Puppies. I knew this topic was going to come up sooner or later.
At the end of last summer and into the fall I had an assignment with dogs almost every week.
Dogs enjoying ice cream, dogs swimming, kids reading to dogs, litters of dogs being rescued, dogs dressed up for Halloween ...
Photographing our furry four-legged friends always puts a big smile on my face, and I think I end up petting and playing more than photographing. How was I there over an hour with only a few photos? Oh right, they’re too cuddly to constantly have a camera up to my face.
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After my new happiness from all these puppies, I found myself at a Centre County PAWS open house on a Sunday afternoon filling out the paperwork to bring home my own best friend. Since I got Stella in December, my phone memory has quickly filled with photos of her.
This week I finally pulled out my camera, on National Puppy Day, to capture Stella in some higher quality images. She’s 7 months old, and sitting still doesn’t happen much — especially when we are outside, surrounded by sticks.
Here’s what I’ve learned from all these adorable assignments:
▪ You need a lot of light, because you’re going to need the fastest shutter speed you can get. Puppies move quickly and aren’t as easy to judge as someone blowing out candles on a birthday cake. Freezing them in action with a fast shutter gets you the ears flapping as they run and the water flying as they shake to dry off.
▪ A wide lens can help. Dogs find this thing you hold up to your face that clicks really interesting and have a tendency to run up to see what it is. The wider the lens is, the better chance you can still focus to get the incoming excitement. A nose smudge to your lens is expected.
▪ Get on their level. Kneel, lie in the grass, and capture more than just them looking up at you — although those photos of sulky eyes usually melt everyone’s heart.
▪ And you need to be ready to laugh. You need to make the subject of your photographs comfortable — and with puppies that might involve throwing a ball and some tummy rubs.
Thank you for sharing your stories about why you/we love pets — I won’t lie, submissions like “Exploring With Bear” from Your Shot photographer Bret Osswald make me wish I had a dog to take camping and hiking with me.
I want you to notice that a lot of these photos are really similar. So as you scroll through the submissions to this assignment, really think about why you stopped and liked a photo.
And then think about what distinguishes your photo from the other submissions. I don’t mean just visually in the composition, light, or moment — I also mean what you are sharing in your caption. For this assignment, the captions are important to me. What is the visual and written story you are sharing with the Your Shot community and me? In my final story edit, if there are two photos I’m choosing between, I will select the photo with the better caption.
Think about it this way: I have never met you or your pet. I want to understand why you/we love pets, why pets are special in our lives. You have a chance to take advantage of the written word to explain, describe, and share—and ultimately make me care.
Here is a great example: “The Cedar Grove” by Your Shot photographer Angee Manns. Not only is the light beautiful, not only is it a sweet moment between son and dog, but the caption is poignant. Angee shares that this is her son, she details the name of the pet, and then she reveals how she feels, which helps me connect further with her photo. Now, I’m feeling something, too.
I know writing captions takes a little extra effort, but practice makes perfect. So keep practicing, and the work will help you become not only better photographers, but also more thoughtful storytellers.
David Y. Lee
National Geographic Your Shot associate photo editor