There are a wealth of photography tutorials online and they have been a fantastic guide as after many years break I have gotten back into photography, but there are also invaluable lessons that my hairy 15 pound sidekick and photography teacher, Tikka, has been teaching me: Patience and Adaptability.
Working with a dog as your subject means that you are executing your photos as a team and it’s all at the pace and desires of the dog you are with. You may have taken them to the location that you want to photograph them, but that’s where it all turns over to them. Are you looking for a quiet portrait and they are chasing squirrels around a tree, or are you looking for an action shot and they have fallen asleep waiting for you to get your act together? This plays into the second lesson of being able to adapt, but with patience you can get the photos you hoped to take that day.
If your dog has the zoomies then take a break and have a good play session to burn off some of that energy. This also helps to perk them up – bring out the best toys and squeakers and get them interested after you have your camera settings ready to go. They key is not to rush the process, be patient and look for what you can do to help get in the ‘zone ‘ of the photograph.
Once you are in the ‘zone’, wait it out for the photo you are searching for. Your dog might be distracted by the new surroundings, but give them a moment to settle and keep shooting and that pose you’ve been looking for will suddenly arrive and you’ll have it. It may come with the first press of your finger to shutter, but the best part of having a digital camera is that it’s no expense to take lots of shots. This was huge for me after so many early years using film and with my new camera I was really precious with the amount of shots I took. Tikka taught me to keep shooting and try lots of settings and it won’t cost her any dog biscuits in the fails.
Learning patience also goes two ways – building a solid ‘wait’ command is a huge help in the studio or on location, slowing the dog down and getting their attention on you for their next command. I’ve learnt not to overdo it – always stop and change spots or give the dog a break before they do and then they will always be a willing model.
Tikka has taught me how to adapt from human height to dog height and how this new perspective opens up a whole new quality of photos… and dog height is basically lying in the sand and mud as she is only 15 inches at the shoulder. Getting down to her eye line makes fantastic shots and people are always surprised at how small she is when they meet her in person.
It also means adapting quickly to changing exposures from walking through filtered light in the forest to an open area in blinding sunlight along the river to set up a photo. Changing shutter speeds, aperture and ISO to get the right combo keeps you in your toes as you walk along with your dog looking for great places to stop. And also adapting quickly to changing cameras – depending on what Tikka and the surroundings are calling for I regularly pull out my iPhone as it may be all I bring with me.
If you set out in the morning with the intention of getting the exact perfect shot in your brain and not leaving until you get it, well you know how that’s going to end. A frustrating day for both you and your dog. Instead, setting out with a goal in mind and then being able to adapt when the conditions aren’t right or the dog is more interested in joggers etc., you won’t come home pulling out your hair or driving your dog nuts in the process. That might mean you had to adapt yourself right into putting the lens cap back on and having a good walk instead. It’s never a loss as I’ll turn those days into location scouting.
My continuing lesson in adaptability is getting out with some other dogs! I’ve compensated for having a black dog in front of my lens so there will be lots to learn when a white Samoyed fills the frame. So thank you Tikka for teaching me these wonderful tools and being patient with me while I adapt to being more comfortable with the camera.