My iPhone is full of shots of my dog right after she looked adorable. Do you have the same problem when you’re trying to capture your dog’s personality? She or he is doing something absolutely darling or hysterically funny and you grab your camera or phone to record the moment. Right then, their radar kicks in, they sense the impending photo and they go dull on you.
This happens to me all the time. It’s like living with a high-maintenance super model. I can just hear it. “My coat needs brushing.” “No photos while I’m sleeping!” “I hate the way I look in this collar!”
In spite of all the doggie shenanigans, I’ve managed to capture some good shots along the way. Here are some tips to help you as you stalk your contrary canine.
Tip number one: Watch your shutter speed
Capturing a dog’s personality often requires a faster shutter speed. A lot depends on the scene. If your wonderful pooch is sleeping, you don’t have much to worry about. However, if he or she is awake and running around, you’ll need that fast shutter speed to freeze the action. Start at 1/400th second and go faster if you need to. You can check your LCD screen at 100% to see if there is any motion blur.
I shot this cute French Bulldog, named Napoleon, on his first day at his new home. He was so small that he wasn’t able to climb the stairs yet, so I didn’t need a really fast shutter speed. (By the way, he is one of my favorite models, as well as my grand-dog.)
Tip number two: Watch your aperture
You’ll often get a more professional shot when you set a wide aperture (low aperture number) to create a shallow depth of field and blur out the background. This will help your dog stand out in the photo.
Tip number three: You’ll need a quick response
If you are setting up a scene to capture your dog’s personality, you are in charge and can use Manual Mode. Generally, though, you are seeing a moment in time and trying to react to it quickly. That calls for either Shutter Mode or Aperture Mode.
I was shooting street photography in Honfleur, France, and turned around to see this scene. I had to react quickly, so it was shot at f/8.0, which was the setting I had been using. Fortunately, he was not moving, so the slow shutter speed of 1/100 second worked. I do wish the background was blurry, though!
Here are three possible ways to set your camera:
This is my favorite mode for capturing my dog’s personality. Set your camera to Aperture Mode. Then, set the lowest aperture number available with your lens. (If it’s a zoom, this number may change as you zoom in.) This will create a shallow depth of field and help your dog stand out. Set your ISO to Auto. Take a shot to see what shutter speed and ISO the camera chooses. This will all depend on the available light in the scene.
If the shutter speed is too slow, you’ll need to set your ISO to a higher number. That will bring in more light and allow a faster shutter speed. How fast is necessary? That really depends on what your dog is doing. The faster the action, the faster the shutter speed. (You can check the settings for the photos I’ve included in the post to see some examples.)
In the photo below, there was plenty of light, so I could leave my ISO at 100.
In some low-light cases, you may not be able to set a fast enough shutter speed without using a flash.
Sometimes, you may want a higher aperture number, because you are so close to your subject. This photo was shot at f/8.0 and still has a shallow depth of field. How did I achieve this? I was down on the ground, as close as I could be to the face of this sleepy puppy.
This is also a good mode for capturing your dog’s personality, but it isn’t my favorite… Set your camera to Shutter Mode and set a fast shutter speed of around 1/500th second. Then, set your ISO to Auto and take a photo. What aperture and ISO will the camera choose? Will you be happy with the depth of field? Do you need to increase the ISO by setting it manually?
The photo below could have been shot in Shutter Mode, but I really do prefer Aperture, as you can see. Poor Napoleon was so sad that he couldn’t swim.
Set your camera to Manual Mode and your shutter speed to around 1/500th second. Your aperture should be the lowest number available with your lens and your ISO will be set to Auto. In this scenario, you will be in control of both the shutter speed and the aperture. The ISO will adjust to the light to create a good exposure.
While this sounds like the perfect solution, it may take some tweaking and isn’t advised if you are in a rush to capture your dog’s fabulous personality.
You may find that there is too much light or too little light to get a good exposure with the settings you have chosen. If that is true, you’ll need to try different setting combinations.
Also, you may find that the ISO is set to a very high number. Depending on how your camera handles high ISO numbers, you may end up with a photo that is full of digital noise, those ugly colored or black dots.
Here’s a close-up of the photo at the very top. That’s our Boston Terrier, Kenzie, who is really fast! To capture her in the air, leaping for her ball, I had to shoot at 1/2500 second! On the next throw, my husband aimed the ball in my direction. I got a shot just before she ran into my lens (and me) at full speed. I’ll be including it in my weekly newsletter this week. I’m not sure who was more terrified…
What would I choose?
By nature, I’m an f/4.0 shooter. That’s because I love blurry backgrounds. As a result, I’d go with either the Aperture Mode or the Manual Mode approach. The Auto ISO setting in Manual Mode makes it much easier to use in scenes with changing light.
If I’m grabbing my camera for a quick shot, it’s already in Aperture Mode and set to f/4.0, with Auto ISO, so that’s where I’d leave it. (Hint: Figure out your favorite settings and then store your camera with those settings already done. That way, when you grab your camera for a quick shot, it’s already prepared.)
If I’m heading out with my dog and a grand-dog or two for a planned shoot, I might try the Manual Mode approach.
I also have three more tricks up my sleeve that I’ll write about in future posts. I use Back Button Focusing, Continuous Shooting Mode, and AI Servo.
How about you? What settings do you choose when you are trying to capture your dog’s personality?
Here’s a link to my post about shooting pet portraits
This is National Dog Week! You can read more about National Dog Week here. The story is fascinating.
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