Photographing Man’s Best Friend with Sony
By Roy Pek
Gone are the days when dogs are simply gate-watchers. In today’s world, they are often a part of the family with birthdays and other milestones celebrated in their honour. This naturally led to a surge in dog speciality social media accounts, with some boasting a larger following than our own personal accounts.
Photography and dogs have been my passion even before the digitised age. It was certainly not a fad that I stumbled upon or followed mindlessly just because others were doing the same.
Possessing an intrinsic eye for details has helped me in canine photography, allowing me to see the form, substance and beauty in every dog I photograph. However, it is easier said than done. Getting dogs to strike a pose for the camera is immensely challenging. Unless you are a “dog-whisperer”, it is difficult to understand what a dog is thinking.
Having the right camera has helped me overcome numerous obstacles as a dog photographer. The end results of Sony’s Alpha 7R III have never ceased to amaze me. If you’re keen to dabble in dog photography, I hope these tips and experiences will be useful.
How Do I Get Dogs to ‘Pose’?
"How did you get all these dogs to stay still for this shot?"
"Is my dog the worst you had to photograph?”
These are just some of the common questions from dog owners I’ve worked with. There hardly were concerns with the technical handling of a camera, or the lighting control to nail certain shots.
I have always resorted to numerous antics to get a dog to ‘pose’ for the camera. From dancing to making vocal sound effects, a show must be put on behind the camera to capture the enchantment in the dog's eyes. Whether the dog’s owner or the photographer himself, it is important to determine the ‘pack leader’ during the shoot. Understanding the dog’s temperament will also contribute to a smooth photoshoot session.
Alpha 7R III | FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM | 45 mm | 1/160 sec | F9 | ISO 250
Here are some handling tips to get your furry friend into position.
1. Use treats or toys as motivation
Treats are like currency to a dog that is treat-motivated. You’re basically “paying” for a trick or two. However, “overpaying” can run the risk of your dog losing interest. A squeaky toy can do wonders as well without using up all your treats.
Alpha 7R III | FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM | 70 mm | 1/4000 sec | F2.8 | ISO 320
Give treats only in intervals, perhaps after each scene or pose to ensure the dog gives its all in exchange for a delicious reward.
2. Leverage on a trained dog
Basic commands like “sit”, “stay”, and “come” are easy to master and can be taught over time (sometimes even during the photoshoot, if you’re an experienced dog handler). Dogs that are familiar with these commands can allow you to breeze through a photoshoot session.
Alpha 7R III | Distagon T* FE 35mm F1.4 ZA | 35 mm | 1/160 sec | F1.6 | ISO 320
3. Get acquainted with your canine's character traits
Knowing the dog’s character is important as it helps build your confidence in handling the dog. Dogs can read our body language well. If they sense anxiety, they may take control of the photoshoot instead.
4. Looking at the camera
Often, you will work with a dog that is “camera shy”. One method that will help the dog look at the camera is sudden noises. This can be done vocally or with a squeaky toy, when the dog is in position and when you’re ready to press the shutter button. Do not overdo it with the sudden noises as it will scare the dog.
My Favourite Dog-friendly Locations
Singapore may just be a tiny red dot on the world map. However, it certainly does not lack in beautiful locations. Here are two of my go-to dog-friendly locations for a photoshoot.
Alpha 7R III | FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM | 70 mm | 1/1250 sec | F5 | ISO 400
1. Tanjong Beach
This is the perfect location for a shoot if your dog loves swimming. A beach outing makes an interesting photo opportunity. However, I would recommend taking all the photos you need before letting your dog head into the water. Use a telephoto lens such as the FE 70-200 F2.8 GM OSS to capture your dog paddling in the water from a distance.
Alpha 7R III | FE 35mm F1.4 GM | 35 mm | 1/500 sec | F1.4 | ISO 200
2. Fort Canning Centre
With a good mix of ancient artefacts and outdoor lawns, Fort Canning Centre makes an ideal shoot location, plus it should satiate a history buff’s craving for knowledge. The spaces within the building may not be dog-friendly, but it should be fine if you just remain outdoors. Do check if the venue is free from events, especially on Fort Canning Green (the open space), plus arrive armed with mosquito repellents!
Alpha 7R III | FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM | 70 mm | 1/1250 sec | F2.8 | ISO 800
Finding Your Dog’s Good Side
The angle of a dog can determine if you make or break a shot. As dogs are naturally lower built than us, taking pictures of them top-down is uninspiring as it is a view that most people see. Therefore, getting down low and shooting at their eye level can create a whole new perspective of a dog. This is when the flip LCD screen of the Alpha 7R lll comes in handy. Without having to lie flat on your belly and looking through the electronic viewfinder (EVF), you can simply rely on the camera’s LCD screen by flipping it up 90°.
Shooting at the dog’s eye level also allows you to distinctly capture its expressions. Whether the dog is begging for food or just strung up to please, the uniqueness of a dog’s varied expressions may not be properly displayed if taken from a mundane photo angle.
Alpha 7R III | FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM | 69 mm | 1/125 sec | F4.5 | ISO 800
Through a Dog’s Eyes
“The eyes are the window to the soul” doesn’t just apply to humans, but also to dogs as well.
This brings me to my final tip – that is to always focus on your dog’s eyes.
Some dogs like Shelties, Dachshunds and Whippets have especially long snouts. Focusing on their snouts or noses, instead of the eyes can result in a photograph that seems out of focus.
Most of the time you are not able to predict your dog’s next move, be it turning his head or looking in a different direction suddenly. That is where Sony’s amazing Real-time Animal Eye AF comes as a lifesaver in ensuring that the dog’s eyes are always in focus. With this function, I definitely find my attempts are reduced in nailing the shot I want. It is definitely useful for those who are mindful of the camera’s shutter count, or digital count for mirrorless cameras.
Alpha 7R III | FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM | 70 mm | 1/400 sec | F2.8 | ISO 800
Even when running towards the camera, dogs are in focus with the Real-time Animal Eye AF. It allows me to get even more pictures in focus as the dog makes his dash across the pathway.
Knowing how to handle a dog while shooting it with the Sony Alpha 7R lll is a therapeutic affair for me. From my fair share of wet noses and overly affectionate lickers, I truly believe that dogs are angels sent from heaven to teach us how to love unconditionally. It is no wonder I am continuously being inspired to take better dog pictures, one paw at a time!
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not reflect the opinions or views of Sony Singapore.