How to do puppy conformation photos

I will start with I am a professional photographer. I do have the equipment to make this easy and I do understand the mechanics of photography. That being said, you can do this yourself with whatever camera you have or a cell phone.

Let’s talk about one important part of photography. Distortion. Distortion is where a part of the photo is abnormally small or large. This happens when you are too close to the subject. It will cause your puppies/dogs to look much worse than they actually are. That is never good!

So, how do you avoid this issue? Back up. Zoom in. I never use any lens shorter than an 85mm shooting dogs, generally, it is the 70-200 or the 135mm. Now, do not worry, your cell phone can work just fine. Cell phones have gotten incredibly good! You will need a helper to stack or have the helper take the photos. Remember back up, zoom in! Stand perpendicular to the puppy. Not angled with the rear or front toward you.

Outdoors is much better than indoors if you can manage it. If you are doing them outdoors, make sure you have them in open shade with shade behind, *not the sun* , not with the sun behind and not in mottled sunlight.

Mottled light. Not ideal. Puppy stacked fine. Notice the white spots. This is a smooth black puppy, bad lighting © Julie Poole

If you are indoors, do not be afraid to use your flash. Also, please look around where you are taking the photos. Try and make it as distraction-free as possible. If the room the dogs are in is really tight, move into the den or kitchen for photos.

Photo in a den with a cell phone. The puppy is trained to stand properly and the angle is perpendicular and not too high. © Kristen Addington
Mid winter indoor photo with flash used. Done in the kitchen on a grooming table

Now that we have talked about lighting, let’s talk about stacking. This is imperative. Truly. If your puppies are not molded into shape, they will not look good. Period. No matter what you see at home, if you can’t show their beauty, no one will be able to see it. Set your puppy up and hold it in place. Put on a solid colored shirt without lots of patterns. Do not wear black or white if your puppies are black or white(same color as puppy) or you will not see them well.

Puppy set properly. Note camera angle and height. Perpendicular and the camera height is just about equal with the puppy’s knees. © Julie Poole
Again, note the camera height, the perpendicular angle and the puppy being held up. At this age they need support to stay in the correct posture. Many will want to crouch in the rear or put the head too high or too low. © Julie Poole

Things to avoid 1) Feeding them. For the love of all that is holy stop feeding them when you are stacking them. You will throw the entire topline off. Stop. Please stop. 2) If they will not stand still, spin them in a circle. This is a magic trick. It works. Thank you Angie Walker for your magic trick! 3) Photographing too high, or too close, back up and sit you booty down. Perpendicular! 4) Whoever is better at stacking, be the stacker, whoever is better at snapping, be the snapper. 5) Have patience and good light!

This puppy stood well enough all he needed was a finger under the chin. Not perfect, but, it was alright © Julie Poole
This is what happens when you try to make a puppy stand like an adult. It is not good… This looks terrible. They are not little adults. She is bracing, she has shortened her neck and my camera angle is too high. This was 13 years ago, and one of the first litters I ever photographed
Dear god do not feed them and do this. This is a travesty.
This is my beautiful Dual champion. We just destroyed her in these baby photos. You ruin your puppies outline when you feed them like this. Don’t.
Notice the difference in this puppy being supported and held for the photo. © Julie Poole

The video below shows the puppy being very cooperative. She, in particular, usually was. Some are not. The best time to do photos is when the puppies have had plenty of exercise and tired out. I generally pluck them up out of a sleeping pile. I get a lot less resistance. Wild ones can easily be photographed, but, they may take a bit more to settle down. Again, no food. I don’t use food except extreme cases in my portrait photography either. Why? It is too distracting. They get crazy trying to get to the food and then become very difficult. If you are holding a spoon for them to lick off of, they will be ruining their topline and throw everything off. Toys and squeakies can work well, sometimes it is too much. Practice is perfect and some are just easier than others!

So, what do you do if you have no help? Well, I actually had that issue recently. You get out your video! I used my camera, put it on video and recorded myself setting up puppies. It is not my ideal, but, it was actually really helpful to be able to look at the videos myself. You can pull stills off video too, that way you can crop yourself out 🙂 You can use your cell phone with a stand/tripod. They are cheap. Remember, set it fairly far away and zoom in. Perpendicular and just above table height. I hope this helps. Show your puppies to their best