How to Make Your Dog Smile

By: Lucy McCarthy

So is it possible to get a photo of your dog smiling? Well perhaps! But there are certainly a few tips on capturing your pet’s best side. Here are a few pointers to transform your dog from Muttley to Uggie!

Starters Orders

First of all, unless you are very lucky, your pet won’t start posing on command. It does help to have rewards and treats around to get your dog to do what you want. However, there are a lot more tools you can use other than treats. These can be used as a last resort or at the end of the shoot. This also means you are not unnecessarily over feeding your dog.


One of the most important things is that your dog is happy in its location. On most of my shoots, the dogs have had their photo taken at their home or at their favourite other place- the Park!

Chill Out

Next thing to do is make sure the dog is relaxed. This is when you as a photographer can relax as it can take some time to get your dog chilled out. The more enjoyable experience you can make a photo shoot for your dog- the bigger rewards you will reap and the more your dog will be open to having their photo taken again. If you’re relaxed, they will be relaxed.

Moody Blues

Work with your dogs mood… If your dog wants to race around the park- then run with them. It’s a great way to get some action shots of your dog. Similarly, if your dog is in chill out mode on your sofa- it’s a good opportunity to get some cute close up sleepy shots which concentrate on your dog’s features.

Composition is important

Composition is important

The Decisive Moment

Now its time for you to think about what you are seeing through your lens. As animals move so quickly, don’t put your camera down for a second. As Henri Cartier-Bresson spoke about the decisive moment; timing is everything. You may need to set up a shot a few times to get the image you were looking for.

Get down with it

You can get some great results if you’re on the same level as your dog. Also check out this photo that I was so low I was nearly lying on the ground! The result is the dog’s profile is in line with the sky which gives a lovely ethereal quality to the image.


Don’t just concentrate on your dog. See what’s around your dog too. The more work you do through the camera lens, the less work you will have to do when editing the photos. Make sure there are no unwanted items in the shot which detract from the main focus- your dog.

Centered shots can be boring!

Don’t Play it Straight

A good photograph isn’t about everything being perfectly straight and centered. Often this can produce the most boring results! Think about using space creatively by having lots of space at the bottom/top or sides.

Also one photograph can be cropped in many ways to tell a different story. Think about the message you are communicating to your viewer.


When you are shooting it is helpful to have an assistant. This isn’t someone to get you cups of tea while you put your feet up but someone to help work with you as a team. Ideally this needs to be someone who has a rapport with your dog- so another family member is great. Use them by holding up your dog’s favorite toys in the direction that you want them to look: i.e. behind you if you would like them to look at the camera.


When editing, think about all the points I mention above. This is basically a chance for you to refine and improve the images you have taken. Think about the exposure- can you see everything you need to? How is the composition of the shot? Can the image be cropped into to give a more powerful message? Are you having a series of images together? If so are there any repetitions? You’re looking to pick up on the highlights of the shoot. So, rather than make the same point many times; make it once and let it have more impact. You don’t need to have expensive photo editing software. The same goes for cameras, phone cameras can work wonders these days!

That’s a wrap!

Finally, don’t give up! Like you, your dog will have off days. Be patient and keep trying. It will pour with rain and sometimes and other times the sun will shine beautifully. But all you need to remember is it takes less than a second to create a beautiful photograph.

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