Professional tips for taking incredible photos of your hunting dog

Your dog may be an important part of the hunt, but they aren’t always the easiest creatures to photograph. So, we spoke to five professional photographers who shared their top tips on how you can take the best pictures of your gundog when you’re out in the field. Here’s how to improve on working with your dog, your camera and your location:

Put yourself on their eye level.

Sit or kneel, so your photo will be straight on. Taken from a standing position, dog photos end up all head and tiny feet, something like a Mr. Potato Head of the bird dog world. If you’re photographing pointers, be sure you can move around the dog to get your pointing shots from the front or side – images of dog butts just don’t convey the intensity and excitement of a staunch point.

Photo the eyes, paws and tail.

In dogs and puppies this conveys the most expression, so keep them in mind as you compose and capture. Also think outside the box when it comes to props and locations and avoid clichéd trophy shots like a pile of dead birds next to the dog and hunter. Instead help tell the story of your dog’s drive for game by snapping him lunging off the tailgate into the field. Or show your dog’s dedication to the hunting partnership by zooming in on the hunter accepting a retrieved bird, hand out, dog’s head lifted upwards.
Nancy Anisfield, Anisfield Hunting Dog Photography


Credit: Nancy Anisfield

Credit: Mark Lord
(Top photo also Mark Lord)

Credit: Becky Harding

Credit: Hannah Stonehouse Hudson

Photograph black dogs in full sunlight

Otherwise you can overexpose the image as their coats often confuse the camera meter.

Practise retrieving shots with a dummy

Throwing a dummy is often a good way to get lots of opportunities of your gundog running. I prefer to shoot them with nothing in their mouth as I don’t find dummies that attractive in pictures however, once you have mastered photographing the dog retrieving, move onto a real dead bird which is a lot more photogenic.
Mark Lord, Mark Lord Photography + The Sporting Picture

Long retrieves are your friend

When you send dog for a retrieve, make it a long one to give you more time to get the shot! By knowing your dog, you’ll have a good idea of the line it’s likely to take. Then you can set up and get the shot you want, as even be ready to receive the dummy or bird when they get back to you.

Make silly noises

If you are taking portrait shots you want your dog to look at you in that interested, ears pricked sort of way. This might involve making some really stupid noises but your dog won’t mind and it will help you get their attention to get that shot!
Becky Harding, Hound & About Photography

Use aperture control to control depth of field and separate the subject from the surroundings.

This gives your image real impact as it concentrates on the substance of your photo and eliminates distractions.  Set your camera to Aperture mode and use a small number, say f4 or less if your lens allows.  Try to use a telephoto lens and make sure you focus sharply on your subject. The resulting image should show your gundogs in sharp relief against a softly blurred background.

Try out your phone camera

Your phone is quite capable of producing good images. However, because it’s not often possible to change the settings and the lens covers a large area, you must get close enough for your dog to fill the frame.  Focus on the dog’s face, or better still, the eyes by tapping on the screen if you can. Chose a nice contrasting background and aim so your dog is a little off centre.
Nick Anderson, Nick Anderson Photographic


Credit: Nick Anderson

Credit: Nick Anderson

Credit: Becky Harding

Try shooting in the continuous mode

Start shooting just before the dog charges forward and keep the shutter button down as you move the camera with the subject. Odds are you’ll get lots of blurry shots in the sequence as the autofocus works to keep up, but there will be some frames that grab the subject sharply. A dog jumping into the water, for example, might require seven or eight frames from take-off to landing while you hold the shutter down and only two or three of which will be clear. But that’s the beauty of digital – you can just delete the blurry ones without wasting time or film.
Nancy Anisfield

Use a fast shutter speed

Dogs can be fast and you do not want a blurred subject matter. Ideally for a dog running you will need a shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second or faster to freeze the action. On a bright day this is not a problem and its quite easy to use a shutter speed of 1/1000th or a second or faster. On an overcast day you may need to increase your film sensitivity or ISO in order to maintain a faster shutter speed.

Blur the background

Panning will often help before taking the image. Some photographers slow the shutter speed and pan their camera at the same speed as the dog to give movement /blur in the background. This does take a lot of practice but it’s worth it when you get a top shot!

Wait for your dog to run into shot

It’s a good idea to start out by photographing your dog running from one side to in front of you, as your camera’s autofocus will struggle to keep up with a dog running towards you. Instead, prefocus on an area and wait for the dog to run into that area. The use of motordrive (rapid succession of frames) will often help capture the perfect moment.
Mark Lord

Apply a rule of thirds

When you set up your shot make sure you pay attention to where the dog is in your viewfinder. Most cameras will have a grid so make sure that your dog is placed in a third, and ideally not always central! It will help make your photos look more interesting.
Becky Harding

Autumn is a great time to shoot

The best time for bird dog photography is when the leaves are down in October and November. November is my personal favourite because of the quality of the light – in the morning you will get gorgeous frost that can create a sparkling quality to your photos, and in the late afternoon the golden light creates warm images right in the camera – no editing needed.
Hannah Stonehouse Hudson, StonehousePhoto

A water shot is always good.

Either a dog crashing into the water with a big splash, or swimming in the water. Get down as close as you dare to the water surface and you may even get a beautiful reflection in the water.  A dog swimming is much slower than running so you will not need such a fast shutter speed. Try 1/250th of a second or faster.

Try silhouettes

Silhouettes against a skyline can be a good opportunity for a more unusual shot. Expose for the sky and the subject matter will appear even darker giving a silhouette effect.
Mark Lord

Aim for a clean background

There are plenty of photos where the dogs have posts or trees coming out from their heads so look for a background that isn’t too ‘busy’. If this isn’t possible then then move your dog away from the background as this will help make your dog pop out more.
Becky Harding

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