With the holidays around the corner, pet parents everywhere are plotting photo sessions to capture the perfect image for their annual cards. Wrangling a dog or cat for a photo shoot is harder than getting a toddler to sit still (you can’t bribe them with an iPad!), so we talked to professional dog-photo snapper Elias Weiss Friedman -- the man behind Instagram sensation The Dogist and the new book “The Dogist: Puppies” -- to share some tips for capturing furry family members in the perfect holiday poses.
1. Get on all fours
In order to get your shot, you need something your pet would want. “I use things like treats and squeaky tennis balls,” Friedman says. “Move them around, get them excited about it.” Friedman wears kneepads around the city so he can photograph dogs closer to their height. You probably don’t need protective padding to take holiday snaps, but position yourself on the floor. “Usually you’re looking down at the dog,” he says. “But on the ground, you get a perspective that you don't usually get.”
2. Accept that it’s a process
A key to getting the perfect shot: patience. “You’ve got to make them comfortable [first],” says Friedman. One good tactic is getting your pet familiar with your device. Take pictures of your pet a few times before the official shoot. And if you’re not the one behind the camera, your presence (and loving snuggles!) can make all the difference to your dog’s demeanor. “The dog might not sit and look if he's by himself,” Friedman says. “But if he's sitting in the owner's lap, then all of a sudden he feels 10 feet tall.”
3. Find the best light
When you’re photographing your dog or cat, it’s all about the light. “If you're indoors, you look for where the light’s coming from. So, if your light is coming from the ceiling, maybe you look [down from above your pet] so the light is facing up. Little things like that will make your pictures better.” Natural light is good too, Friedman says. Go near a window. That's where you might want to use a flash, if your pet is comfortable with it, which can provide a boost if you don’t get a ton of sunlight streaming into your house or apartment.
4. ‘Spray and pray’ for a good action shot
If you want to capture your pet in motion, set your camera to a fast shutter speed. For DIY-ers using their camera phones, play around with the “burst” mode, if you have one. “Plan your shot,” advises Friedman. “You say, ‘I want to get them running towards the camera. Or across the camera. Or catching a Frisbee.’ Then set your camera, wherever it is, to be focused on that and have a fast shutter speed. Then, kind of a ‘spray and pray’ is what I say -- point it and get a bunch of shots.” Then look over your pics for the one that stands out.
5. With costumes, less can be more
Dressed-up dogs and cats can be cute, but be a discerning fashion editor when you’re choosing a holiday look for your pet. On holidays like Halloween, when Friedman has plenty of festooned pooches to pick from, the intricate and ornate get-ups aren’t the ones that catch his eye. “What I like is originality and simplicity,” he says. “Like making a dalmatian a cow. Or a golden retriever a lion. The simple things are the best ones.” A single accessory can make a statement. “You can take a dog that might not otherwise stand out, like your little white fluffy dog, and put a bow tie on them, then all of a sudden you have a show stopper.”
6. Reward your models for their cooperation
Friedman echoes dog trainers’ mantra: Positive reinforcement yields positive results. “I always say reward them. Don't not give them a treat or cookie. Give them what you were teasing them with.” Plus, your dog probably knows if you’re holding out on him. “Dogs are not stupid. If you break the cookie into pieces and you get one ‘sit,’ … you give him a little bit, and he's like, “OK, he's not bluffing me. I'll continue to cooperate.’ It's sort of like conditioning experiments there. You have to reinforce or else you won't get cooperation.” Basically, a successful photo shoot is all about trying to think like your pet does. “Put yourself in their paws,” Friedman says.