Lighting is one of the hardest things to work around when photographing dogs, especially in Arizona. The best advice I can give is to plan around the sun when choosing a time to shoot. If you shoot when the sun is at its brightest, you will end up with harsh highlights, making your pet look shiny. To limit the harsh highlights, shoot in the shade or around sunrise or sunset.
One important aspect of pet photography is what lens you are using, especially when photographing a puppy vs an adult dog. A larger focal length can produce beautiful, creamy pictures but if your puppy doesn’t have a solid stay yet, you won’t be able to get far enough away to get the picture.
My go-to for when the dogs need to stay near me is the 24mm f/1.8. This focal length allows me to put the lens right in their faces and still be able to capture their surroundings. If your dog has a solid stay, experiment with a larger focal length.
This does not mean you need to go and buy a new, expensive lens. Work with what you have. If you only have a larger focal length, put your puppy in or on something or use a long line leash.
24mm vs 50mm vs 85mm focal length
I cannot say this enough when shooting dogs, especially with a white dog: shoot in manual mode! When I first started I shot on auto resulting in almost every picture being overexposed and blown out in places. Here are my preferences to help you get started:
You know that line with numbers ranging from -3 to +3? That is your exposure. The goal is to get the pointer on 0 or even a little underexposed.
I expose differently when shooting a white dog vs a black dog. For a white dog, I expose to the dog or underexpose the whole image. Exposing to the background may result in a blown out dog. It’s easier to bring details out of an underexposed area than an overexposed area. For the same reason, I almost always expose to the background when shooting a black dog. The few times I expose somewhere in between are when there is a large difference in light between the background and the dog. If photographing black and white together, I always expose to the white dog.
I aim for shorter exposure. A shorter exposure freezes the quick movements of pups, creating a crisper image than if they were to move with longer exposure. My ideal settings are 1/250s at the longest but I try to not go longer than 1/1000s.
I achieve the creamy bokeh that I like, I keep my aperture as low as possible, around f/1.8. However, there are some special instances where I’ll purposely increase the aperture, such as to get a sunstar with an aperture of f/16.
Higher ISO equals more noise. Unless I need to raise the ISO to expose the image correctly, I try to stay as low as possible, preferably around 100. However, it is more important to expose correctly than to have an underexposed image due to too low of an ISO.
Know Your Dog
Know your dog’s limits. Don’t push them if they aren’t in a modeling mood. You want the experience to be fun for them. When taking pictures, give them plenty of treats and praise. Einstein and Edison love the Earthborn Holistic Whitefish Meal biscuits! If your dog sees modeling and taking pictures as fun, it makes it easier on you. They may even model without you asking. Einstein will go to a rock while hiking and strike a pose, waiting for me to take my camera out and snap the shot.
Don’t forget to have fun and be yourself with your photography! Don’t be afraid to mess up and make mistakes or do something crazy (but safe) just to see how it turns out. Those less than perfect moments sometimes end up being the best pictures. And even if they aren’t technically perfect, they will still make you smile just remembering how you got them.