It’s now estimated that of the 12 million households in the UK, 44% have pets. This equates to approximately 51 million pets owned. Of those, 9 million are dogs and 8 million are cats. With dogs and cats recognized as legitimate members of our families, just like our children, it’s no wonder we want to share them with the world. Pictorially speaking.
Adult dog owners post a picture or talk about their dog on social media on average six times per week. They also watch dog videos or check out dog pictures about three times a week — and, one in ten has a social media account exclusively for their beloved woofer. It’s a similar picture (pardon the pun) in many countries around the world.
The perpetual advancements in smartphone camera technology allow us to be able to snap and share good quality pics of our very special soul mates, anytime and virtually anywhere.
Despite the ever-ready benefit of having a camera at hand (or should that be ‘in hand’), the demand for superior quality, longer lasting, tangible keepsakes such as albums or wall art has never been higher.
As a working dog photographer, I am inundated with questions pertaining to all aspects of pet photography as you can imagine. And I love to help where I can. The questions that I’m asked most often relate to lenses:
‘What is the Best Lens for Pet Photography?’
Now, this is a somewhat loaded question. However, the answer really depends on you. What you’re trying to achieve, your style, your budget, whether you’re a hobbyist or professional, a generalist or targeting one type of pet etc. If your chosen system is Nikon, Sony or another, that’s absolutely fine. Rather than focus on the brand, this article outlines how particular lenses can be used to create different effects in certain situations.
90% of my work is focused on dogs, predominantly in outdoor on-location situations. I use two Canon full-frame camera bodies, which has inevitably influenced my choice of lenses.
I would love to be able to provide you with a catchall solution to this question. Nevertheless, it’s only right that I concentrate on providing you with details about what works for me. I trust that you’re able to take away information that you find helpful and constructive, and that you can use in your own unique situations.
So, here’s an overview of what I tend to use on most of my dog photography sessions. As a heads-up, I’ve avoided the technicalities of each lens and instead focused on how these lenses can be used creatively.
Clients hire me based on my style and my approach to dog photography. That works for me because I’ve always liked to get up close and personal. I often get at or below the dog’s level to afford me a dog’s eye view of the world.
Now, I have a certain style, but when it comes to a commissioned shoot, my focus and my duty are to offer my clients a gallery of images jam-packed with diversity. One sure-fire way to achieve this is through the use of several different lenses. In this post, I’m going to concentrate on the four that I tend to use the most.
Zoom Lens: 70-200mm f2.8
I like to ease myself into most photo sessions to ensure the client’s dog is relaxed right from the offset. I tend to stand back a bit (or lay down in most cases!) and start with the 70-200mm f2.8. This zoom lens (although quite heavy for its size – over 3lbs) is a real workhorse. It has a very handy focal range, outstanding autofocus, and excellent image quality. Because I always work hand-held (often in varying light conditions), its 3-stop image stabilization (IS) is a godsend.
However, if I need a bit more focal length I will pair the 70-200mm with a 1.4x extender. There is the inevitable small drop in image quality, which can be more noticeable in older versions of the extender. However, if it’s this versus no shot at all, then it’s a no-brainer.
The 70-200mm f2.8 is an extremely versatile lens that allows you to capture a variety of shots from playtime, scenic, group, portrait and so much more. It’s a lens that is always with me on my photo shoots.
Prime Lens: 85mm f1.2
For situations that call for stunning background blur, I reach for my 85mm f1.2 (non-IS). I absolutely love this prime lens for its light gathering properties and superb image quality. Again, for its size, it’s heavy. That is to be expected though as there’s an awful lot of glass in there. In fact, there’s so much heavy glass that it affects the autofocus speed.
Therefore, I use this lens primarily when I know I’m going to have subjects that can remain fairly still, even if it’s just for a few seconds. I hardly ever shoot at f1.2 either. The plane of focus is so narrow that you can often see a difference in sharpness between a dog’s eyes. A dog that is facing me! It’s that narrow. I find f2-f4 is the sweet range.
Zoom Lens: 24-70mm f2.8
If I were only allowed to use one lens on a dog photography session it would be the 24-70mm f2.8. This lens, which offers my most-used range of focal lengths, is often described as ‘the best performing Canon full-frame compatible general purpose zoom lens available.’ And breathe!
And, I have to agree.
The 24-70mm is super sharp, super fast and super accurate, so I can forgive Canon for this lens’s lack of image stabilization. They (Canon) sacrificed IS to ensure this lens would retain ultimate image quality and I can live with that.
The amount of flexibility and control the 24-70mm lens affords me means that, on average, over 65% of the images I present at my clients’ viewing appointments have been taken with this lens.
Wide-Angle Zoom Lens: 16-35mm f4
Finally, the lens I most like using is the 16-35mm f4. It’s an extremely sharp ultra-wide angle zoom that’s full-frame compatible. It is incredibly fast and quiet, extremely accurate and the image quality is excellent. This is the lens that allows me to truly have some fun with my subjects. If I’m working with a dog that’s unfazed by having a lens unusually close to them, then I can truly come away with some magical and whimsical portraits.
As you’ve read, it’s horses-for-courses. In my case, it has taken quite a few years to get to this point. The crucial take-out is that you need to discover for yourself what works for you. The best advice I was given was to get out there and shoot. The more dogs I photographed the more I was able to hone in on what lenses worked for me.
So, don’t be afraid to invest in pro-quality lenses, especially if you’re a working professional. You owe it to your clients to be using pro-level gear. And, these lenses really hold their value. They can be resold or part-exchanged if they don’t quite work out for you. If it’s a toss-up between several lenses, consider hiring first. It’s an effective way to help you narrow down the many choices available.
Good luck out there!
What lenses do you use for dog photography? Share with us your experiences in the comments below.