Shooting Blind for Better Action Portraits of Dogs

One of our favorite dog photography techniques is something we call “shooting blind” (or, as Darwin perhaps inappropriately puts it: “c’mon doggie follow the wiener!”). The photo below shows Darwin getting ready with a Shiba Inu puppy. First, you want to set your camera to ‘tracking’ auto focus and choose a wide angle lens or wide focal length. Hold the camera down close to the dog and take a few quick steps backward while holding out a bit of wiener in the other hand toward the dog. As the puppy starts to play this intriguing game with you, randomly press the shutter button as you move backwards. Do all this without falling down and hurting yourself! Sure you’ll get a lot of crappy photos (and a few bruises and licks) but in almost every attempt you’ll get one winning shot and lots of laughs!

©Samantha Chrysanthou -Darwin getting ready to use the “shooting blind” technique

Here is the keeper from Darwin’s shoot with the Shiba Inu above:

©Darwin Wiggett – Canon 24-70mm lens at 38mm, 1/640s at f5, ISO 400

If you want to try this with your dog, here is our suggested workflow:

  • We prefer overcast days for this technique because the light is more even and the details in the dog will record beautifully on your camera sensor. If you shoot on sunny days make sure that the dog is mostly front lit.
  • Grab a wide angle zoom lens. On a full frame camera we find that 35mm is about the perfect focal length to use (on cropped sensor cameras try 24mm).
  • We set our camera to aperture priority mode and usually pick an aperture between f5.6 or f8.0 to get a decent depth-of-field to cover slight focus errors.
  • For overcast days we set our ISO to 400 which gives us decent speeds (1/250s or higher) with apertures in the f5.6 to f8 range.
  • Set your camera on predictive or tracking auto focus (see your camera instruction manual if you don’t know how to do this) and be sure to have all the auto focus points active because you don’t know exactly what your framing will be; with all points active, chances are good one of the points will lock focus on some part of the dog.
  • Put your camera on high speed motor drive.
  • Cover the viewfinder eyepiece with a piece of dark tape or cloth so the camera meter is not fooled by bright light coming in through the viewfinder.
  • Pick a location where you have plenty of space to run backwards and there are no dangers (like trees, cliffs or highways).
  • Call the dog over and give it a piece of wiener.
  • Lower the camera to the dog’s eye level, hold a piece of wiener over the camera with your free hand call the dog’s name and have it chase the camera and wiener as you run backwards (this is called multitasking!)
  • Shoot a series of photos until your camera buffer runs out or you fall down or the dog jumps you!
  • Stop laughing, catch your breath, reward the dog with the treat and then review your images. If you got one good one you are lucky! If you didn’t get anything good then adjust as needed (more or less shutter speed, different framing, different background etc) and try again.
  • We think the unusual framing and interested expressions on the dogs’ faces create dynamic images. And you really can’t help but have fun doing this!

Here are a few more photos we captured using this technique:

24-70mm lens at 28mm, 1/400s at f6.3, ISO 800

24-70mm lens at 34mm, 1/500s at f6.3, ISO 400

24-70mm lens at 40mm, 1/200s at f4, ISO 400

24-70mm lens at 39mm, 1/100s at f5.6, ISO 400

24-70mm lens at 34mm, 1/640s at f5, ISO 100

Canon 24-70mm at 42mm, 1/640s at f4.5, ISO 400

24-70mm lens at 35mm, 1/800s at f7.1, ISO 400

24-70mm lens at 32mm, 1/400s at f4, ISO 400

 

About the Author

Photographing the incredible beauty of natural things, filming quirky videos, trying new foods with unpronounceable names, curling up with a good book, sharing ideas on how to live lighter on the Earth...these are a few of my favourite things!

16 Comments

  1. Matthew C.
    April 23, 2012

    Great pictures.

    If you use a Sony Alpha you can take these kinds of pictures “not blind” too as the fast AF will work in liveview mode / on the LCD screen.

    Reply
    • Darwin Wiggett
      April 23, 2012

      Matthew, that would be awesome! See your framing in real time.

    • Matthew C.
      April 24, 2012

      I love shooting with liveview with fast AF whenever taking pictures of our dogs, cats, and young children.

      It might be worth picking up a Sony Alpha 55 and a fast wide lens in Alpha mount just to play with given the kind of photography you do. I have noticed you take a lot of kid and animal pictures that look like they aren’t taken with the viewfinder (unless you REALLY like laying on the ground)!

      I often use my Sigma 20/1.8 (on an APS-C body) for this kind of photography, but there are lots of focal length options to choose from.

      It’s also a pretty awesome way to do event photography esp. with a wide lens — I really like having the camera off my face when working a wedding or the like. But I don’t know if you and Sam have much occasion for that kind of picture taking.

  2. milkayphoto
    April 23, 2012

    Hey! What great tips! Shooting pets is not easy to begin with and this er, technique ( 😉 ) seems as good as any! Heck, you’re running around after them anyways so why not get them to do what you want? Great results guys! The images above are AMAZING and a treasure to any pet owner! 🙂

    Reply
  3. Craig Taylor
    April 23, 2012

    Future tip: How to clean nose prints off your lens! =)

    Thanks for sharing. Going to have to try this with my dog.

    Reply
    • Darwin Wiggett
      April 23, 2012

      And wiener juice off your shutter button!

  4. Chris Plante
    April 23, 2012

    Thanks for the tips! I have never “shot blind” with dogs before because of being afraid of getting the dog’s nose in focus rather than the eyes. I never thought about using the tracking. I’ll have to try for sure. Some real fun shots there.

    Another tip: Some dogs are “food hounds” some dogs are “sound hounds”. Therefore, I always bring along a squeeky toy to get their attention.

    Reply
  5. Jeff
    April 23, 2012

    Great idea here Samantha! Thanks for sharing this and I will surely give this a try later this week.

    Reply
  6. hiro
    April 23, 2012

    Looks so fun to take pictures of dogs. Dogs are so lively in your photos compared to regular animal portraiture. One thing I noticed is focus is pin point on dog’s eye(s) even some images have shallow DOF.

    Reply
    • Darwin Wiggett
      April 23, 2012

      Hiro, that was just luck, take a ton of photos and some will have the eyes sharp!

  7. Hendrik
    April 23, 2012

    I’m seriously considering bringing Molly on Saturday for shooting her after the workshop with the things learned. Do you have an off-leash area in Canmore where we could go? If you think others might be interested let me know.

    Reply
    • Darwin Wiggett
      April 23, 2012

      We have two off leash parks, one right near the Days Inn!

  8. Les Howard
    April 24, 2012

    You might also substitute cheese for the weiner.

    We slice the fat off steaks leaving a bit of meat, cut it into bite size pieces and freeze it in the fridge making Mason’s favorite treat ‘dog-sicles’.

    Reply
    • Darwin Wiggett
      April 24, 2012

      Gee Les, even I would eat those home-made doggie treats — yum!

  9. Jürgen Weginger
    July 15, 2012

    This is a very good technic. I use it also at Sport events and in other situations. Sometimes you get really suprising images. Use a long shutter speed and move with the subject, perfect.

    Greetings from Austria
    Jürgen

    Reply
  10. Eric
    April 8, 2013

    Thanks for the great idea! I tried this last evening with my welsh corgi and got several keepers. Love the low perspective and interesting expressions on the dog with this method. I shot f/5 and next time will stop down a bit to get more DoF and maybe get more keepers. I laughed so hard and she loved the cookie at the end.

    Reply

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