Before Kokoro came into our lives back in 2013, I barely ever picked up a camera for anything other than landscape photos while traveling. We joined Instagram and quickly became inspired by so many amazing creators and photographers on the platform. I started googling, watching videos, and reading articles to try and learn the basics of photography to share my favorite moments with Kokoro. And let me tell you… it wasn’t pretty at first.
If any of our long-time followers remember, this is what our photos used to look like:
I shot everything on my Lumix GF3 and portrait lens, and figured I could make up for my lack of photography skills with Photoshop (something I’d been using for years already).
Over the years, we continued to learn and practice pet photography with both of the pups. Today, we’re sharing some tips that we’ve acquired along the way for taking the best photos of your dog for Instagram!
Hate reading? Watch our video on this topic instead!
Master the sit & stay
Teaching your dog a very solid sit and stay will make your life as a photographer much easier. This seems like a no-brainer, but it definitely takes time to achieve. Once your dog has a good “sit,” work on impulse control and teach them to ignore distractions that may come up during a shoot. Throw treats and toys at your pup, suddenly start running away, walk away to where they can’t see you, you name it. Your pup should keep staying until they hear their release command.
This is something we’ve continually worked on over the years with Kokoro and Chibi and is even more essential when you want to take group photos with other dogs.
Teach your dog to bark
We like using the “bark” command to get the dogs to change up their expressions.
Know your dogs’ trigger words
One of the things we run into a lot with the pups when we’re photographing them “in the wild” is their ears fold back as they’re listening to all of the things going on around them. I like photographing them when their ears are pointed forward towards the camera — it just looks much cuter!
To get them to point their ears forward, I use some of their favorite words or phrases, such as, “Do you guys want to…” or “Is it time for a treat?”
If I’m lucky, I’ll even get a head tilt out of asking them a question!
Use squeakers and sounds to your advantage
On top of knowing your dogs’ favorite phrases that get them to pay attention to you, you can also keep a squeaker in your pocket or learn how to make animal sounds to get your pup to look your way. This works especially well if you have a dog who is toy motivated.
Our dogs are super food motivated so this sometimes doesn’t work for them, but you know your dog best so use what he loves the most to get his attention throughout your shoots.
Use treats / peanut butter to get funny facial expressions
This is one of our favorite tricks! Put some peanut butter, yogurt, or honey on your dog’s nose and shoot away with burst mode. You’re bound to get one or two gold gems, trust me. Here are some shots we got just by using peanut butter!
Decide on a consistent style that represents you
This is especially important for establishing your style on Instagram. What is the aesthetic you want to use to tell your story? Is it clean and minimal backgrounds?
Or is it action shots paired with a shallow depth of field?
Sticking to one style and getting some practice will help you improve your photography and editing skills. Maybe one day you want to switch it up and try a new style? Go for it!
Daylight is your friend
We take 99% of our photos during the day in natural light. If we’re at home, we always shoot close to a window. Sunlight is your friend and dogs just shoot amazingly in natural lighting.
This doesn’t mean you can’t use studio lighting, but it’s much trickier to properly light a pup this way. And you just don’t get the same authentic effect as using some regular ol’ light from mother nature.
Stay in the shade
We love a good sunny day, especially here in LA. But whenever we shoot outdoors, standing in the sun can cast some harsh shadows in places you may not want in your photo. We try to look for a shaded area when we’re out and about with the pups and need to grab some outdoor photos.
Play with different angles
This is something that has taken me years to perfect. What unique and different angles could I utilize to make my photography stand out more?
The first simple rule of thumb is to get down to your dog’s height. Make sure you’re eye level with them for the best shots!
Utilize burst mode and video
It’s definitely hard to capture that “it” moment, especially with moving pups and their constantly changing expressions, so use the burst feature on your camera to continuously capture as many frames as possible! That way, you can pick and choose which exact moment you want to share.
Some of the best shots on my Instagram are even frames taken from videos, such as this. Because I had to throw the confetti myself, I wasn’t able to shoot burst photos at the same time, so opted to shoot a video instead. The photo quality won’t be as high if you pull a frame from a video, but for Instagram that isn’t really a problem at all since you’re just posting at 1080 x 1080 px!
Don’t be afraid to edit to tell a good story
Use photoshop to your advantage! Especially when photographing multiple dogs, sometimes I’ll swap in the best face for each dog and merge the best photos together to tell the best story.
Get your dog to smile by running them around
Is your dog looking a little too serious for the type of photo you’re going for? Take their favorite tug toy and play 5-10 minutes of tug with them. Or, run up and down the hallway a few times to get them active and panting. It’s a quick and easy way to get them to open their mouths and look happier for a shoot!
Use the right equipment
When I first started out taking photos of Kokoro, I had a 90mm portrait lens on my camera that I primarily used for taking photos of people. I quickly found out that this was going to require me to back up a lot before being able to frame up a shot. It proved to be near impossible when Kokoro was a puppy and didn’t have a perfect sit stay.
Wide angle lenses will get you closer to the dog so you don’t have to back up as much and so there isn’t as much time for the dog to break their sit stay. We’ve been loving our 24mm f/1.4 lens for wide angle shots and will occasionally switch to our 40mm f/1.8 prime lens when we’re outdoors.
Give your dog lots of treats
Treat photo shoots as training time for them. They have to put in work and follow commands, so they deserve lots and lots of treats and praise for being good dogs. And ultimately, don’t make them do anything they don’t want to do. Make sure you’re both having fun! This will really give you the most authentic photos that tell the story between you and your pup in the end.
That does it for our dog photography tips! What tricks do you use when shooting for the gram? Leave a comment and let us know, and don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube for more videos every week!