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Photographing Dogs: Capturing Action

Dogs provide companionship, joy and entertainment for their owners. And that means if you have a dog, you probably like to take pictures of it. When it is sleeping that's fairly easy, but when it's awake and active, getting a good photo can be a real challenge. Here are a few things you can do to improve your odds of getting some good shots.

When shooting a subject in motion, you want to be photographing it in bright light so you can use a fast shutter speed to avoid blurriness; and you may want to change the Autofocus setting as well, to increase your odds of getting a great action shot.

You want to have plenty of light so the camera can use a fast shutter speed. The less light available, the lower the shutter speed, which can result in blur. Raising the ISO of your camera also lessens the amount of light it needs, so you can try that, too. And a combination of good light and raising the ISO can double the chances you'll get some good pictures. If you have a nice sunny day, you can leave your ISO fairly low, like 200 or 400. If it's cloudy, there will be less light and you may need to go above 400, up to ISO 800 or even 1000. If you're indoors, you may need to push that up to ISO 1600 or above. Let the shutter speed be your guide. Your goal is to be shooting at around 1/500 second or above to try to stop the action.

If you want to take more control over what shutter speed the camera is using, you'll probably want to change the exposure mode from full Automatic (if your model offers that) to Program or Shutter Priority. In Program the camera chooses both shutter speed and aperture based on the light it sees and the ISO that's set. If you want a higher shutter speed, you can use the Main Command Dial (near your thumb) to change the shutter/aperture combination the camera is suggesting. What you're trying to do is open the lens (aperture or "f/stop") wider so the camera can use a faster shutter speed. You can do the same thing using Shutter Priority. In this case you set the shutter speed, and the camera matches up the correct aperture, again based on the amount of light and the ISO setting.

Finally, make sure to set your camera's autofocus system to Continuous. That way it will try to keep your subject in focus as it moves. This can be done with switches on the body, on the lens, in the menus or a combination. Check your manual to find out how to set the autofocus on your particular camera model.

So remember, the keys to getting great action shots of dogs at play are good light, fast shutter speed and continuous autofocus. Work with those and you'll make some pictures you love almost as much as you love your pet.

Situations that make for great action photos of dogs:

  • Running an agility course

  • At the beach, running in the surf or digging a hole in the sand

  • Jumping to catch a Frisbee or ball

  • Interacting with other dogs

  • Interacting with children

  • Frolicking at the dog park

  • Dogs and their owners having fun together

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