I'm a former corporate marketing and brand manager turned dog owner and pet-industry marketer.
How to Adjust Aperture to Improve Dog Photography
Taking dog photos is not easy at the best of times, and I imagine there are many budding photographers also trying to get a handle on the settings while wiping dog drool off the lens and making sure the tripod doesn't tip over.
To help you out, here are some camera basics and how they apply to dog photography. Let's start with aperture and the aperture-priority setting.
What Is Aperture?
Without getting all too technical, aperture controls how much light strikes the image sensor. The ins and outs of camera body parts has always bored me to tears, and to be honest, all you need to know is that the aperture is basically the opening that lets light into the camera.
It can be big or small and is represented by a series of f- numbers. Annoyingly, the smaller the f- number, the bigger the aperture (opening), and the bigger the f-number, the smaller the opening, and therefore the less light.
You'll hear seasoned photographers talk about 'opening up the lens', or 'stopping down the lens'. All that means is they let more or less light into the camera. Check out the examples in my cheat sheet below.
Aperture Priority Setting
The best thing about aperture is that it controls the depth of field. As soon as you get the hang of it, you can use it to create some funky creative effects, blur out a cluttered background, or creating a cool foreground blur.
The easiest way to learn about how to use aperture for creative effects is to set your camera to the 'Aperture Priority Setting' and shoot away. Yes, if you go to photography school you get to learn how to do all of this on the manual setting, but I like shortcuts!
All SLR cameras look different, but essentially you're looking for something called 'Aperture Priority.' On my Nikon D7000, this setting is indicated by the letter A. I'd recommend you refer to your manual to work out how to change the f-number.
Aperture Setting Examples
For the perfect portrait, set the aperture to a low number between 1-5, and try to focus on your dog's eyes. Upload the photo to your PC and see where the blur ended up. Depending on what lens you've used, how far away from your dog you were standing and what the overall light conditions were a couple of things might have happened with the focus point and the depth of field.
Ideally, your dog's eyes and face are in perfect focus and the background is nicely blurred out. Congrats, you've just shot a perfect portrait!
Perhaps your dog's eyes are in focus, but his nose and ears are blurred out—this could happen with a really small aperture number and as long as the actual focus ended up where you intended, its a technique you can use to create some really creative compositions with foreground and background blur.
Perhaps your dog's nose is in focus but his eyes are blurry? Then you've probably focused on his nose, and because of the narrow depth of field his eyes have been blurred. Try again and focus on his eyes, or dial up your f-number.
Of course you could also use this technique to really highlight what is special about your dog—try focusing on his name tag, that funny-shaped dot on his ear or his gigantic paws and you could end up with some really personal doggie portraits.
Using Aperture to Combat Background Clutter
Aperture can also be used to blur out unwanted clutter in the background - no more laundry and kids toys in your shots! Check out the examples photos in this article.
Sharp All the Way
Set the aperture to a high number: from 7 and above. This should land you with a very wide depth of field, in other words, your photos should be sharp back to front. Traditionally this is a setting used by landscape photographers but as a dog photographer you might want to use a higher f-number for photos of dogs playing, running, or lounging in the shade with their pals.
In low light conditions, or with fast-moving pooches, you might still find that you end up with a little blur where you don't want it—but that's a whole new lesson altogether.
If you don't have a fancy DSLR camera, you can still achieve some of these results. For a small aperture number, look for an automatic setting called 'portrait'. It's usually indicated by an icon looking like a lady wearing a big hat and it's a setting that should blur out the background nicely. For a big aperture number look for a setting called 'landscape', usually indicated by an icon looking like a mountain.
Have you used aperture to create a stunning doggie portrait, or a creative dog pic, intentionally or not? Tell me about it!
No u on January 22, 2020:
email@example.com on December 11, 2018:
I enjoy learning from you why because i am using D 30001 but i know nothing about the setting of aperture, and from your teaching i could set it now so thanks.
Traci on July 04, 2015:
I know that this is an older post but I just had to tell you how helpful it was. I am trying to improve the photos I take of my foster dogs. Great info and explained in a useful way.
efren ene l0pez on November 10, 2014:
interesting and useful at all are your articles on how to inprove photography.thanks for the tips on how to use aperture to create real good pictures.
CarNoobz from USA on February 06, 2013:
Another great way to get that nice blurred background is to simply use a longer lens. A 200 mm lens at f/5.6 and shooting from farther away can look just as good if not better than an 18 mm wide angle lens at f/ 2.8.
Also, I've found that using a macro of any focal length can make a difference too. I have a Sigma 18-50 mm macro, and it blurs out the background really well, especially when shooting only inches away from the subject.
But of course, nothing beats a fast 50 mm or 85 mm at f/1 or 1.8.
Linda Liebrand (author) from San Francisco on January 05, 2013:
Thanks for reading my hub about dog photography Peggy. Aperture priority is my favourite setting as it gives such creative control of your d-slr.
Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on January 04, 2013:
Interesting and informative hub with some lovely images, thanks for sharing
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 04, 2013:
I need to use the portrait setting more. Thanks for the demo with your cute dog as subject matter. The blurring of the background can be a real plus in many instances as you demonstrated. Up, useful and interesting votes and will share with my followers. Thanks for the camera training tips.