The dog’s name was Haggis. For an enormous Scottish Alsatian, it was a pretty good name to be fair. The family lived in the small private cottage surrounded by houses built by the local council but now privately owned. That is to say, the cottage stood out.
The street is quiet now, but in the 1980s it bustled with the sounds of playing children. My brother, our friends, and their friends always running up and down, past the cottage.
One day, Haggis was loose, and I was on the receiving end of a boisterous dog twice my size knocking me over. Playing, to be sure, but in my terror, I didn’t care. I avoided dogs through sheer dread after that.
Through tentative contact with family pets, I became less fearful and more curious, though, by my early 20s, I was a self-confessed cat person.
In truth, I became comfortable with dogs only when I adopted one. Though I love my cat dearly, seven years of co-parenting my partner’s dog Bajka, I can safely say I’m now a committed dog lover. Caring for this small, ginger bullet of a pet has given me an appreciation and a new relationship with our four-legged friends, and my dog photography has improved in kind.
As my own time in street photography has been punctuated by photographing pooches, I thought I may share some tips to help your photographs of dogs tell a tail. (Sorry).
1. Get Down to Their Level
Photographers like me, with small nieces or nephews or with toddlers of their own scampering around their ankles, will have noticed that to make great photographs of them, it is valuable to get down on hands and knees to look them in the eye.
Whether for the emotional connection this brings or for a different viewpoint, dogs are no different. Perspective matters.
Making a photograph while towering over the animal can be stressful for the dog. It can also be boring for the viewer. To make an engaging photo of a dog in the street, we need to immerse ourselves in the dog’s world. Our knees may need to get a little dirty.
While it can be difficult, at times impractical, to bring the camera to a dog’s-eye-view, when possible, get down there. There is much to be said for seeing the dog in the same way the dog sees the world.
Dogs rubbing shoulders with other dogs is an often fruitful opportunity for magnificent street photography. Anywhere a playful pup might be excited to meet a friend, or a wary mutt suspiciously eyes another pet, is fertile ground.
Having my own dog for a few years now, I know when there’s another dog in the vicinity without ever seeing it. I just need to gauge Bajka’s body language to know if it’s going to be a good meeting or not.
More often than not, this unspoken connection between two, or more, dogs can offer a wealth of possibilities. Whether there is bowing and excited squeaking or there are raised hackles and barking, there will be something worth capturing.
3. Observe Expressions and Character Traits
It will come as a surprise to no one that dogs are expressive wee creatures. I’ve lost count of the times I sit and chat with my dog just to see her eyebrows undulate like a wind-tossed sea.
When out on the street, moments are fleeting, but, like humans, dogs share a wide range of emotions. Whether spilling over with joy, sparkling with excitement, head tilted in curiosity, ears erect in caution, or teeth bared in anger, capturing dogs expressing themselves can make for an authentic, compelling photograph whether poignant, revealing, or amusing.
As with photographing their two-legged companions, being alert and observing body language will help to anticipate changes in the dog’s expression. Timing is key and it may be challenging at first, but with patience, empathy and some luck, the dog will show its character.
4. Capture Movement
Though many eye-catching pictures have been made of static, lazy dogs, one way to up the ante in photographing man’s best friends in the street is to catch them in motion.
Dogs seem to have unfathomable stores of energy. Whether in a spontaneous, exuberant explosion of activity or in a laser-focused investigation of the scents of the street, dogs are kinetic creatures.
Snapping some of that limitless energy, however, can be challenging. Opting for a fast shutter speed is a given.
Dogs are not as unpredictable as they may seem, so having some understanding of a dog’s body language can be crucial. Body language, ears, and tail can say a lot. All are helpful in anticipating how the dog may move, putting you in the right place at the right time for some great photography.
Finding a dog out of place, or with companions one might not expect, offers an opportunity for unique, compelling, and heartwarming street photography.
Whether you’re a dog lover or you’ve crossed to the feline side, keeping an eye out for our four-legged pals provides a bounty of opportunities to join the pantheon of street photographers who have made marvelous photographs of dogs.