There is something amazing that happens to us when we see our dogs. Dogs are such amazing beings, who convey so much joy, wonder, adventure and curiosity, that it’s no wonder that we are obsessed with taking photos of our dogs. A well composed dog photo can express much information about our relationship with our dog and the environment that we share and our daily lives together. The truth is there really is no secret to great dog photography, however there are at least three key fundamentals of composition which when combined together will help you create amazing dog photography.
The three compositional elements are background, subject and foreground and although these three compositional elements may seem simple they are the fundamentals of every great composition. Once you start to see you photos in terms of these key elements you will be amazed at the many ways to use and be creative with these compositional elements. Below are examples of some of my favorites.
Let’s start with the background, when I begin to compose a photo around my dog I almost always start with the background. Sometimes I have a clear idea of a background, a mountain, the grass, the blue sky and other times I’m just trying to minimize the distraction of a busy background. The right background can make a powerful statement about the photos subject or focal point however be careful not to allow your background to over power your subject matter. In the two photos below, you can see that in the first photo, that the background is busy and has distracting lines that intersect the subject. However the second photo has a simple white background, with only the a tree to help depict the winter scene. The subject is also more centrally placed and there is a lot of negative space in this picture to give breathing room to the subject and this breathing room helps keep the eye focused on the subject.
A good background adds depth and separation from the subject while not creating any distracting lines that might intersect with the subject causing you to lose focus on subject.
The subject is the reason you are reading this dog photography blog and in dog photography the subject is always your dog. Within the subject there is also the focal point, which for many powerful dog portraits and portraits in general the focal point are the eyes of the dog. The eyes are said to be the windows to the soul, they can connect you to the subject and give meaning to the composition. Because the eyes are such a powerful focal point, it is highly recommended that you use the eyes of the dog as the mark for focusing your camera. If the eyes of the dog are not in complete focus much of the impact of the photo can be lost.
A photo can have great impact without the subject making direct eye contact, such an example is the photo of my dog Yeti above. Yeti doesn’t feel comfortable looking directly into the camera lens and so I focus on capturing an indirect gaze. Often the gaze or direction that the dog is looking can give more meaning and focus to other aspects of the photo.
In the example photos below, the first photo the eyes are not acutely focused and they are not looking directly into the camera, this lack of focus causes the viewer to have difficulty making a connection with this dog. With the photo in the middle, the dog is obviously looking out of the frame of the photo, this allows the viewer to focus on the paisley bandana, however the bit of the broken background is a slight distraction. The third photo is ideal because it allows the viewer to observe the dog as the subject and bandana as the focal point and the solid background adds color but no distractions to the subject of this photo.
And lastly there is the foreground of the photo composition. The foreground is the silent support that holds all the other elements of composition together. I often see the foreground as a subtle mood setter that works together with the more outgoing element of lighting. Photography literally means light writing and no composition can be great without it. Foreground frames the subject and lighting highlights it. Together foreground and lighting can create the most dramatic mood for a photo. The photo below is an example of foreground and lighting working together to create a lovely photo composition. Although I was working on close up product photography when my dog Yeti wondered down the road, I was suddenly struck by this amazing sunset and took several steps back to include the road as foreground leading into the photo. The foreground that surrounds yeti is like a gold flame that contrasts Yeti’s silhouette.
An environmental portrait of your dog is a great way to work on all the key elements of composition. Dogs are animals of their environment. Your dogs environment might be the outdoors or it may be their favorite window that they like to sun in or a sofa or dog bed that is cluttered with the toys that they love. With practice you will start to see and find inspiring compositions to frame and tell the daily story of your dogs life. Good luck and I look forward to seeing your dog photos, you can share these photos with me on instagram @pearlsnappups