Do you want to know a secret? Many of the incredible photos I take of my dogs for my blog and for social media are taken with my smartphone! I have all the latest and greatest professional gear, and absolutely 100% I would use it on a professional job or for any stock photography.

Smartphones do have their limitations, however for those little moments at home when something adorable is happening or about to happen with one of my dogs – my smartphone always saves the day! It’s always with me, and let’s face it shooting on auto is so much easier on the brain cells!

Below are a few of my tips and tricks for taking better smartphone photos of your pup!

Prepare your pup for their session with practise sessions

As a professional pet photographer, I cannot tell you how many times I have heard, “my dog HATES getting their photo taken!”. Usually the reason that dogs don’t enjoy the process is because it’s not been a fun experience for them in the past. If you have gotten frustrated, or raised your voice in the name of a great photo, they are probably thinking, “this sucks” and not enjoying it at all. However, it CAN be fun. Here’s how to turn a photo session into a fun game you can play with your dog.

Find THE BEST high-motivation treats

Treats are to dogs as cash is to people. Everything is more fun when we are being paid to do it, right? The treats I use for my professional sessions are almost always freeze-dried meat, or something really smelly like fish treats. If you are using biscuits or dry cookies you are just not going to get the same attention as with the really, really good stuff. (think $5 vs $20) My favourite “go-to” healthy dog treat that everyone loves are Orijen’s Freeze-Dried Dog Treats.

Besides being a fantastic form of currency, we can use treats to lure our dogs and get them to look where we want them to. If your dog is one of those “over-the-top-crazy-for-treats” dogs (you know who you are, ahem, labs and goldens I am talking to you! ), you may have to put them away and use verbal praise instead.

It’s time to practise staying still

Get your treats ready and find a spot to practise in. If you pet is allowed on the furniture, maybe choose a comfortable spot, like a couch or armchair. When your pup is staying still and being calm, reward them with a small bit of treat. If they are being really wiggly and crazy, no treats. If they jump off the couch, lure them back up with your treat and start over again.

You’ll be surprised how fast your pup will catch onto what you want them to do. Just remember:

  1. reward them for being still and calm
  2. no treats or attention for being wiggly and busy
  3. lots of verbal praise and treats when they are doing what you want

If your pup is doing really well and you want to introduce a prop, follow the same steps. If they absolutely hate the prop – take it off! You’ll need more practise and training with short and fun sessions to get him used to it.

Remember, always end practise on a happy note. Treats, and praise. Your dog will realize the attention and fun ends when the session is over and they’ll grow to look forward to them.

Rest and repeat

If you continue to do short and sweet practise sessions like this often and in different areas of the home, you will have a professional mutt-model in no time!

Choose and prepare a location in your home for your session

THE MOST important component in any photography is light, and quality of light. Those expensive professional cameras are fantastic for handling situations with low light. If you know how to use the manual settings, you can get some great quality photos even when the light is not great.

Smartphones – not so much. Because most smartphones don’t have manual options (and even if they do – most people don’t know how to use them) you are committed to using the basic settings and shooting on auto. If you are getting blurry photos indoors you are not getting enough light.

Find a location in your home with lots of natural light

Look around your home and find areas that are near large windows or glass doors. The more light the better! Open your blinds and let all the light in! Midday is usually the time of day when your home will have the most natural light. Walk around to all the rooms and see if some have better light than others.

Turn off the “house” lights

All light has a temperature. Daylight is cooler, and daylight in shade even cooler. Light inside is usually really, really warm. Too warm in most cases. When you see really yellow images, it’s usually an indication that they have been shot indoors. For a more appealing and professional look, turn off the lights in your home and work with only the natural window light. This will make your photos much more pleasing to look at!

Turn off your camera flash

One of the most common questions I get asked is “how do you get rid of glowing eyeballs?”. Those demon-esque eyeballs are a result of your camera flash. Built in camera flash does not produce very nice photos, so go into your camera settings and turn it off. This will also prevent red eye in humans.

Choose a space with few distractions

When photographing pets, you always have to compete with what’s happening in their surroundings for their attention. If you can prevent distractions while shooting, make your life easier and do so! If one room looks onto a busy street, vs one that looks into a quiet backyard, choose the quieter location. If you have other pets in the home, tuck them behind a baby gate or in another room for your session.

Declutter and tidy your session space

Once you have found a room with lots of natural light, you’ll need to tidy it up! Look around and see what could be a distraction. A stack of books, a coffee cup, an ugly old blanket? Gather it all up and move it for the duration of your session. I am a BIG fan of clean images so the less “stuff” there is to distract from my subject the better!

If you want to get really serious about a great shot, wipe the smudges off your windows and vacuum as well. If you miss a few small things we can remove them later (see editing your photos), but it’s always better to avoid it in the first place!

Move furniture temporarily to utilize better light

I find that my dogs are more likely to stay in one spot for me if they are on furniture. If you have a nice armchair you would like to use for your photos, move it closer to the window to get your shots. You can always put it back, and it will be worth it when your pup settles in and you can grab some great shots in great light!

Time for the shoot – getting the shot

Once you have followed all of the above suggestions, it’s time to get your pup ready for their session! This is the fun part! Make sure you have your treats on hand. (I like to put mine in my pocket, but if you don’t like “eau de liver” you may want to use a treat bag that you can hang on your pocket for easy access.)

Lure your pup into position

Once you have chosen a good spot, get your pup into position by putting a treat near their nose, just out of reach, and lure them with it. Always try and have your pets eyes face the window or the light source. This will ensure that their eyes and face are the brightest part of your image.

Focus on your pup’s eyes

It’s cliche, but the eyes are the window to the soul. THE MOST IMPORTANT part of photographing your dog is making sure the eyes are well lit, and in focus. Most smartphones have a focus feature. While holding your camera with your image composed, tap the screen with your finger where you’d like the camera to focus (on the eyes).

What will happen is your phone will not only focus on the eyes, but it will expose for your dog’s face. Meaning, it will brighten the face properly and not worry so much about the rest of the scene. This is what you want!

Also, look for catchlights in BOTH eyes. Catch lights are what brings life into the eyes, and makes the subject look alive and soulful.

Make a funny noise to get your pup’s attention

Now that you are about ready to snap your photo, let’s make sure we have your pup’s attention. Noises are the best way to get a quick and funny reaction. With your finger ready to shoot, make a funny noise with your mouth, with a squeaker, or use a trigger word like “treats”, “walkies”, or “dinner”. If you feel like a deadbeat for lying to your dog, use noises only and ditch the trigger words.

Dog will usually only respond to a noise or a word 2-3 times, so don’t overuse them, and move onto the next one as soon as they’ve lost interest.

Change your angles and perspective for variety

While your pup is in position and responding to your sounds, get down on their level and move your camera side to side, and up and down, and change your angles. Move the camera closer and further away to change the scene. Use your treats to direct their gaze.

TIP – Hold down your shutter button to activate the burst mode. Taking lots of photos will increase your odds of getting a handful really great expressions.

Always remember to pay up!

When you’ve gotten your shot remember to give lots of positive verbal praise and treats! Take a little break and get ready for the next shot if you are both ready for more!

Editing your photos

There are lots of apps available for editing your smartphone images, but my favourite is Snapseed. It has a lot of the functionality of Photoshop, but also some of the fun filters that you would find in Instagram, so you can really do a lot with it! You can download the app from the Apple Store or from Google Play.

Choosing a photo

Once you open the Snapseed app it will give you the opportunity to search for a photo to edit. When choosing a photo, pay close attention to the ones that have the eyes in focus, and do not have any motion blur.

Editing your photo

You’ll see a little pencil icon in the bottom right of your screen. Click that anytime you want to edit or return to the editing options. You are free to use ANY of the available options in this app to edit your photos. In fact, playing with the adjustments and filters is exactly how you will find your own personal style. There is no right and wrong answer here. The following are the adjustments I make to my images, but again, you can do whatever you like!

The “Tune Image” menu

Inside the “Tune Image” menu there are lots more options to choose from. The ones I like to use are:

  1. Brightness – I like to brighten the photo a little as they usually seem to be a little dark for my liking. If you find the opposite move the slider to the left to darken the image.
  2. Contrast – I find increasing contrast adds a little pop to my image so I usually increase the contrast a little after I have brightened it.
  3. Saturation – this will increase the saturation of the colours in your image. Don’t get carried away with this one, but adding a little saturation seems to improve most images.
  4. Shadows – if you find that your dog’s face is in shadow, or really dark, you can increase this slider to get rid of some of the darkness/shadows.
  5. Warmth – this will increase and decrease the yellow tones in your photos. Again, don’t get carried away with this one.

When you are done tuning the image, click the check mark in the bottom right of your screen to save this step.

The “Details” menu

I usually only adjust the sharpening in this menu by increasing it a little. DO NOT over sharpen your images. It’s a rookie mistake and the images will look “crunchy”. As soon as you seen that crunchiness appear you have gone too far. Reverse, reverse!

When you are done sharpening the image, click the check mark in the bottom right of your screen to save this step.

The “Healing Brush” menu

Let’s say when looking at your image you notice your dog has eye boogers or there is debris on the floor. You can use the healing brush to remove these distractions.

Simply zoom in on your photo, click your finger on the booger, and it disappears. The healing brush is not a perfect tool however, as it “smushes” pixels and can make the edited area appear smudgy. Sometimes it’s not possible to use it without destroying part of the image. Zooming in on the image can help you get a smaller sampling. Use at your discretion. If it doesn’t work, you can “undo” the step.

When you are done with the healing brush, click the check mark in the bottom right of your screen to save this step.

Save your image

Once you are finished adjusting your image, click the SAVE option in the top right hand side of your screen. This will save your edited photo to a folder on your device called “Snapseed”.

Now you are all finished, and ready to post, print, or share your beautiful images!

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