The family pet can be a really great subject. My pal, Porter, has been the center of attention since he was a puppy. I’ve taken a portrait of him annually to mark the progress of his life. From start to finish, the portrait takes no more than 20 minutes.
Step 1: Determine your theme. In this portrait, I wanted a clean white-on-white background, because Porter would be wearing his fabulous red jumper.
You don’t have to use studio lights. An outdoor portrait would be great using a Lastolite Trigrip Diffuser overhead, or a small strobe light like the Nikon SB900 to give your puppy a little pop! Just like shooting portraits of people, don’t forget to create a catch light in your pal’s eyes—that little sparkle is what gives them life and personality. Just remember that the light will have to be low enough to catch in the eye, or you’ll have to trick your dog into raising his head toward an elevated light.
Step 3: Get your camera on a tripod with a shutter-release cable. My go-to tripod is a lightweight Gitzo from the traveler collection, which I keep in my car at all times. From there, pre-focus on your mark so that you don’t have to worry about focusing every time your dog moves a bit. I set my camera on manual focus to do this. Don’t forget to set your lens to manual focus as well, or your system will continue to try to auto-focus. When I take portraits of my dog, I use a higher f-stop. This gives me some leeway when he moves about—they WILL move. The shutter-release cable gives me the freedom to engage my dog without being stuck behind the camera.
Step 4: Stock your pockets with your dog’s favorite Scooby-Snack, whistle or squeaky toy. My dog loves this little purple dinosaur squeak toy, which is only allowed out on special occasions. He goes bananas over it.
Step 5: Place your dog on your pre-focused mark. Get their attention right away with your selection of enticements. Be sure to have your shutter-release cable at the ready, and start shooting. Make sure that you occasionally reward your pet for their patience. Make the portrait session an enjoyable experience, and they’ll be eager subjects again and again.
Remember to always have fun!