I get it, sometimes we have a certain shot in mind or see that amazing shot on Instagram. And we'd love our pet to stand in that one spot, doing that one perfect pose. Buuut chances are that just like me, you aren't working with the most obedient trick dog, but more a regular pet, that prefers sniffing around than standing still. Below you will find some secrets I've gathered from working with lots of different pups around the world. Regardless of you using a fancy camera or your phone, these tips should help you archive better pet portraits.

Tip 1: Be ready to go

I'll admit it, when I first started photography, there has been times when my model was in the perfect spot, looking stunning. And here I was, playing around with my camera settings. Sure enough, as soon as my camera was dialled in, the pup wondered off and the moment was gone. Instead of learning the hard way, make sure you know your camera or phone in and out. Set up the shot before you bring in the model and don't waist their attention span before you are actually ready to take that photo.

Tip 2: Work with your pet

The single most important key to transforming your pictures is to work with your dog. The good news is, you know your pet best. You know if they are super keen on treats or toys, they might have a favourite word like 'walk' or can't resist the noise of the squeaky ball. Bring whatever they love on set and hold that high value treat close to the camera or the direction you want them looking. They should associate photo time with fun and rewards.

Tip 3: Get on the animals level

Most of the time, especially on our phones, we take photos standing up. We capture our normal point of view, but our pets see the world from a different perspective. Getting down and dirty might not sound super appealing, but trust me, this little hack will really transform the feel of your images. Alternatively you could also get your pet on higher ground, just make sure they are safe and comfortable.

Tip 4: Prep the scene

Got a photo that would be great if there only wasn't that big stick in the background? Or the the pink leash in the foreground that distracts from you doggo? When you start paying attention to the scene, it often only takes a few seconds to remove distracting objects. Doing so will save you time in post processing that would be much better spend playing with your dog. Personally I love a clean, tidy look. I don't want the viewers eyes to wonder off to fallen branches, when there is a beautiful model to focus on.

Tip 5: Consider lighting

It's no secret, many photographers shoot mostly in early morning light or during sunset. The reason for this is not only the gorgeous golden light you get during those times, but also the direction of the light. Avoiding harsh (midday) light that comes from directly above the dog, lets you also avoid harsh shadows and squinted eyes. Soft backlighting can look awesome too, but to capture a dogs features in the most flattering way, try to keep the sun behind your back and the dog facing you. If you do end up shooting outside during midday, move into the shade or go out on an overcast day.

Tip 6: Settings

To have the highest success rate when photographing pets it's worth it study your camera settings and to learn how to manually choose your settings. Most phone these days also let you choose at least some of these. To get a nice, blurry background set your aperture around F2.8. Since dogs never truly stand still, go for a fast shutter. For portraits you can start at about 1/200 and 1/1000 for action. Depending on the dogs and the light, you want to adjust this. Set your ISO last to brighten or darken your image. Set your drive mode to high, choose continuous autofocus and pick single spot focus in most scenarios. Learning how to use a camera takes time, but is so rewarding. There is much more to it, but this covers the bases and gives you a starting point.

Tip 7: Show the bond

There's nothing quite like the love between a dog and his humans. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely get not being overly enthusiastic stepping in front of the camera, but having photos of you and your dog together is something special. The unforgettable truth is that dogs aren't around as long as they should be and that bond between you should be celebrated. Set up a tripod or get photos taken, either way hold on to these memories. The photos don't have to be world class, you don't need to look perfect, no one ever needs to see them if you don't want to other than you. But trust me, you'll be happy to have them.

Tip 8: Understanding body language

When you understand the body language of dogs, it will allow you to create images that translate emotions. Aside from that, you can make sure everyone on set is happy, including the pup. There is plenty of good resources on canine body language online. A few basic things to look out for are stress signals such as excessive jawing and lip licking as well as signs. of fear like a tugged tail and ears. Give anxious dogs time to sniff around and get familiar with the location and people. Positive reinforcement through treats often help an unsure dogs feel more comfortable. When a dog displays signs of stress during a photo session take a break, change up the situation and give the doggo time to relax.

Tip 9: Location

Every pet has different needs. You can narrow down suitable locations by looking into what the dog likes and dislikes. Shy, reactive or senior dogs for example will feel much more at ease in secluded areas or their own backyard over a busy environment. Also consider or if the dog can be off leash, if they like people, other dogs, water and how far their walk can be. Make sure to check the weather prior to the shoot and consider the direction of the sun.

Tip 10: Just go with it

Despite the tips I've shared above, animals have their own ways and there is always elements you can't control. So just go with it. Even with completely untrained dogs, you can archive lovely photos by simply observing. Some of my favourite photos are often the ones where dogs are doing their own thing, having a good time. Dog zoomies are perfect for action shots. And the craziest dogs often have the nicest facial expressions.