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Photographing dogs: NomadRuss Ten Tips Reinvented!

dog photograph - donna the local mongrelI read with interest the Ten Tips from NomadRuss, cultural documentary and NGO photographer, published on the Daily Post and wondered how his tips could be applied to photographing dogs. I started trawling through all the photos I had published to validate against the ten tips, just for fun. 

So here goes.

NomadRuss’ Ten Tips on Photographing People Reinvented for Dogs,
with a little help from Donna the local mongrel!

Get close to the dog. You can’t worry if the dog is going to bite. Chances are she won’t, especially not when she looks like this:  

cinemagraph of donna the local mongrel at restEven if you like dogs, and interact with them, got to know them abit, you may still find that they always start to look away when your eyes are looking into your camera, not at them!

Some dogs just don’t want their picture made.

Or, they don’t know they do. Not until you sweeten them up a bit. And by that, I mean lots and lots and lots of bits of meat or treats, especially if you’re not BFFs…. yet. That’s your one way ticket to joining the BFF club, believe me.

And if that dog is still looking at you like this:

Just means your mountain of goodies is really still kind of small and miserly, huh? Hmmmf…

Don’t forget the background Nobody exists in a vaccum, neither do dogs. ‘Placing a dog in a setting gives us extra information about who they are, and it adds overall depth to the image, making it more interesting.’

photograph of Donna sniffing grass
Donna who lives in a flat aka Inspector Grass discovered that all the grass has dried up under the hot and dry weather recently.

Take the dog outside, keep an eye out for pretty nooks and crannies on your walk and when dog is tired out, take him to the pretty spot to rest and Tadaa! Dog sits pretty for portrait.

dog portrait in front of lily pond at bishan parkDonna perched on a rock by a small pond at Bishan Park on one of our walks.

Or find a simple background So sometimes the world is not that beautiful and you’d rather the background doesn’t exist. NomadRuss says simplify and make the subject the only thing in the photograph.

Minimalist photo of Donna

He also recommends using a zoom lens to increase the depth of field and make the person stand out against even a busy background.

digitally beautified photo of gracie the labrador
Donna’s human doesn’t have a zoom lens exactly, but she makes the world more beautiful in her digital darkroom sometimes ^__^

Isolate dogs in the horde I do think this is a difficult skill when photographing dogs in a dog run or play areas. Like the people whose photographs NomadRuss was taking, you can’t control how the dogs are going to move. Dogs also move a lot faster, especially when they are at play or mingling around. – – My pictures are not good examples because by not moving with Donna and having her in the background, all the focus is with the more beautiful and playful border collies. But I think if one could achieve it, it could be worth it :)

Left, Dogs move so quickly, it is difficult to follow, not be obtrusive and get a great camera angle for a good photo, let alone trying to make them stand out against other beautiful, playful dogs!
Right, until one has achieve some level of kungfu skills with this, Donna’s human says, just cut them out of the picture! Wahahahaha. So there you have it, non-identifiable dog bums with Donna being the focus in the picture, with some kind of strange expression.

Focus on the paws or other details Whereas human hands and feet make interesting detail shots, a dog’s emotions are better conveyed with ears and tail. Still these are subtle and humans feel a greater affinity to photos of paws, which perhaps humanises the dog a little I think.

Left, Donna sitting primly (as someone interprets on Instagram) through a thunderstorm.
Right, Donna rolling over facing the morning sun, not unlike the Sun Salutation in human yoga.

Make environmental portraits Like for people, the dog’s life story is told by showing the environment the dog exists in and how the dog interacts/adapts to it – playing, eating, sleeping. When it comes to pet photography, I like the photos to not just tell the story of the dog’s personality but to also give a better understanding of her relationship with her humans when you read between the lines.

Vignettes of Donna at home
Donna surveying the breeze, sights and sounds outside. That these photos exist signals the existence of a human. The human is unseen, but perhaps one can derive the nature of the human’s regard for the dog.

Shoot at eye level  Because dogs are short, it is easy to shoot from the top down but that also means one sometimes misses those gooey, puppy eyes, unless the dog is looking up in return.

Right, beware of whale eyes which may signal some level of stress, discomfort or loss of patience experienced by the dog.

But remember, right from the start, we have establish that some dogs like to look away. Get your treat in hand, make sure dog know its there, and hold your hand with the treat close to the camera so you can try to lure the dog to look at the camera at her eye level. Of course, dog needs to know to stay or you’ll have that wet little nose up close and personal with your lens!

donna the dog standing on a wall
Looks like she’s giving me a piece of her mind, isn’t she? :P

Be unobtrusive Because you want pictures of the dog acting naturally, rather than sneaking glances at you in the photos, or worse stop whatever cute thing it was doing altogether. And beware of your own shadow sneaking up on you as well ;)

Left, Donna disturbed by the pet-parazzi human. You can even see the human’s camera-toting shadow in the corner! D:
Right, disregarding the human with the camera as she continues to wriggle around on her own.

Pay attention to the light According to the article, “Pay attention to the light, and particularly how it adds detail and directs the viewer’s eye. Catch light in a person’s eyes is vital — it makes a photograph feel alive.” It all applies to dog photos too!

Light in the eyes, check!

Be generous with treats! Do you want to make dogs really happy? Do you want the dog to want to approach you if you want to photograph them again? Dogs remember their friends and Donna will greet you joyfully with a toy in her mouth because of all those treats you rewarded her with whether you were taking her picture or not. ; )

So there you have it NomadRuss’ Ten Tips Reinvented for photographing dogs. I would say most could apply, except for the last, if you can make it work with the dog, the dog being the variable in this context. Haha!

Thanks for these tips on photographing people, NomadRuss! *Hopes he doesn’t get mad at me for making a doggie version out of his tips :P*
For more human photography content, visit Russ’ blog and website, or follow him on Facebook.
For more random pet photography tips on weliveinaflat.com, check out this page – Point of View in Dog Photography or follow us on Facebook.


Snappy H’appy Photo Challenge Week 1 – Bokeh


Dogs of #DonnaGiveMeWings !


  1. Great job–Donna was a perfect model.

  2. This was a fanTAStic post! I first read the NomadRuss post, which I liked so much I scrolled down and read the comments, which led me here. Your writing is funny and engaging and Donna is a perfect muse. I may try this out with inanimate objects (aka things I make out of paper) on my blog. So thank you for the morning laugh and inspiration!

    • Thank you! Donna indeed spoils me with her photographabilities. ;) Glad to share a laugh. Your comment really made my night!

      I just checked out your blog and I love it! I shall await your post about inanimate objects! :) Hoho!

  3. Very good tips especially on background and angles and thank you Donna too However I RARELY give treats unless they have become uncontrollable for photos. WHY??? Because it changes the dogs expression . In my case with my Golden’s who will not relax and smile that classic Golden smile if treats are in the mix. But I understand we’re the author is going with this …. You gotta get that sniffy nose off the ground.

    • Points on background and angles courtesy of NomadRuss ;)

      I guess I need to provide some context to clarify. :) My standpoint on treats is based purely on the fact that a lot of my photos are taken during training, which is part of our everyday life. And the positive training method requires the use of rewards such as treats to build positive associations with the behaviour one is trying to encourage. And this can include being comfortable with the camera, versus being uncomfortable with it.

      For example, the photobooth image under the cinemagraph was when I was trying to teach Donna to look at me while doing a hi-5 and I was at the same time looking at my iphone trying to take a picture. Clearly, I was testing her patience with it. Some degree of treating is involved in the various pictures to reward such behaviours as rolling over and staying on her back, off-leash walking and recall etc, etc. My treating is based on rewarding behaviours I would like to encourage based on positive training methods. That it puts her in a good mood is a plus for the camera. :)

      And assuming one is trying to photograph a dog that is unfamiliar, then treats is a standard tool for conditioning the dog to view a strange person with a camera positively, especially with a shy dog such as Donna.

      Conversely, like you, I do not treat when I am just taking a picture of what she is doing naturally. But that part comes under being unobtrusive, which is separate from going close to the dog. Unless a dog has been highly conditioned to the camera’s existence already, I venture to think it safe to say that the dog will either be leery of the unfamiliar object (hence the tendency to look away) or to be curious and approach it to inspect it further.

      I have little contact with Goldens, so I would defer to your wisdom when it comes to photographing them :) Do have to say though that Donna is very food motivated, so I do get some fun out of taking photos of her greedy, desperate expressions at times as well. :P

      At the end of the day, it really has got to do with what style of photos you look to output and you know I love your photos, Jo :)

  4. Great adaptation of some key tips, thanks for sharing.

  5. Excellent translation of the tips. My biggest issue is background and light. So often my cats and dog are in an absolutely beautiful position but there’s a dog toy or two in the background (or dirty sock or …) and if I move it, the animal is disrupted. Also changing my own position sometimes alters the balance of energy and one or more move. Needless to say, my best photos are when the light in the morning is in my office and I try to keep the room clutter free and my camera within arms length for those special shots. I honestly haven’t tried portraiture. That WOULD take treats. Thanks for a great post.

  6. Absolutely stunning pics and I think your dog loves being a model :-) she looks like she is actually smiling!

  7. Super post, as always, and yes Donna really is the perfect model (I have her cat companion in Lucy)! My biggest challenge with Gracie is that I can’t get that classic cairn terrier “ears up and alert” anytime I come near her with a camera. Then she goes into her “Awww, do you love me and what are you doing with that metal thing” pose with her ears totally laid back. Frustrating when I am taking photos. Now if she were a person, I’d just tell her to prick those ears!!

    • Thanks! :)

      Ears is a challenge, I find that some sort of stimulation like that squawking rubber chicken can work with Donna. Although too much of it and she starts tilting her head in puzzlement :P Because most of my pictures are taken during training, play or in general some activity I am doing with her, she has learnt to focus on these activities rather than pay attention to the camera ;)

      I probably will have that same reaction as Gracie when I focus on just taking a portrait… if Gracie were a person, she’ll probably start talking back at you. :P

  8. Great tips and examples you provided. I am not a great photographer, not even a good one…mediocre at best, so all these tips from you folks that are sooo much better are helpful and appreciated.

    • I think you have the most important ingredient of all … extensive amounts of interaction and a close relationship with your dogs will give you ample opportunities for good shots ;) But then again your focus is on getting dogs fit and healthy and that is admirable too :)

  9. Great ideas, and lovely shots of the dog!

  10. Great tips and suggestions-and Donna was more than up to the challenge of demonstrating-good girl Donna!

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