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5 Nov 2021

How to take great photos of your dog - our top 9 hacks for mastering action shots and puppy portraits

We round up the advice to help beginners capture photos of their dog (or someone else's) like a pro, whether you're shooting with your phone or a digital camera
Two dogs playing in the sand

Capturing your beloved canine on camera can be difficult, although it can also be highly entertaining and produce a picture to treasure for ever. It's a process of trial and error that varies depending on your dog's temperament, the equipment you have, and the environments you can shoot in.

There are professional photographers who can take a portrait of your dog in the studio, but a DIY approach is cheaper and adds a personal touch you'll remember - it's also a lot of creative fun. And you don't need premium gear to take a good photo if you're patient.

We've rounded up some tips suitable for non-professionals looking to snap at home. As with any photography, a digital camera is a real boon but, where we can, we've shared some tips for smartphone users too.

Cat owners: we've got you covered too (keep scrolling...).

Our expert advice and impartial lab tests will help you to choose the right camera for the right price. See our digital camera reviews and advice.

1. Find the right lighting

Close up of a dog

Your camera needs light to build an image, so you want to be where there's a lot of it.

For most people, the best lighting is outdoors. The sun provides enough luminance to capture your dog in crystal-clear quality. This is why taking your dog for a walk can be a good time to start snapping, with the great outdoors as your studio.

  • If you're shooting with a smartphone or an entry-level compact camera, this is really important because small sensors will struggle in low light.
  • If the sun is bright, make sure it's behind you when you're snapping. This will stop any harsh light from creating a shadowy image or, worse, making your pet pooch into a silhouette with no discernible features.
  • Don't fear a moody day. Although colours will look more muted in overcast or poor weather, clouds diffuse light and give you enough luminance without creating harsh shadows and contrasts.

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2. How to shoot indoors

Dog lounging at home

When light is more scarce, a high-end camera can really come into its own. This is because their bigger sensors can absorb more light.

You can also increase your camera's sensitivity to light, at the cost of a little loss in quality, by raising the ISO level (start at around ISO 800).

When you photograph inanimate objects, you can use long-exposure photography to keep the shutter open for longer and let the sensor take in more light. But you can't use this technique for photographing dogs because they move too much, creating a muddy blur.

This means your best bet indoors is to create as much light as possible.

  • If you have a naturally well-lit room, start there. If you're lucky, you might have an ideal studio already waiting for you, with lots of soft light filtering through your windows.
  • Use your camera's flash. This will produce a bright white light ideal for indoor photography. Flash isn't harmful to dogs, although some might find it annoying - just like we do. You know your dog best; don't use it if you're likely to scare them or make them anxious.
  • Create a makeshift studio. This is trial and error. Ideally, you can shine a light source, such as a torch or handlamp, through a material that will naturally diffuse light. This could be something you have at home, such as baking paper or a pillowcase.

Diffused light, or scattered light, will create a more evenly lit scene and avoid harsh lighting or unnatural spotlight effects. But this sort of experimentation should come second to simply going outside during the day.

If you want a camera with a big sensor but you don't know where to start or how much to pay, then read our guide on how to buy the best DSLR or mirrorless camera.

3. Use low angles

Dog stood in front of a blurry background

You won't want a bird's eye view of the top of your dog's head, so it will be necessary to get low and have the camera roughly eye level with your dog.

Once there, it's a great idea to focus on your dog's eyes. This will create an expressive photo that viewers will empathise with. Dogs detect with their nose, so try to avoid focusing on your dog's snout and leaving the eyes unfocused if they're sniffing around your lens - we see this happening a lot.

It can be difficult to see the monitor if you're on the floor at an odd angle. Some mirrorless cameras have vari-angle monitors that you can flip out and tilt to preview your image.

4. Blur out background clutter

Pug in a laundromat

If you're shooting from ground level, then you'll pick up anything on the horizon as part of the background. This might look cluttered and distracting. It could even look silly if a tree or streetlamp protrudes from behind your dog's head.

  • Adjust the aperture of your camera to create a shallow depth of field. This means your dog will be in focus in the foreground while the background will be blurred, pulling focus on to your pet and obscuring unwanted details.
  • Toggle on aperture priority mode and select a small f-number. Your camera will then select the best shutter speed automatically to go with the aperture you select (confusingly, the smaller the number, the larger the aperture).
  • If you're a smartphone user, consider using a portrait mode that artificially blurs the background for you, replicating a large aperture.

We've rounded up the best smartphone cameras for 2021 to help you find a phone that doesn't skimp on photo resolution and hardware.

5. Use a fast shutter speed

A dog leaping for a frisbee

If you want to take an action photo of your dog, or if they just won't stay still, then you need to use the sorts of techniques that sports photographers use.

It's key that your camera's sensor can capture an image in a fraction of a second. If the shutter opens during exposure, and your dog moves before it shuts again, then you'll pick up motion blur.

Cameras can operate very quickly now. Shutter speeds such as 1/8000 of a second are common, including in high-quality smartphones. But your camera might automatically lower the shutter speed in low-light settings, so the sensor is exposed to light for longer.

  • If you select shutter speed priority on your digital camera, you can choose the shutter speed you want while the camera automatically selects the best aperture to go with it.
  • Smartphones offer fewer manual control settings, although in bright conditions they'll snap at their fastest speeds. It's worth checking your camera app to see what manual settings are available.
  • The faster your shutter speed, the less time your sensor has to take in light during exposure, so it's important to take your action shot in well-lit settings.
  • Some photographers set a low shutter speed on purpose, especially if they want to pick up motion blur to show an object in motion. Some experienced dog photographers might do this to show how fast their subject is zooming along.

Your dog will work up an appetite after a long photoshoot. Find out which dog food brands Which? members rated most highlyto see what to treat your dog with.

6. Use continuous shooting

Dog leaping at the camera

Cameras have a brilliant feature that helps you to capture perfect shots: burst mode, or continuous shooting.

Cameras are able to take several photos in rapid succession, allowing you to pick the perfect frame. So if you take a burst shot of your dog leaping on to a ball, you can record a whole reel of successive shots and keep the one that caught the perfect split second.

Just set your camera to continuous shooting, press the shutter release button and don't let go until you're done. If you're using a phone, you should be able to just hold down the capture button.

iPhones have a setting called Live Photos. If you toggle this on, then your camera records 1.5 seconds before and after you take a photo. This means that if you bodge the shot a little, you can grab a frame from just before or just after to use instead.

To find out how many pictures your device can take sequentially, look for its fps (frames per second). High-end cameras can outpace smartphones - for example, we recently tested the Fujifilm X-E4 , which can shoot 30 frames per second.

We've rounded up some of our favorite tips for beginner photographers in our guide on how to shoot and edit photos like a pro to give new hobbyists a leg up.

7. Consider exposure compensation

Black dog chewing a tennis ball

Your camera will try to judge the correct exposure for your photos, but it can be thrown off by a white or black coat and overcompensate, creating pictures where the exposure is skewed and wrong.

An overexposed photo will look washed out and full of blinding whites, while an underexposed photo will look too dark and shadowy.

To start with, it's important that your camera is basing the photo's exposure metering on your pet. You want to be focused on them and not on the background.

You can increase or reduce exposure in small increments on digital cameras. If your camera overexposes your black dog to turn its coat grey, you can notch the metering down a few points.

Likewise, your camera might dull the coat of your white dog, so you'll want to turn the exposure up a little.

Your smartphone may have a setting to change the exposure value (EV), too.

This requires experimentation, and exposure is easy to get wrong. This is why our next tip is so important.

Looking for an inexpensive camera that offers lots of manual control? Read about the best cheap DSLR and mirrorless cameras for 2021.

8. Shoot in RAW if you can

Pet dog

Digital cameras - and now some smartphones - allow you to shoot photos in RAW file formats. These are unprocessed files as opposed to Jpegs, which are compressed images that have been 'rasterized' (turned into many tiny pixels).

Shooting in RAW is the professional method of taking photos. The drawback is that the files are much larger. Also, because they haven't been automatically corrected, they need working on.

You have more control when editing RAW images, and you can export them as Jpegs to share afterwards.

9. How editing can rescue your photo

Dog and a man sat by a laptop

Image editing can bring up the quality of any image and gloss over issues. For example, an image that's wrongly exposed can be rescued with some post-processing.

It's common to do colour correction, where you can change hues, saturation, shadows, highlights and more. If your camera's failed to capture your dog accurately, or if your photo has lost some detail in its range of colours and contrasts, then you can rebalance it digitally.

This means you can rescue an imperfect shot with a bit of tinkering. So if you captured the perfect moment in non-ideal lighting conditions, or with the wrong settings, you can bring the photo back to life.

Photoshop Lightroom is the most well known image-editing software, but there are plenty of free services that offer colour-editing tools, and you don't need to shell out to do the basics. For example, phones have their own photo-editing apps which can do rudimentary colour correction on the fly. But if you want to get into granular details, you'll need software designed for that.

You can edit photos on a whole range of devices. We'll help you to find the right device for your budget that can run the software you need, whether free or paid. Go to our mobile phone reviews| tablet reviews |laptop reviews

Cat owners rejoice - the same rules apply

Cat lounging at hme

We haven't forgotten our feline friends - you can photograph them with the same techniques we've shared in this story.

As cats are more in charge of their own destiny than dogs, it's less likely that you can make yours obey commands on cue, or play fetch, to let you set up a shot. So instead, you can capture them in a quiet moment or snap an exciting shot mid-leap, and the same rules apply.

Get down to their level, let your camera focus on their eyes and expose them properly, and if they're darting around doing zoomies (or going through a 'frenetic random activity period', to be technical), then turn on shutter priority mode and set a high speed, or give your phone enough light to snap quickly automatically.

If you have a beautiful black cat, then set it against a dark background and not a highly contrasting bright one, to help you capture the details of its features.

We love cats too - find out the best and worst cat food brands to find out what Which? members are treating their feline friends with.

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