, or bracket your images, to find the best exposure for individual dogs and settings.
- Match the background with the photo’s use: For general show dog photos, select an outdoor environment. If the goal is to promote a dog for stud, then a studio set-up is preferred, or plain backgrounds.
- Go low: It’s easy to move the photographer than the dog, so find an angle of view that is at the dog’s eye level or slightly above.
- It’s not a one-person assignment: To capture the best photos of any breed of dog, and in the short period of time the owner and the dog will give you, you need two assistants during the shoot. The first is the owner who is more likely to be able to control the dog and position it initially. The second assistant distracts the dog just enough, so you can take as many good images as possible, quickly.
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Taking digital photography of their pets is one of the major reasons many people decide to buy a camera and join the ranks of casual photographers recording the playful antics of Fido or Fluffy. As important as those pictures are to pet owners, there is an entirely different sub-genre of “pet” photography in which many photographers make a living; and that is the photography of show dogs. Of course, for show dog owners, their pedigree pup is more than a pet. It may be a champion on the show dog circuit and/or generate revenue from breeding, much the same as thoroughbreds.
To make one’s name (owner and dog) in those circles, owners require a comprehensive portfolio of photos. Unlike pet photography, the personality of each dog is not quite as important as portraying the dog as the most perfect example of its breed, much the same as supermodels are meant to be the epitome of the human form. If you would like to break into this photography market, then you’ll not only need to be fully knowledgeable of various photo techniques, but also understand the subtle characteristics of the breeds and the best of the breeds.
Read and study the tips below to help you develop the specialized skills to be a show-dog photographer.
No Substitute for Breed Knowledge
Before you can concern yourself with how to photograph show dogs, you’ll need to become a virtual expert about most of the hundreds of breeds. Each breed of dog must be positioned in a certain way and photographed from a certain angle to emphasize the quality of the breed and that particular dog. Until you understand the nature of each breed of dog, you simply can’t compose photos that would be accepted by owners (or a magazine or catalog). A long learning curve may be a big challenge for many photographers, so don’t think you can educate yourself and be ready to be competitive in show-dog photography in a short period of time.
If you’re truly serious about succeeding in this sub-genre, then part of your education could be working as an assistant to a seasoned professional or finding a pro that is willing to mentor you about photographing show dogs. Another good educational opportunity is to attend dog shows both to learn about the breeds and to eavesdrop on a few photographers.
Every Breed and Dog Is Unique
Part of your education about the various breeds of show dogs is to know the specific physical attributes that must be seen in your photos to make them professionally competitive. The most important are the dog’s coat, posture and facial expression.
The coat is often the first physical trait that attracts the attention of others, so it must be professionally groomed and emphasize its shiny or matte finish, according to the breed. The quality and consistency of the coat’s surface is also of prime consideration for owners wanting to breed their dogs.
A dog’s posture or bearing is an obvious distinguishing characteristic. Each breed is expected to stand in a specific manner, as if posing during the show. For example, dogs with deeper chests need their front legs to be in a slightly wider stance.
The correct facial expression to capture on a show dog is also based on the breed. Don’t expect a happy, smiling face like a human, but a specific combination of the dog’s eyes, the position of its ears and its mouth. Even when you know that combination for each breed, the optimum facial expression may only occur once or twice, so you must be focused on your goal and be ready to fire in the continuous-shooting mode.
Successfully photographing show dogs takes plenty of practice and patience, but the market is there if you can prove your abilities.