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How to take action-packed dog photos

dog photos
(Image credit: Future)

Figuring out how to take the best dog photos can be quite tricky, but it’s worth a little investment in time to get the technique right. Our dogs are generally at their happiest when they’re freely roaming open spaces, chasing tennis balls,  jumping around, living their best life. 

With these handy tips and tricks, you’ll learn how to get the best shots of your pooch in action. You don’t necessarily need to have a specialist camera – although something which allows you to change lenses will result in better shots overall, you can apply some of this advice to shooting with any type of camera, even your mobile phone.

Work with commands

One of the best ways you can instantly improve your action shots is to teach your dog certain commands. Getting them to master the sit and stay (or wait) command is incredibly useful. Get them to stay in a certain spot, then walk a short distance away and call them to you once you’re in position yourself. 

Your dog bounding towards the camera – maybe entice them with a treat or two – is a classic action shot to get you started with. If your dog needs to learn the sit / stay command, try it without a camera or taking any pictures until they get used to it, before starting to introduce a camera slowly.

dog photos

(Image credit: Future)

Get help from a friend

Asking a friend or family member to help you when taking action shots of your furry friend can also be very helpful. They’ll be there to grab your dog’s attention while you concentrate on getting the shot, or you can use them to guide them in whichever direction you want. Arm your human companion with whatever your dog loves –  treats, toys or squeakers – and you’ll likely find it so much easier than having to do everything yourself.

Get on their level

Your action shots will quickly improve if you get on the same level as your pet. Unless you have a great dane, that’s likely to mean sitting, kneeling or squatting to quite a low position, so get working on those calf muscles.

Shots will be more dynamic if you can make the viewer feel as if they are in the scene with your pet, being on the same level as them allows your dog to make eye contact with the lens, as if perhaps you were another dog yourself (the dream). 

That said, once you’ve mastered this type of shot, don’t be afraid to experiment with other angles and points of view too.

Invest in a telephoto lens

Although you can take great dog action shots with any kind of lens, if you’re serious about it and think you’ll be taking a lot then a telephoto lens (one with a long focal length) is a good investment. 

At a minimum, you want to look for a lens with at least a 70mm focal length, but really, the longer the better. Professional level 70-200mm lenses are perfect, but if you’re on a restricted budget, look for “all-purpose” zoom lenses, which usually encompass a very broad focal length range, such as 28-200mm. 

Using a long focal length will give your dog more space to run free without influence from you (or anybody else), which usually results in a more natural and free composition.

dog photos

(Image credit: Future)

Use focus tracking

Keeping a moving subject in focus is not an easy feat, but you can give yourself a better chance of getting a sharp shot by enabling tracking focus on your camera. Some mobile phones even give you this option. 

Tracking focus means that the camera will lock onto your dog, and the focus should follow them around the frame no matter where they go. Each brand will have its own name for tracking focus, while there are also a variety of different modes that you can choose between. It pays to read your camera’s manual, or search for your specific model online, for tips on how to use the different tracking modes.

Enable burst shooting

Whether you’re using a “proper” camera or your mobile phone, enabling burst shooting is a good way to help you stand a better chance of getting at least one usable shot of a moving subject. 

On your mobile phone, it’s usually a case of simply holding down the shutter button to take lots of shots in quick succession. Many phones will even decide for you which is the best shot, and they usually get it right more often or less too.

Proper cameras will generally require you to activate burst shooting from its drive mode options. For fast-moving dogs, set the fastest frame rate offered by whichever model you have. Bear in mind that if you shoot for a long time, you’ll have hundreds of photos to wade through – only press the shutter for short bursts at a time when the dog is doing something interesting to save you a long job when you get home.

Get your settings right

For action shots, there are a couple of key settings that will work for most scenarios. Set a fast shutter speed to freeze the action. If your dog is moving very fast, go for at least 1/500th of a second, but experiment with even faster, such as 1/1000 or 1/2000. You can try slower shutter speeds if you’re trying to create an arty blur, but the technique can take some mastering to look intentional. 

As for aperture, shooting as wide as your lens will allow will help separate the dog from the background. A wide aperture is represented in low numbers, so look for f/2.8, f/3.5, f/4 and so on. 

Lastly, using a mid-range ISO is a good idea when shooting at a fast shutter speed. If it’s very bright, use ISO 400-800, but if it’s a bit gloomier (i.e. when it’s overcast, or shooting in a wooded area), then don’t be afraid to push up to ISO 1600.

With a fast shutter speed, you’ll need lots of light, so all of this is best done outdoors.

dog photos

(Image credit: Future)

Dog action photos: A chance to bond

The best piece of advice we can give you when trying to take excellent dog action shots is to have fun! Use it as an opportunity to bond with your dog, after all it should be fun for both you and your pooch. Don’t get stressed if the photos don’t turn out exactly as you want them on your first try – there will be plenty of opportunity to practice, and the more you do, the better both of you will get at achieving good results.

Pet Tech Week on PetsRadar
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Amy Davies

Amy Davies is a writer and photographer with more than ten years’ experience working in the media. She lives with her miniature dachshund, Lola, a rescue dog who is very much the boss.