Tips for photographing dogs in action

Dog Photographer Rebecca Goutorbe

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Tips for photographing dogs in action or running.
This is my favourite part about dog photography, outdoor dog photography action shots.
 It doesn’t matter whether the dog is in a field, out working on a moor, dog agility or water shots.

Dog photography courses

The first thing about dog photography I wanted to learn once I bought my camera was how to photograph dogs in action.
But I didn’t go on a dog photography course. I went on a cheap £60 birds of prey photography day course. 
It was exactly what I wanted, one because I love birds of prey. Secondly because birds of prey when they are flying are fast.
I thought if I learnt how to photograph birds flying fast then I could photograph my own dogs running.
Plus my dogs never hold still, do yours?
I needed the camera settings for moving subjects.

photographing moving subjects

Dogs in action

Here are my 10 tips for photographing dogs in action.

Tip 1. Find a safe location

If you are photographing dogs in action outdoors make sure the location is safe.
Not too close to a main road or livestock. The safety of the dog is more important than a photograph.
Check that the dogs are good off the lead if they are clients dogs.
If not ideally you will need an enclosed paddock or something similar for them.
The woods work well sometimes for these types of shots.

tips for photographing dogs in action

Tip 2. Get down low

Get down low on the same level as the dogs eyes. This is the same for all types of dog photography.
This will depend on the breed of dogs you are photographing.
A really small dog you will need to get down flat out on the ground to be on a level with the dogs eyes. 
For medium sized dogs, Labrador sized kneeling down will be ok to be on the same level as the dog. 

tips for photographing dogs in action

Tip 3. You will need someone to help

It is so much easier to photograph dogs when you have some help.
If you are photographing dogs in action for a client thats great they can help. They can also be included in the shots you take. One of my dog and owner photo ideas I use.
Photographing your own dogs on your own is never easy.
Unless your dog is super well behaved.  

Tip 4. Use a fast shutter speed

To photograph dogs running, jumping or bouncing all over the place. You will need a fast shutter speed to freeze the action.
The shutter speed will depend on the focal length of the lens you are using.
The main lenses I use for photographing dogs in action are the 70mm – 200mm f2.8 or the 400mm f5.6 both are canon lenses..
What focal length or lens you use is up to you.

tips for photographing dogs in action

Best lenses for dog action photography

The shutter speed which works best for me is as follows. 
On the 70mm – 200mm f2.8 lens my shutter speed needs to be ideally over 1/1000 of a second. 
When I am using the 400mm f5.6 lens the best shutter speed for this lens for action shots is 1/2000 of a second.
You may be interested in the blog post, Best lens for dog photography >

Tip 5. Telephoto lenses are best for dog photography

I usually find that a telephoto lens like the 70mm – 200mm or the 400mm lens. Works best for dog photography action shots because of the reach.
The dogs can be far away being natural and I can still get great photos. 
Also the best lenses for dogs working, agility any type of dog photography where you don’t want to distract the dog.

tips for photographing dogs in action

Best camera for dog action photography

The camera I use for dog photography is a full frame camera the Canon 1dx. 
If you use a crop sensor camera like the Canon 7D Mii the lenses I just spoke about above will increase in focal length.
The lenses above are for a full frame camera but also work on a crop sensor Canon camera. 
Basically the two Canon L series lenses on a crop sensor will become roughly the 70-200mm = 100mm – 300mm lens. The 400mm lens will have a focal length of around 600mm. 
Worth looking at your camera if you are thinking of buying a new lens. 
Or if you want a new camera do you want a full frame? or a crop sensor and gain more focal length from certain lens

Tip 6. Set your camera to continuous shooting

If you go into the settings of your camera set the drive mode to continuous shooting. This means that when you press the camera shutter button you take more than one photo.
So it is continuously shooting or more commonly known as ‘machine gunning it’.
Also set your camera to AI Servo (Canon cameras) this setting is dedicated focusing mode for moving subjects.
Perfect for photographing dogs in action.

Tip 7. Use back button focusing

Set up back button focusing on your camera for great action or running shots of dogs.
You will need to go into the camera settings to set up back button focusing. 
Back button focusing is where you pre focus the camera with another button on the back of your camera. Rather than the usual shutter button which you press to take the photos. 
So you can focus with the back button then fire away when ready with the usual button to take the photos.

Tip 8. Time the shot

Once you have the right shutter speed for your camera and lens.
It is set on continuous shooting mode, AI Servo and the back button is set up. 
Now it’s time to go and get the images of dogs running. 

Keep practicing

tips for photographing dogs running

If you are new to photographing dogs in action then keep practicing. 
Because you also need to time the shot, you will get better the more you do this. 
Time, when you think the dog is close enough to start shooting with your camera.
If you have a zoom lens like the 70mm – 200mm lens practice starting at a focal length of 200mm then zooming back out to 70mm as the dogs comes towards you.
The more you do this the more you will understand your camera and lens and then it will be easy to photograph action shots.

Tip 9. Make it fun

Make it fun for the dog by getting some toys to throw out. If you have two dogs or more to photograph that’s even better especially if they start playing and chasing each other around. 

tips for photographing dogs running

Tip 10. Take a variety of shots

If the running or action shots of the dogs are for a client then try to take a variety. 
The type of photos you will get will depend on the breed of dogs. For example a coated breed of dog running will have flowing hair caught right in camera can look amazing. 
This is the type of shot the owner probably wasn’t expecting from a dog photography portrait session but will want to buy from the gallery of images you send out from your website

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