Top five tips for beautiful portraits

I love beautiful portraits! Studio, outside, natural light, or strobelight does not matter.  What matters to me is that the photo is personal, brings out the dog’s personality, and that it makes me FEEL something. Happy. Loving. Smile. Sad. Angry. Of course I mostly want pleasant feelings (that’s why I love to photograph happy dogs), but some photos are important even if they are hard to see.

The “hard” feelings I mostly leave to other photographers, I fokus on happy, fun, loving, romantic, cute. Here are my top five tips to get those!



Number one: blurry background

Portraits are not as dependant on light as action, because the dogs are mostly still = you can use longer shutterspeeds. But what you have to consider instead is the depth of field! That means how much of the image is in focus, and how much is blurry – and how blurry do you want it! And depht of field (DOF) is decided mainly by your aperture setting. Large aperture (small number) = shallow DOF. Small aperture (big number) = deep DOF.

Two other things that controls DOF is your distance from your motive (shorter distance = shorter DOF) and the focal length of your lens (longer lens = shorter DOF).

So…how do you get that beautiful blurry background?


A short DOF. Aperture f/1,4, and I am close to Midori. Note that the foreground also gets blurry, a short DOF makes both things in the front and in the back blurry.


Number 2: choose you DOF wisely

Sometimes maybe a longer DOF would be a better option. If you want both the eyes and the nose sharp on a dog with a long nose, you need to try a smaller aperture, or move away from the dog. In this case moving away was not an option (I had no ladder), but I really think the photo would have been even better with a sharper nose and probably should have chosen f/2,8 instead of f/1,7. Learn from your mistakes!

Number 3: let the dog show personality

What is your dog like? What does it do? What does it LIKE to do? Try to capture that in your photo.

My Valldemar is NOT a “biddable dog” like Midori is. He has a strong will of his own, and loves the great oudoors. So I portrait him like that. Looking into the Beyond. Not looking at me, that wouldn’t be true to who he is!

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Number 4: Show what your dog is made to do

Dogs come in different breeds (and mixbreeds). Every breed is selected for a purpose. Almost always the dog likes to do what it is bred to do. Show that!

Again with Valldemar. He is a Working Kelpie, a herding dog. He lives for sheep. Loves them. Is obsessed with them. That’s how he is made to be, by generations of selection and breeding. So this is another portrait of him, showing him work.


Number 5: Teach your dog to pose

Of course that is not necessary. But it makes cute portraits!


“Mom! Help me close it!”

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Coming up: What’s the deal with ISO?


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