It’s no secret that I have an obsession with dogs (an obsession that started early as shown in this Instagram #tbt photo). They drive me crazy sometimes, but I love them. For one, dogs are always happy to see you. Whether you’re gone for an hour or for a year, the ecstatic butt-wiggling, tail-wagging exuberance that greets you when you walk through the door is unmatched. (If your spouse showed even a fraction of that same excitement when you came home, there would be more happier marriages).

But, getting a dog to do what you want, like look at the camera and smile, is no easy feat. One of my dogs refuses to look at me when my camera is pointed at him, and the other one is blind so and just wants to smell my camera. This is why I respect all the dog (or any animal) photographers out there. Last year, I featured a series from Australian pet photographer Alex Cearns with Houndstooth Studio of beautiful rescue animals that were physically impaired. Alex is back with a new series that I also adore which showcases the big, goofy smiles of happy dogs.


In “Happy Pooch Face,” Alex photographs the smiling dogs in her studio. “Nothing expresses pure joy to me more than a big, wide smile on a happy canine. Some people say we teach our dogs to smile in response to our own facial expressions, but I’m sure it’s the other way around – being with them makes us feel happy, so we smile back.


So, how does Alex wrangle these adorable mutts to get the best possible images of them? She shares with us five tips to help us get great photos of happy pooches.

1. Fun and Frivolity

I will start with this tip first because it really is the most important of them all. Nothing is worth doing if it’s not fun. The simple key to relaxed and happy pooch pics is to create an environment where the pooch can be relaxed and happy! Making sure the dog feels safe and at ease is the key to crafting wonderful portraits. Dog’s moods reflect in their faces and body language. By making their session a positive and fun experience, they will see their photo session as an adventure, and reward you with big smiles and cheerful energy.

Just like people, some dogs are active in the mornings, while others prefer to be up and about in the afternoons. Choose the dog’s optimum activity time and use it to your photo taking advantage.


2. Toys and Treats

Most dogs are won over by either toys or treats – or both! Once you decide which motivator the dog will be most responsive to, use that to get his attention. If you wave a treat under the dog’s nose then pull it upwards, chances are he will look up at you, and you can use those precious seconds where he is focused on the treat, to get your shots.

Likewise, if a squeaky toy or tennis ball is his thing you can hold it near him to get him interested in it and then snap away while he is intently waiting for you to throw it. Be sure to offer regular rewards. Otherwise you may find the pooch’s attention starts to wane.


3. Timing and Anticipation

Waiting until that split second moment of a perfect photo opportunity presents itself requires anticipation, and then timing. Once you see the shot, grab it as quickly as you can! This is something you will get faster at the more you practice, and the development of digital cameras means you can take as many shots as you need to in order to get the photo you are after.

 alex-cearns-happy-pooch-dog-photography-slrlounge-3 4. Be Patient

Patience was the first thing I had to learn when I started photographing animals and it’s a crucial factor when taking portraits of dogs. Repeating movements and words calmly and gently creates a chilled atmosphere for the pet.

I like to think of patience in dog photography as a three step process.

  1.  Calmly wait until your pooch subject does what you want
  2.  Take a burst of images to get “the shot”
  3. If you miss the right moment, go back to step 1 and repeat


5. Perspective and Backgrounds

Be creative and experiment with different perspectives, angles and vantage points. There aren’t really any hard and fast composition rules with photography – sometimes the most interesting images are off center or a bit quirky. Take a series of images while lying on the ground and shooting from the dog’s point and view, or consider taking photos directly at their eye level while they are sitting up, or shoot from above, pointing the camera straight down at them. You even zoom in for a close-up nose shot or detailed eye image.

Be sure to check your background for objects beside or behind your subject. Chairs, people, rubbish bins, light posts, other dogs (to name but a few), can all ‘photo bomb’ your subjects and are things you need to watch out for.

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Thanks, Alex, for the great tips! To see more of Alex Cearns and Houndstooth Studio’s work, check out her website and Facebook.


CREDITS: Photographs by Houndstooth Studios are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.