Every week we get asked to show a dog that isn’t a trained model on a session, the thing is, almost none of our shoots are with highly trained dogs, they’re with normal dogs who are a family’s best friend and they’ve usually never been photographed before. The key is how you, as the photographer, handle the experience for the owner and the subject.
Nervous dogs are a little different, but for boisterous dogs, dogs with no training and no stay, the following is definitely my playbook and, in Frank’s case, he ended up giving me a flat down by the end, despite the fact that he doesn’t actually know a down as a trick and nobody has asked him to flat before:
In summary, for photographing boisterous dogs your aim should be to:
- Ignore the dog completely until they are 100% calm – they might never get there, that’s ok, you need to ignore them. This includes eye contact!
- Keep them on leash for the entire shoot – it seems logical but so many people set the dog free and then you’re in a cycle of winding up the dog and trying to regain some semblance of control – not great.
- Use soft/soothing vocal cues and use slow body movements where possible – this goes SUCH a long way for lowering the energy in the room and will also have a positive effect on the owner!
- Do ensure the owner stays calm – if they get frustrated it makes the experience bad for the dog. Sometimes owners will simply not calm down, always be the dogs advocate and call the shoot if you need to, it should be a really positive experience for everyone!
- Introduce noises slowly and start quiet/small then build up – the same with any subject, but important here!
- Try to not let anyone else in the location move or do anything distracting – if that means they turn their backs or leave, then that’s cool!
Frank surpassed everyone’s expectations by nailing his shoot and we ended up with some awesome photos! This is a small selection along with a further edit of one for awards potential: