They say never work with children and animals and at times you can see why! But the trick to good animal photography is accepting from the start that, as in this case, the dogs are in charge of the shoot and there is only so much you can do to influence their behaviour. The rest – well you have to make that up as you go along.
If like here your on the beach then expect to get wet, expect to get covered in sand and expect your gear to get a bit of a battering. As with children and some other subjects it is better to get down to their level for a stronger viewpoint. These pictures were taken over two occasions as we walked our dog, Tia, a chocolate lab, on the beach where we live and some friends had their dogs out and as we bumped into them and had a chat I shot some pictures as their dogs and ours ran around and had some fun.
All pictures were shot on an either 85mm 1.4 or a 20mm 2.8 with Nikon D3’s, shot at around 800 ISO on RAW and high quality JPEG. It’s a tricky gig trying to get some workable pictures of any animal but the same principles apply to dogs as they do to pictures of people – trying to get the eyes open and trying to get the peak of the action as well as trying to show a relationship between animals and owner or the animals themselves.
Keep your finger poised and ready to shoot, never take your eye from the viewfinder the pictures will come together very quickly and be gone just as fast so be ready. Constantly alter your exposure as required although you could meter for the sand but beware of any sky included in your shots as this will shift your exposure dramatically. Manual exposure is harder work but you retain full control, I much prefer shooting this way and in fact shoot everything in manual exposure. In time it becomes second nature to adjust it as you shoot but aperture or shutter priority is another tool you could use if you wanted.
Pick your moments and shoot a lot of pictures at first, soon though you will see when the shots are happening and be more selective. This saves you ‘hosing’ them down and taking loads of pictures, although it’s all just ones and zeroes at the end of the day and they are free! So take as many pictures as you need to.
Don’t forget to use different lenses for a different effect, stand off with a longer lens or get in closer with a wide – be cautious on the wide though and keep an eye on what else might be in the frame as you shoot. During this shoot I was using a mix of manual focus and continuous auto focus and was switching between the two as each shot dictated. For running or action type pictures my frame rate was continuous high to give me a good selection of pictures – However, still pick your shots and don’t rely on simply rattling off loads of pictures in the hope of getting something this is bad skills and your photography will suffer.
You can have a laugh and get some decent pictures when shooting animals – especially dogs – as long as you remember that your reacting to what’s happening and have very little control over events but looking at it like that this is what most photography is like and that is as it should be because if you can start to nail some good pictures at these times then your half way there.