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6 Tips for Next-Level Photos of Your Furry Friends

by Yeum Ho Young

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Professional pet photographer Yeum Ho Young has worked with a lot of canines in his career through his studio Ordinary Dogs, where he takes dog photos to promote the adoption of abandoned dogs. While dogs are always picture-perfect no matter the occasion, pet photography requires you to be adaptable. You’d need your combined expertise in photography and understanding dog behaviour. Ho Young shares his personal tips and tricks for fully capturing the spirit and exuberance of our furry friends.

Alpha 1 | FE 12-24mm F2.8 GM | 12 mm | 1/200 sec | F6.3 | ISO 100

The Alpha 1, paired with the FE 12-24mm F2.8 GM (SEL1224GM) ultra-wide lens, introduces new ways to elevate the creative direction of a shoot. Ho Young believes that this duo perfectly captures a dog’s dynamic movement and facial expressions that are hard to capture. Here are his top dog-shooting techniques using the Alpha 1 and SEL1224GM: 

1. Communicate with your canine subjects 

If you want to capture the true personality of dogs, you need to learn to communicate with them. Clear communication with your pet subjects can create a natural scene, which puts the spotlight on your dog better. Ho Young does this by approaching them in a low position to be eye-to-eye with them comfortably. He will then offer them a snack to help gain the animal’s trust. 

Alpha 1 | FE 12-24mm F2.8 GM | 12 mm | 1/200 sec | F8 | ISO 100

“While shooting animals, I try to communicate by looking into their eyes. I try to find my alter-ego when I look at myself reflected in those eyes,” said Ho Young. 

2. Safety should be of highest priority 

In scouting for shooting locations, you must consider the safety of your furry friends. While it is important to find venues that look good in photos, remember that how the dogs will fit into the location is of utmost priority. For this particular shoot, Ho Young’s filming locations were the woods and seaside of Jeju Island. Both locations have natural scenery and give the dogs enough space to play and dash around. 

On your next shoot with your dog, think about its favourite things to do and ensure that your location is dog-friendly enough for them to do these activities. Once this is assured, take your time to play around with your surroundings and your camera settings. 

Alpha 1 | FE 12-24mm F2.8 GM | 12 mm | 1/200 sec | F2.8 | ISO 200

3. Perfect your camera settings 

Since dogs are naturally active creatures, Ho Young sets his camera to autofocus continuous (AF-C) as default so it can easily lock focus on the dog even when they are running around. With the Alpha 1, you would be able to smoothly follow your subject while keeping them in focus. In such instances, Ho Young suggests setting the shutter speed at 1/800 sec or higher to freeze their movement. 

Alpha 1 | FE 12-24mm F2.8 GM | 12 mm | 1/200 sec | F2.8 | ISO 200

“While focusing on the scenery’s brightness, I suggest using the top right exposure compensation dial of the camera and adjusting it to -2, lower than the average exposure. Then, I use flash to refine and perfect the lighting of the shot. Since dogs are sensitive to flashes and sounds, be sure to turn on flash synchronization and set it on silent mode to prevent stressing them out,” Ho Young suggested. 

4. Be attentive and watch out for the right moment 

Dogs are naturally a thing of beauty. However, it is worth noting that there are still perfect moments you need to watch out for. For example, a simple dog sneeze can be captured a few different ways, but only one photo will stand out, based on how interesting or funny their expression is in a split second. When having a fun photo shoot with your furry friend, make sure not to miss the best moments. 

“Even in studio shots, various expressions from the dog can help freeze the precious moments,” said Ho Young. “Scenes such as dog performances with coloured powder or eating snacks are especially difficult to witness in normal situations, but the brief moment when the dog opens its mouth with a funny expression would make a great photo.” 

You should also take into consideration that dogs normally concentrate for up to 10 minutes and may feel bored or stressed if it goes even longer. So, you need to focus in a short time span and take your shot. Ho Young suggests setting the shooting mode to aperture priority to ensure that the photo will be recorded at a flash-synchronised speed. 

“This will bring out the natural scenery and the dog would appear clearly,” he explained. 

5. Don’t hesitate to experiment and try new things 

As a professional photographer, Ho Young has done dog photo shoots countless times. Despite his prolific experience in the field, he has never been one to be afraid of checking out new trends or introducing new technologies in his work. For this particular shoot, he challenged himself to use a wide-angle zoom lens for the first time for picture day with his animal friends. 

For him, shooting animals is more than just taking pictures. It is about bringing out and highlighting the characteristics of the dogs through visuals. Usually, he tries to get as close to the dog as possible to capture its expression. But he found that the wide-angle zoom lens worked just as well in this regard. 

Alpha 1 | FE 12-24mm F2.8 GM | 12 mm | 1/200 sec | F8 | ISO 200

 “The SEL1224GM is lightweight and has a dust- and moisture-resistant design. This relieved many of my worries because I used to film for long hours when working with dogs. A difference of 1mm at ultra-wide angle focal length is more impactful than you would expect,” he added. 

Like Ho Young, you can try experimenting with a wide-angle zoom lens, to help widen the angle of view in your photos. Or, if you feel like it isn’t for you, at least try to explore something you haven’t tried before! 

6. Choose the gears that support your skills 

“It was difficult to shoot before, but Alpha 1 has an active Eye AF for Animals reliably pinning on the animal’s eye. A fast autofocus tracking and Eye AF function is very important in animal photography,” said Ho Young. 

Alpha 1 | FE 12-24mm F2.8 GM | 12 mm | 1/2500 sec | F3.2 | ISO 100

For any kind of photography, it goes without saying that gaining skills is crucial if you want to create the photo you want. However, your photography skills need support to bolster your desired profile. The right equipment is essential to complement your creativity and expertise. 

“The camera’s small size is easy to operate and has a fast readout speed. It makes results stand out by shining light on your preferred areas. The majestic nature that contrasts with the dog's cute expression comes alive with the excellent resolution,” he added. 

Alpha 1 | FE 12-24mm F2.8 GM | 12 mm | 1/400 sec | F14 | ISO 100

Man’s best friend is a perfect subject for pet photography. No matter the angle, lighting, or environment, dogs are likely to give you an interesting photo. Shooting portraits of your dogs is a great way to capture them in action and bring out their whole personality. Of course, the results of these shoots will surely be a set of memories you will treasure forever. 

“A photo produced from deep love can fully capture the character of the dog.  If you truly know your canine subject, look eye-to-eye and build trust, they will be comfortable and will enjoy the shoot. Genuine moments like this are the ones that you’d like to preserve in a photo,” Ho Young said. 

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