Three Reasons to Go Ultra Wide When Photographing Dogs Outdoors

Three Reasons to Go Ultra Wide When Photographing Dogs Outdoors

One of the most important compositional decisions to make when photographing pets is choosing a focal length. Due to perspective and lens distortion, ultra wide angles (generally considered to be less than 24mm on a full frame camera) can yield unflattering results when photographing humans. However, when photographing pets, shooting with an ultra-wide angle lens can do wonders in making your photos stand out. 

There are three main reasons why I often shoot exclusively at an ultra-wide angle when I’m photographing dogs outdoors.

1. It Facilitates Interaction With Your Subject

My go-to setup for photographing dogs is my Canon EF 17-40 f/4L USM lens on a full-frame Canon 6D body. The lens never sees anything higher than 17mm, and at this focal length, the dogs are only couple feet from the camera. Keeping the dogs this close makes it easy to give them treats, talk to them, and tempt them with toys. Getting them to look at the camera is simply a matter of holding a treat or toy either just above or just below the lens. Just make sure you throw a clear filter on that lens and bring a few lens wipes with you, because it’s bound to get a few licks now and then.

Getting that all-important eye contact is easy when you're only a foot away from your subject.

2. The Perspective Distortion At Ultra-Wide Angles Can Yield Intriguing Compositions

Photographing dogs with an ultra-wide angle lens exaggerates the relative size and distance between the near and far objects in the field of view. Small objects that are placed in the foreground will appear much larger relative to the size of the dog. When placed correctly, even a small grouping of blades of grass or flowers can take up a sizeable chunk of the frame, adding a level of depth and interest to the photograph. Conversely, elements that are behind the dog will appear to be very distant. I always seek very simple and minimalistic backgrounds when photographing dogs, and having the elements behind the dog appear very small is one way to achieve an uncluttered background, that is filled largely by the sky.

Shooting ultra wide will enlarge the appearance of foreground elements, like the grass in this photo.

3. Most Other Photographers Do Not Shoot At An Ultra-Wide Angle

Because an ultra-wide angle lies outside of the range of a typical kit lens focal length, your photos will stand out simply because the “look” will be one that our eyes are not accustomed to seeing. The focal length of cell phone cameras generally lies in the 30mm (full frame equivalent) range, making it all that much easier to stand out from your friend’s “awesome” cell phone photos.

Differentiating yourself as a photographer requires doing things that not many other photographers are doing. Photographing dogs at an ultra-wide angle makes it easy to interact with your subject, and the perspective distortion will lend a unique feel to your photographs. It is important to make the distinction that while I love the look created by rectilinear ultra wide angle lenses, I personally find the barrel distortion of fisheyes to be distracting and too unrealistic for pet portraits.

Have you experimented with different focal lengths for photographing pets? I would love to see any pet photos you’ve taken using an ultra wide focal length. 

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18 Comments
JT Blenker's picture

Messed around with this idea a few weeks ago. About 10 minutes outside.

M D's picture

That's a great photo. I'm going to have to take my dog out at dusk with a flash and see what happens.

Jordan Pinder's picture

I like this angle, and how you chose to just have his head and neck in the frame.

JT Blenker's picture

4 light set up with the same dog.

Ralph Hightower's picture

I haven't shot with anything wider than 24mm, but in too situations, I found that I needed to go wider.
I rented a Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L lens for a golf tournament practice round that was rained out. But I did practice with the lens and got a handsome portrait of one of our dogs, Zeus.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/ralphhightower/13650659974/in/album-721576...

Jordan Pinder's picture

Nice! I wonder what Zeus' tail is pointing at?

Anonymous's picture

I had to hold a hotdog next to the lens.

Jordan Pinder's picture

Awesome! These must be even wider than 17 mm?

Lenzy Ruffin's picture

I have the 17-40 and it takes a lot of skill to shoot portraits like these without distortion running out of control and ruining the image. This is great work. I generally just make it easy on myself and shoot with a 28 prime. I do need to make a commitment to learning to shoot effectively at ultra-wide, though. I love the storytelling you can do in one frame at ultra-wide angles. This little guy in the photo is with that 28 prime. I did a whole blog post of me chasing him around my house for the two days I was babysitting him: http://www.lenzyruffin.com/blog/2016/9/16/nine-pounds-of-terror

Jordan Pinder's picture

Haha this is a great expression, and the shallow depth of field works really well here.

Michael Yearout's picture

Great story. I've been doing portraits of cats and dogs at my local shelter for 10 years now and I never even thought of going ultra wide. I've always used a 50 mm 1.8, 24 - 70 mm 2.8 or a 100 mm macro 2.8. I'm going to give this idea a try. Thanks for sharing the idea.

Jordan Pinder's picture

For sure! There is a Canon 11-24 that I'd love to try at 11 mm. Trying to find someone to loan one to me but there aren't many out there due to its price.

Lucky Me's picture

Night shot in the park with my pet=

Jordan Pinder's picture

That thick coat of fur must come in handy these days!

Yannick K.'s picture

Hi Jordan
Great pictures. I really like the second. How did you balance the exposure to obtain such a colorful image ? And what amount of post-processing ?

Jordan Pinder's picture

Hi Yannick, I typically expose for the sky, and then add enough flash power so that the dog is well lit. I don't do a lot of post-processing for these - mainly just crank up the Vibrance slider.

Yannick K.'s picture

Because of the sun right in the frame, I would have expect the trees darker. Very well done !
Thanks for the details

Rosy G's picture

Hi there. Great article! What lens would you recommend for the Canon EOS 80D?