This appeared in the June 1999 AKC Gazette Cardigan column.
Shoot That Cardigan! - Tips on Photographing Your Dog
Don't know where to start to go about photographing your dog? Remember that key elements are necessary to capture that special moment on film. Your approach may be different for shooting candid shots as compared to more formal portraits, but the general techniques are the same. The manufacturer's manual should have information to guide you through the basics of your particular camera, whether it be a simple "point and shoot," model, a more complicated, 35-millimeter single-lens reflex camera (SLR), or even that $10 throwaway version from your local drug store. Read the manual and try to familiarize yourself with all your camera's buttons and features. Once you know how to work your camera, here are a few tips that can help you take great photos of your dog.
Natural lighting will enhance your subject, so head outdoors! Notice the direction of the light; too much light "straight on" can cause your Cardigan to squint or appear washed out. Side and back lighting give better results. Make sure the camera's automatic or manual settings are adjusted for correct exposure. For correctly exposed flash pictures, the subject must be within a certain distance range for the camera check your manual regarding this. To help keep the camera steady, you can use a tripod or support the camera on a pillow resting on top of a surface such as a rock or a chair.
Get in close to your subject. Try taking photos from the dog's level. Sit down on the floor with those energetic puppies. Watch out - they may suddenly rush to investigate with a wet nose or happy tongue in your lens! After using lens paper to clean the lens, you can set up for more photos.
Consider enlisting the aid of an assistant to set up the Cardigan in a pose, adjust its position or encourage it to show expression. Having an assistant gives you freedom to work the camera and adjust your own position as you click away.
Obedience training helps, though the Cardi that is obediently following commands often wears a more serious expression which works for more serious head studies.
Here's a method you can try for photographing a puppy or unruly subject: Have your assistant completely cover up with a solid, pale-colored sheet over the head, too. The assistant can then hold the pup or dog on their lap or in their arms and will not show in the photo. Move in tight for a close shot ¯ all that will be visible in the photo will be the pup nestled on the sheet or blanket. Give it a shot!
Look through your viewfinder and analyze what you see besides the dog. Take a minute to really see what you've got: Is there a lamp or tree coming out of your Cardigan's head? Is your shadow in the picture behind the dog? Is your blue merle lost on the gray background of gravel or pavement? Does your brindle boy blend in with the pattern of the couch or carpet? Is your black or tricolor hidden in the dark or in front of the navy drapes? Eliminate clutter and undesirable elements in the background and foreground, and be sure that your dog isn't camouflaged against the background.
Avoid "centeritis." Orient your viewfinder so your active Cardigan is off to the side, so that as he chases the ball he heads toward the center of the photograph. Set your sights a little ahead of him so you leave room for him to run towards the center of the photograph. Let the viewer's eye "catch the action" otherwise, the shot is stale and stagnant.
A word of warning: In taking an action shot of a favorite Cardigan as it competes in agility or obedience, remember not to unknowingly cause the dog to err in its performance. In photographing one Cardi as it ran its agility course, I remember positioning myself with my SLR just in front of the tunnel. Oh, it looked like a great shot! I followed the brown boy with my lens clicking away. I watched him through the lens as he made his leap through the tire and headed to the tunnel, then he spotted me! In horror, I watched as he corrected himself. He qualified, but he lost points. You can bet I won't let that happen again!
As you look through the lens, taking a few minutes to imagine the resulting photo will increase your chances of capturing a great moment. When you receive your printed photographs, lightly mark them on the back with a pencil so you will be able to identify which negatives they represent. This way, you'll be able to order more prints later if you want, and your photos can be cropped, enlarged and displayed for all to enjoy.
So, go shoot that Cardigan!