How to Photograph Puppies

litter of dogue de bordeaux puppies - 5 weeks old
Puppies grow so fast that you want to capture every moment of their cuteness. (Photo: WilleeCole Photography/Shutterstock).

WilleeCole Photography 240806659 / Shutterstock

Photographing pets has many unique challenges, from getting the action or expression that you want to getting the animal to interact (or stop interacting!) with you or listen to commands. This is hard enough but add to that the boisterous energy and short attention spans of puppies and your challenge as a photographer just got a lot bigger.

There are quite a few approaches to photographing puppies that can make the session much easier, and help you to come away with more winning images that you might otherwise have captured. Whether you're a new puppy owner with a point-n-shoot or a professional photographer getting started with puppies, these eight tips are a great way to find more success during your cute-overload photo shoot.

lab puppy running on grass with a toy

Use Natural Light

There are a few benefits to using natural light for puppies. One of the most important is that you don't run the risk of startling or scaring the puppy with the flashing lights. Many puppies have a timid or shy nature, and might already be nervous with new people, cameras that make clicking noises, and other new stimulus. Adding in flashes may just be another layer of trouble. An additional problem is that flashes can cause red eye, or rather in a dog's case, green eye unless you're using off-camera flashes. And if you're using off-camera flashes, then you're contending with keeping the puppy in one area where your off-camera flashes are pointing.

If you're just getting started photographing puppies, it may be best to get some practice under your belt without worrying about flashes, keeping a puppy in one place in a studio setting, and other troubles. Instead, have the photo session outside in an enclosed area (and one that is safe for puppies who aren't vaccinated yet) or in a room brightly lit with windows that let in sunshine so you have plenty of natural light to work with. This will make things easier and provide beautiful results.

puppy asleep

Let the Puppy Play Before You Begin

Puppies have a lot of energy, and they seem to have only two speeds: full zoom, or full zonk. If you let the puppy you're working with play for a little while before you get started, including getting to explore you and your gear, you will have a more calm subject to work with. Even if the puppy is still very playful when you get started, he may be a bit less wired during your shoot if you let him get the wiggles out first. And, if you have a longer session, you might be able to capture him when he finally konks out. What a bonus to be able to capture a puppy while playing and also while snoozing.

puppy chewing on books
Kuznetsov Alexey /Shutterstock

Let the Puppy Guide the Shoot

For the most part, puppies don't yet understand commands nor do they understand our expectations of good and bad behavior. That's part of what makes them endearing; you never know what they're going to do next and usually they do it with so much adorableness, you can't get upset. If you're wanting to capture puppies in full puppy mode, you have to be ready for anything. Allow the puppy to decide when to play, where, and with what (as long as it's all safe!) and do your best to capture it all as it happens.

You may have expectations of a certain scene, complete with props. If that's the case, then wonderful! You should try to capture it. But work on capturing it while also knowing full well that puppies are going to do their own thing so don't get too frustrated, including when they start to chew on your props or have accidents on your set. Even if you have a scene where you want to photograph puppies, your shoot will be much more enjoyable if you let the puppy's mood, energy level and antics guide how the shoot goes.

three puppies in chair
Volt Collection/Shutterstock

Have an Assistant Set Up the Shots

If you're going the studio or posed-scene route, then having an assistant on hand (or two, or three) will be a huge help. This is especially true if you plan to have puppies up on a raised surface like a chair or table. Puppies don't have much of a sense of just how big a tumble they're about to take if you plop them on a chair and they decide to hop down. Having an assistant right next to them ensures their safety, and helps you get the shot more easily since you're ready to click the moment they're in position, before they can wander off again. If you know you want to have puppies in a basket, on a chair, or in some other particular scene, an assistant (or several) is a must.

two puppies crawling on a log
Rita Kochmarjova/Shutterstock

Lower Yourself to the Puppy's Eye Level

We all know what puppies look like from above. That's how we always see them. But what we don't see as often is the world from their perspective. Make your photos more intimate and unique by getting on the ground and taking photos from their eye level. It is a guaranteed way to add more interest and, yes, even more cuteness to your photos.

puppy running
Mikkel Bigandt/Shutterstock

Use a Long Lens

If you decide to take photos from a puppy's perspective, you'll quickly discover that you become a very fun object to climb, bite, pounce on and otherwise mess with. Getting on the ground is the ultimate invitation to play, and makes it much more difficult to photograph your subject. Having a long lens helps fix this issue. You can get on the ground while the puppy is at some distance, and have time to fire off a few frames before the puppy can reach you. Meanwhile, an assistant can run around with the puppy or get him to play with toys, and you can get shots with just the puppy in the frame. A lens such as a 24-105mm or even a 70-200mm is perfect for this sort of strategy.

puppy licking another puppy

Be Patient When Striving for That Perfect Photo

You're going to take a lot of photos during a puppy photo shoot because there will be so much action going on. But one of the most important parts of the shoot (and of any photography shoot) is to be patient with your subjects and allow a "Kodak moment" to unfold naturally. Waiting for the perfect tilt of the head, interaction between puppies, expression during play, or even yawn is key to coming away from the photo shoot with winning photographs.

Rather than being tempted to take a ton of photos without thought and just hope that you get a few winners, be aware of the puppy's personality, mood and what his next move might be so that you're ready to capture that amazing minute moment when it happens. It might be tough, but it pays to be patient and let something wonderful happen on its own — and be ready to hit the shutter button when it does!

white puppy on a grey couch

Grab the Puppy's Attention Sparingly

Puppies have short attention spans and the novelty of something new wears off as soon as there is something else to capture interest. This is not only true for toys, but also for sounds. Using a new sound is a great way to get a puppy's attention, and get those perked ears and tilted head for a shot. However, using a particular noise may work for a little while, but it won't work for the entire shoot. And, even if you have a whole repertoire of sounds, using sound to get attention will only work for so long. So try to keep novel sounds as a back-up plan for getting attention. Exhaust your other options before pulling out the squeeze toy or whistling.

Another thing to use sparingly is attention. Your subject may be very interested in you and will probably want to play, especially if you get on the ground for those eye-level shots. However, if you ignore the puppies, they will soon become bored of you and carry on their merry way, allowing you to capture the candid shots of them that you were hoping for, or finally get them lined up for that classic shot in the picnic basket.