Session Tips: My Dog Isn’t Obedient

This is probably the biggest concern that most of my clients have when they book their session:  they’re afraid that their dog will be the worst behaved dog I’ve ever met.  And I can say, hand on heart that your dog, no matter how naughty you may think they’ll be, is never that bad.  But honestly, whose dog is 100% obedient all of the time anyway? Mine certainly isn’t.  As good as Dexter is, he still has his stubborn moments of wanting to do his own thing…but that just adds to the charm doesn’t it. Rest assured, I’ve photographed many, many dogs and I’ve never failed to capture beautiful images of them for their human family, no matter how obedient (or not) they are.

I won’t lie, it is useful if your dog has a reliable recall, a solid sit and a good stay, however it’s not, I repeat NOT, an essential ingredient to achieve beautiful images.  There are always ways to work with each dog’s personality type and training level to capture them at their best.

Patience is always the key when it comes to working with dogs.  And it’s closely followed by a plentiful supply of treats (the stinkier the better). Bribery goes a hell of a long way and you’ll be surprised what your dog will do for some prime foodie treats or toys.  I can pretty much guarantee that any of my photos you see of a dog looking longingly into the camera would have been achieved by a rather fine balancing act of me holding either a sausage or a toy in one hand and the camera in the other.  I’ve always been a firm believer in positive reinforcement training, so once the dog has done what I’ve asked, he gets his reward – whether that’s the chunk of sausage, or a throw of the ball.  And guess what that means?…he’s more likely to want to pose again the next time.

pug cross photographed with a wide angle lens

close up head shot of a brown and white spaniel against a yellow background in the studio by Mucky Pup Photography

 

Sometimes there may be moments where it’s not safe for a dog to be off of his lead, whether that be because he’s too young, doesn’t have a reliable recall or maybe the area we’re shooting in isn’t suitable or safe for a dog to be off lead.  This is where  a bit of Photoshop wizardry comes into play and I will edit out any sign of a lead in the post processing stage.  It’s always useful to have the starting image set up in a way that makes it easier to do the editing afterwards, so at this stage in the session I tend to get a little bit bossy and will probably ask you to hold the lead in a certain way and stand in a particular spot.  But it all helps to create that final perfect image.

Just to give you an idea, all of the images below were photographed with the dogs on their leads.  Freddie the cockapoo was actually standing on a small roundabout in a caravan park and Merlin the deerhound cross was posing beautifully in front of Brangwyn Hall, which is on a particularly busy road.  So for their safety, both of them needed to be firmly on their leads.  Whereas Hank the gorgeous cocker spaniel was a bit of a flight risk so he stayed on his lead for the entire session.

Freddie Cockerpoo in the wildflowers at Llangennith

portrait shot of a deerhound standing against ornate green doors at Brangwyn Hall in Swansea

Cocker Spaniel photographed on lead compared to the edited end result

So, if you’re thinking that you’d like a session with your dog but are a little bit concerned that they won’t behave themselves, you really don’t have to worry.  There are ways and means to work with your dog to achieve amazing images.  And patience, treats and Photoshop magic are always in plentiful supply.

Sali & Holly

Sali & Holly (the border collie girls)

Location:  Kilvrough Woods & Llangennith

Time:  4pm-6:30pm

Sali & Holly have had a studio session with me previously; Holly was just a pup at the time and she fell asleep mid shoot, sitting upright in a chair.  She has the most A M A Z I N G  ears, which looked far too big for her body when she was little, but she’s grown into them magnificently.

Sali & Holly’s human won a competition for a session and decided this time that she’d opt for a location session.  We’re so blessed in Swansea to have so many beautiful locations to work with, so we decided to try to squeeze in two different areas:  firstly the woods in Parkmill and then the beach at Llangennith.  This session was taken back in August of last year (I’ve been awful keeping the blog up to date recently!), when the sun was shining and the evenings were still warm.

Sali & Holly are amazingly behaved collies, though Sali likes to shout when she’s being told what to do, but she does have the mort expressive face.  I’ve never met such a chatterbox dog before.  We had a little walk from the parking field to get to the woods first and then we had an explore.  There’s a lovely little river that trickles through the woods with some old stone wall jutting out into the middle.  The girls posed perfectly on there for us to grab a quick couple of shots to begin with (you can tell that Holly decided that she’d have a play in the river before the photos, as her fur is wet, whereas Sali is nice and dry).  Then we ventured a little further into the woods and the ferns, which were a lovely vibrant green.  I do love to try to incorporate a bit of foliage into my location images, I find that it adds a bit of depth and added interest.

I try to mix up my lenses a bit at each session.  I like to try to get a variety of shots with each lens as they all give a different feel to the images.  I’d been using my 50mm lens for the more close up images of the girls, but decided to swap over to my wide angle for a shot of them together on the wooden bridge over the river.  I just loved the light coming in through the trees from behind the girls and the lush greens.  Thankfully so did their human, and this shot of them together was printed nice and big on a metal wall piece.

Finally, we hopped back in the cars and had a little drive to Llangennith for the girls to let off some steam on the beach.  This meant Holly had a crazy run around after her ball (typical collie style), and Sali, who’s a little bit older, had a casual stroll along the shoreline.  I really do love that shot of her with all the seagulls in the background.  I find that the quality of the light at the beach can change dramatically within a few minutes, especially in the evening.  We arrived at the beach close to 6pm with the sun shining brightly and unhindered by clouds,  which makes for perfect action photo conditions.  Then a little bit of haze appeared, which meant that the light was so much softer, giving a very delicate feel to Sali’s shoreline stroll.

Sali & Holly the border collies in the woods at Parkmill and Llangennith beach on the Gower Peninsula in Swansea

Henry

Location:  Llanmadoc

Time:  7:30am

 

It was an early start for Henry on a pretty glorious morning last Summer.  Fast becoming one of my favourite places, Henry’s humans opted for Llanmadoc for their location session.  We did originally think of venturing up over Llanmadoc hill, but instead opted for the woods and the beach.

When we got down to the woods, a tree had either recently fallen or been chopped down next to the path.  Henry being the rugged dog that he is had no problem jumping up onto the tree to pose for some photos (ok, maybe sausage bribery was involved, but only a little bit).  I really loved the way Henry struck a pose on the log, he looked ever inch the adventure dog.

As we ventured through the woods, the thing that struck me most about this gorgeous boy was the way his colouring changed so dramatically depending on the light.  In the shade, he looked a lovely rusty orange, but as soon as the sunshine hit him, he was almost luminous.  Henry himself was also a bit of a goofball, the number of faces he pulled was insane.  But he also instinctively knew how to strike a pose, and the image of him appearing from behind a tree is my absolute favourite from his session.  He looks so dramatic, his coat is shining beautifully and his orange colour contrasts so lovely with the greens of the ivy on the tree.  I’m so glad that it was one of his Humans’ favourite photos too and the one they chose to have printed large on aluminium to hang on their living room wall.

We walked through the woods and over the dunes onto the beach to capture some images of Henry in action.  It was quite a warm day so we didn’t over do the action section of the session and made sure to have water breaks and a stop to play in the sea.  Although Henry wasn’t in the mood to stray too far away from his Human so that meant they were both having a stroll in the water.  A slow wander back up through the woods brought an end to Henry’s session.  Before Covid restrictions, we might have stopped off at Cwm Ivy Cafe for a cuppa before heading home, but it wasn’t to be this time.  Hopefully we’ll be able to do it again some time soon.

 

Hungarian Vizsla in the woods and on the beach at Llanmadoc Gower

Freddie

Location:  Llangennith

Time:  6pm

 

I’ve been so bad at keeping the blog up to date recently!  This is a session from last Summer (2020), just after I’d started taking bookings again after the Covid restrictions had been relaxed.

Freddie is a very special little guy who has brought light and love into his human’s life.  I met up with Freddie and his human at Llangennith last Summer; they’d made the journey from Cardiff specially.

The walk to the beach from Hill End carpark isn’t too long at all, depending which route you take.  We’d opted for the main path straight through the dunes, which is actually a really good place to stop for some photos as there are great lead in lines along the path, which really helped to frame Freddie.  The only slight problem is looking like a bit of a weirdo lying in the middle of the path while other “normal” people are making their way to the beach (it was worth it though).

Freddie Cockerpoo on the beach path at Llangennith

We headed onto the beach and down towards the sea for Freddie to have a run and do his best kangaroo impression.  Then it was time to break out the wide angle lens for a shot of a slightly drenched Freddie against an imposing sky with Rhossili and Worm’s Head in the background.  I’m trying really hard to remember to use my wide angle lens at every session, it gives such a different view of the world to the usual 70-200mm zoom lens that’s usually attached to my camera for the majority of my sessions.

Freddie Cockerpoo Collage on the beach at Llangennith

After we’d finished at the beach, we made our way back up to the car park and onto a little roundabout that was full of wildflowers in blossom.  I love wildflowers and had a vision already set in my head of how I’d like the finalised image of Freddie in the blossoms to look.  It took a little bit of Photoshop mastery, but I’m so pleased I made the effort as I really love this shot of Freddie.

Freddie Cockerpoo in the wildflowers at Llangennith

Cymro

Location:  Llanmadoc

Time: 9:30am

 

Cymro was my first session back after taking a break due to Covid restrictions, and he was an absolute pleasure.  I’ll be honest, I’d been nervous about picking the camera back up again after taking such a long break – I hadn’t photographed another person’s dog since February and I was afraid I’d forgotten what to do.  But, Cymro was a perfect dog model, and his humans were the lovliest people.

 

We met at Llanmadoc at 9:30am and made our way into the woods.  I really do love the woods there, the pine needles carpet the ground and give it a lovely red tinge.  And, we were blessed with a bit of sun shining through the trees, which is a bonus in Wales (even in the summer!).  Cymro’s humans were keen to get a few images of them all together, which isn’t something that many people ask me for, so it was a nice challenge to capture a few family moments.  I’m really pleased with the end result and I absolutely love the connection between Cymro and his Mam.

 

The lovely thing about Llanmadoc is that it gives so many opportunities for varied locations for shooting.  A short walk through the woods and the trees give way to sand dunes.  Then, a little trek over the dunes and the beach opens up in front of you.  It may not be the prettiest beach in Swansea or the Gower, but it’s the PERFECT dog beach!  We had a slight hiccup on Cymro’s session as we had a bit of a downpour as we arrived at the beach.  But, luckily Cymro’s humans came prepared with umbrellas (unlike me).  After about 15 minutes of sheltering from the rain, which was crazily heavy and out of the blue, it blew its way eastward and we welcomed lovely blue skies and sunshine again.  Perfect conditions for some action shots.

 

Then it was a little walk down to the shoreline for Cymro to have a paddle in the sea.  I really do love capturing dogs in water.  I just love the glittering shimmer of the waves and the reflections of the dogs in wet sand.

 

And with that, Cymro’s session was over and we made our way back through the dunes and up the hill to the cars, via a cheeky little stop off at Cwm Ivy Coffee Shop for a cuppa and a snack.  It’s the perfect place to stop off at after a day out exploring.

 

Black Labrador in the woods and on the beach with his human

 

Cymro’s owners loved his photos and decided to invest in a custom Folio Box of multiple images of him.  I really do love the folio boxes because they provide great versatility, whilst also looking AMAZING!  Cymro’s human’s opted for a faux suede box in fuchsia pink, and I’ve got to say that even though I’m not a huge fan of pink, I am totally sold on this colour!

Customised Folio Box of Images in Fuchsia Pink