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Dog toggin’: How to take better dog photos with your phone

January 10, 2020
Maremma sheepdog lays on an Oregon beach at sunset

Hey, you … yeah, you … the human with a dog making her way through the world with a camera wherever you go …

“I don’t have a camera.”

Sure, you do. What’s that thing in your hand?

“My phone.”

A-ha!

Our dogs are doing fun and adorable things every darn day. Heck, all Bella has to do is roll in the grass in the backyard and I want a picture.

There isn’t always enough time to run inside and grab one of my Nikon DSLRs, the right lens, my strobe, the remote trigger … oh, bother! Moment missed.

Getting professional pet portraits is one of my favorite things for you to do. Natch. Creating beautiful images of you and your dog together around Spokane and North Idaho is my passion.

What about those everyday moments? The ones that tell the full story of your dog’s life.

Grab your phone.

Tell the story of your life with your dog

Storytelling in photography freezes time in a single image or a series of images.

A single image can, years later, take you back to that moment and help you remember everything about it — where you were, what you were doing, how you were feeling.

Here’s one of my favorite all-time selfies:

Shep the Maremma sheepdog and Angela the dog photographer together forever in a smartphone selfie
Together forever

Shep and I were out and about, exploring parks in Calgary for one last time before we moved to Kamloops, B.C., in 2012. Shep and I were fearless explorers, and he was my great protector. Neither of us was happier than when we were together.

Even today, that image brings a smile to my face and a wistful tear to my eye.

Because no matter how many hundreds (maybe thousands) of images — DSLR or smartphone — I have of Shep, they aren’t enough.

There weren’t enough images, there weren’t enough moments, there weren’t enough days.

Our best fur friends just don’t stay with us long enough.

Get those memories

Now, let’s be clear.

I don’t profess to be some kind of expert at cellphone photography. Since I entered the realm of professional dog photography, I rarely take a picture of Bella with my phone.

My DSLRs are, 90 percent of the time, with me.

It’s weird, too, because when I needed a new smartphone last spring, I picked the Google Pixel 2 because of its camera capabilities.

I’m sure it has far more powerful features than I know, but it’s mostly relegated to selfies, Snapchatting with my nieces and sister-from-another-mister, and food.

See? Here’s our Christmas Day prime rib.

Christmas day prime rib
Christmas dinner

All that said, my phone is an important part of telling Bella’s story. I’ve compiled a list of tips that can help you get better pictures of your dog with your smartphone. Mostly, they’re taking what I know about dog photography and making them useful for you.

1. Seek the light.

This, of course, is the secret to all good photography. Look for nice, even light that isn’t too bright or harsh. Overcast skies create a softbox effect over the sun and gives you some lovely opportunities. There’s also that magic time of day, golden hour, that casts a soft, warm glow over everything. It takes place usually 45 minutes to an hour before sundown.

golden hour selfie of photographer and her dog
Golden hour selfie

2. Create light.

Use sunlight streaming through open windows. Try a flashlight. I just hesitate to tell you to use the flash on your phone, because it can do some awful things to eyes and white fur.

See?

Bella's first birthday party
Bella’s first birthday – no flash
Bella's first birthday with flash
Bella’s first birthday with flash

3. Start from the beginning.

Every moment, every day can be a memory to cherish. I knew the second Bella entered my life that almost every day of her life would be recorded in some way, shape or form. This is an all-time favorite of one of our first walks together, along Lake Okanagan in Kelowna, B.C., where I lived from 2013-15.

Bella the Maremma sheepdog at Lake Okanagan in Kelowna, B.C.
Lake Okanagan

4. Get low.

The eyes are the window to the soul, n’est-ce pas? Get down to the same level as your dog’s eyes. It gives your image some amazing impact.

Fair warning: Looking deep into the eyes of your dog may cause you to fall even deeper in love with her. Happens to me every time.

Maremma sheepdog napping on the couch
Asleep on the couch

Or get even lower.

Here is she at the top of the stairs, waiting for her walk.

5. Wait … get high!

Yep, try different perspectives. I’ve really started to love this kind of image, called “The Lookdown” by some colleagues in the dog photography industry. It’s exactly how we see our dogs when they’re looking at us oh-so lovingly … or at least, looking at the treat in our hand.

Bella looks up at a treat in my hand
Treat, please

6. Check your background.

We’ve all seen those listicles of bad bathroom/bedroom selfies with various … um … accoutrements in the background. If you’re out in the backyard, make sure it’s clean of poop bombs. Or angle your camera in the park to make sure it isn’t cluttered with road signs or random people you don’t want in your precious memory.

bella on a camping trip to Bumblebee in North Idaho
A clean background

7. Grab a toy.

Play time makes for a lot of fun. It may not always be possible to freeze high action shots (I dunno, some of you folks with those new-fangled iPhones or Samsungs can let me know) but I do know a lot of dogs get excited by their toys. Or a simple image of them chewing a Kong, or snuggled up with their favorite teddy bear will make you smile for years to come.

Bella the Maremma sheepdog with her Kong bone
My Kong … but that dang flash, Mama!

8. Watch for quiet moments

This is another favorite type for me because she’s just so bloody adorable when she’s sleeping. She even let me tuck her in with my snuggiebankie while she napped on the couch.

Maremma sheepdog asleep on the couch
All tucked in

9. Get the little details

Just like the above picture, I like to focus on the little details. I am obsessed with Bella’s nose and her toes. Ummm … does any of that sound familiar? Yep, it’s how my business’s name, Noses & Toes Pet Photography, was born.

From the weight those pads on her feet bear (hers and sometimes the weight of my world, too) to the pebbling on her nose, I love every bit of her.

Bella asleep with her face in her paw
She sleeps with her face in her paw

10. A.C.T.

You’ll know me by the T-shirt I wear to events and portrait sessions. It has A.C.T. on the front and it’s my motto. It stands for always carry treats. Treats are a great way to get a dog’s attention, staring you straight in the camera lens for the most impact.

11. Take selfies.

Most of my “oh” moments when I’m culling a dog portrait session come when I find a sweet, unprompted moment between a dog and his human. You know the ones I mean … they show that bond, that connection only dog lovers understand. They are often the ones, too, that clients select for prints.

They are the very best moments to freeze and it’s important for you to get your own images of your and your dog together. You are a part of each other’s story, and the love you share ought to be in pictures.

Don’t forget to hand your phone over to someone with you. My husband got this of Bella and me on “our” beach on the Oregon coast.

Bella and Angela on a beach in Oregon
Our first trip to the Oregon coast, 2015

Above all else, have fun. Enjoy the moments you find on your camera but don’t push your dog too far to perform for the lens on your phone. Otherwise, you get cranky face:

Bella the Maremma sheepdog mopes about having to wear a Santa hat
It could be the hat, too

Most importantly, don’t just keep a cache of images on your phone. Find your favorites and print them.

The keepsake box is my favorite product to show clients. When you have a portrait session with your dog at a beautiful location around Spokane or North Idaho, you can get a keepsake box filled with 4×6 prints from your gallery.

I encourage every one of my clients to keep adding to their box by printing their own images and putting them in the box with my work.

Because it’s all your story to tell, and the power to do it sits in your hand.

All around the circle

I didn’t, by the way, post-process any of the images. They are “straight out of phone,” no editing, no nothing. You can, however, download any number of apps that you can use to toy with your images.

I tried on a couple, especially to edit out the leash but it was time-consuming and frustrating.

Bella in the grass near Stateline, Washington
Celly edited

I also made sure I got one image that I know I’ve already taken with my DSLR, just to show you the difference. The first image is from my Pixel 2, the second from my Nikon D500 in almsot the same spot.

Bella at Stateline off-leash dog park
At the off-leash park

bella at stateline dog park

I will at some time pull some of those celly images into Photoshop and tinker them up to print out.

Because they are an important part of Bella’s story.

Now, it’s time to get you traveling around the world to check out how other dog photographers in the blog circle are telling a story.

Start with Lynda Mowat from Heartstrings Photography, based in the Waikato, New Zealand. Read her post and then click the link at the bottom to get to the next one.

Travel through the circle and when you land back here, you’re home.

Right where you belong.

And when it’s time to get your keepsake box started, drop me a note and book a session.

    9 Comments

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  • Lynda Mowat
    January 18, 2020
    Reply

    Great tips! And awesome selfies, but my favourite has to be Bella’s paws in her quiet time shot. Just adorable! I’ve started a journal this year with a phone photo a day to show what Pippa and I get up to. It’s fun, and I know it will provide memory joggers in the future.

  • Jackie
    January 14, 2020
    Reply

    Great tips, thank you! Phones are great cameras but like you show, they don’t really compare to a good camera 🙂

  • Tracy Allard
    January 13, 2020
    Reply

    Hands down, best selfies and I love the hairy feet closeups! As a dog trainer, I NEED an A.C.T. T-shirt too!

  • Elaine
    January 11, 2020
    Reply

    Great pointers. I love your “seek the light” photo! So festive!

  • Kelly Middlebrooks
    January 10, 2020
    Reply

    Wonderful tutorial and fun images! What a cutie!

    • Kelly Middlebrooks
      January 10, 2020
      Reply

      I’m back and I have to tell you…. I don’t know what it is, but I’m in love with your dog’s paws!!! 😀

      • angela
        January 11, 2020
        Reply

        Kelly, that is so funny! I dare you to spend a little while staring at your dog’s toes. You’ll look at her differently, I swear!

        • Kelly Middlebrooks
          January 12, 2020
          Reply

          Ha! I have two Italian greyhounds. There feet are TINY! Maybe that’s why I’m so in love with your dog’s big, furry, feet. The contrasting color is a bonus, too. 😉

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