Photographing a Camera Shy Dog

Photographing a Camera Shy Dog

Back in 2017 at Barkjour (our out-of-this-world pet photography retreat in southern France), one of our attendees, Leslie, took some video of me working with Marley, an Australian Shepherd that was camera shy when photographed at close range. I’ve now edited and produced this video from Leslie’s footage, to highlight the training concept behind the technique I use to work with camera shy dogs.

Here’s some of the photos I took of Marley. The first shots taken with a long lens (70-200mm) at a distance were fine…

But when we started working with up him close, it was obvious he wasn’t very happy about it – stepping back, avoiding the “gaze” of the camera, and barking. Unfortunately we didn’t get this part on video, so you’ll have to take my word for it!

Leslie started filming just as I started working through the process for positively associating looking at the camera, with the click of the shutter, followed by a reward (a tasty treat).

The end result were some lovely close-up portraits of this handsome boy.

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5 Comments
  • Tuss Bennergård

    Tuesday, 12 March 2019 at 11:07 pm Reply

    which lens did you use? Nice to see how fast the dog got used with the camera so close

    • Charlotte Reeves

      Wednesday, 13 March 2019 at 9:56 am Reply

      Hi Tuss! I was shooting with the Canon 35mm f1.4 II lens. Love it!

  • Sunny

    Thursday, 14 March 2019 at 4:39 am Reply

    Beautiful dog and great video! Thank you! 🙂

  • James Skintauy

    Thursday, 14 March 2019 at 1:07 pm Reply

    Awesome video, as usual and I love the images you captured. What a beautiful dog!
    I believe the biggest reason dogs shy away from the camera is that it blocks their ability to see your face. I think they use contact with your face / eyes to gauge whether or not you are a threat. The second I see a dog look away when I raise the camera I immediately move the camera away from my face. I then engage the dog for a little bit with the camera down (sometimes I will set the camera on the ground). This gives the dog a chance to reassess whether I am a threat. This interaction is usually enough to make them comfortable and allow me to take photos. If that doesn’t work, then I start training. I loved the way you moved the treat up and down as part of the training as it allows you to train and get photos at the same time. I will be using that!
    The more I work as a pet photographer (mostly dogs) the more convinced I’ve become of the importance of understanding dogs and reading their body language. I’ve always been naturally good with them but always learning more to make the photo sessions go as smoothly as possible. One thing I found that really accelerates your learning is to shoot rescue / shelter dogs. If you can get dogs to cooperate in stressful environments, the rest is relatively easy.

    • Charlotte Reeves

      Thursday, 14 March 2019 at 1:20 pm Reply

      Hi James! Thanks so much for your comment. I definitely agree that having your face hidden behind the camera is one of the biggest things that disturbs dogs and this is why I always start with it away from my face to help build that bond first. I find that moving their focus onto the treat helps stop them searching for your face and eyes. Hence the up and down movement, leading them towards the camera lens – let me know how you go with that! I also totally agree that working with rescue/shelter dogs is THE best way to help develop and hone your skills at reading doggy body language. When I first started out, I used to volunteer at my local shelter every Friday afternoon and I learned so much in such a short space of time. The ability to read body language and quickly train a desirable behaviour are vitally important knowledge and skills to have as a dog photographer!

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