Tips and Tricks for Photographing Groups of Dogs

duck toller and miniature pinscher standing in sunset

Dogs are among of the most difficult subjects to photograph. They are unpredictable, easily distracted, and move quickly. The challenges that accompany photographing our canine counterparts are multiplied when working with more than one dog at once. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to help get the perfect shot of a group of dogs.

Leash Up

Having each dog on a leash is crucial to getting them in position, no matter how many dogs are being photographed. The principle of using a leash to assist in positioning a dog is simple: a leash is secured to a fixed object, and then the photographer holds a treat or toy to encourage the dog to pull the leash tight, getting the dog in the desired spot. Sure, you might get lucky and find yourself in front of highly obedient and well-trained subjects, but using a leash is the only way to guarantee that you will have at least some level of control over your dogs. It is very common for owners to insist that their dogs behave just fine when off leash, only to be impossible to control during the unfamiliar activity of a photography session. Reassure the owners that the leashes will be removed in the final image. If a dog typically wears a harness, encourage temporarily switching to a collar with a long, thin leash, which is much easier to remove in post-processing.

four dogs laying in grass

Having each dog on a leash helps to get them positioned close to each other.

Be on the lookout for something solid to which the leashes can be secured, such as the leg of a picnic table, a fence post, or a large rock. If the ground is soft, a corkscrew-style tie out stake can be indispensable for dog photography sessions. I keep several tie out stakes in my bag for when I’m photographing more than one dog in a session. Alternatively, the owner can hold on to the leashes and stand just out of frame. Make sure that the length of the each leash is similar, so that when the dogs pull the leash tight, they will be positioned close to each other. This will help to keep each dog in the same focal plane.

To get the dogs’ attention, use a combination of squeak toys and sounds. The key is to avoid overusing one particular noise, as the dogs will become accustomed to the sound quickly. Refrain from squeaking anything until each dog is in position, and your finger is on the shutter release. Once ready, give the toy a quick squeak and immediately release the shutter. If your subjects are motivated by food, giving them a series of small treats will help to keep them interested in you. One of the best times to snap photos is while the dogs are chewing — this often allows you to capture the most comical expressions.

Depth of Field: Shallow or Deep?

There are advantages to using either a very deep or very shallow depth of field when photographing multiple dogs. A deep depth of field will help to keep each dog in focus, especially if one dog is slightly closer to the camera than the other. On the other hand, a shallow depth of field will keep the background out of focus, which can make it easier to move dogs around in post-processing, and will facilitate masking techniques when combining multiple images to get the best facial expression for each dog.

two golden retrievers sitting in trail

A shallow depth of field will isolate your subjects from the background.

Patience Is a Virtue 

Maintaining your patience during the session is especially critical when photographing multiple dogs. Often the dogs will see the session as play time, and will be especially active when you are just starting. The best photos of groups of dogs are often taken at the end of the session, when the dogs have had a chance to get their energy out and are more relaxed. No matter how difficult things get, it’s important to stay patient and be confident that the dogs will become more manageable as the session progresses.

two papillons

Relaxed expressions tend to make an appearance near the end of a session.

Mastering a multi-dog session will make photographing single dogs seem like a breeze. If you have experience photographing multiple dogs and have any tricks of the trade to add, I would love to hear about them!

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Anonymous's picture

That's a great idea for using leashes. Thanks.

A couple summers ago, my wife was visiting her family in Japan so I wanted to send her a photo of our dogs. There was no way to get them to pose together so I stuck them in her car and opened the hatch. Of course they wouldn't cooperate and stare out the hatch at the same time and, well... the problems kept compounding. I finally put my camera on a tripod, perpendicular to the car, pointing to where I wanted them to be. I stood straight out from the back, wireless trigger in hand, and called them.

Jordan Pinder's picture

That's a creative way to get them both side-by-side!

Josh Shettler's picture

In my experience photographing dogs, it's easier if you have an assistant whose job is to keep the dog(s) calm and focused so that all you have to do is worry about taking good photographs.

Michael Yearout's picture

Josh: I agree. An assistant is a necessity when photographing dogs. I've be photographing shelter dogs for 10 years now and I always have someone at the shelter that handles the dogs. I couldn't do it without one.

Jordan Pinder's picture

An assistant definitely helps, especially if they are the owner! If the dog has behavioural issues, a leash is still often necessary.

Mitch Stroup's picture

Love photographing dogs. They're often perfect for light testing if you can get their butts to sit still.

Jordan Pinder's picture

Sitting still is always the tricky part.

João Almeida's picture

Photographed 3 hours ago...
Sony a6000 with sony FE 50mm1.8 @ f/1.8
Focused in my dogs eyes

Jordan Pinder's picture

Great capture Joao, it can be tricky to get the detail in the fur with black dogs. Well done!