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Photography Question 

Shooting Better Dog Portraits

I would like to get into doing commisioned dog portraits being that I am an obedience instructor and often run into clients that would be interested. I have a couple of questions for you. I waste a lot of money on film, cost of buying it and then processing it plus wasting my time for my prints to return from the lab, and am in the market for a good digital SLR. The reason I have my eye on the Canon 20D is because it's an 8 megapixel and I feel I'll be able to produce bigger enlargements than with, say the Nikon D70. I recently did a shoot of a dog with two of my current Nikon cameras - one is practically an antique that was a hand-me-down from someone throwing it away with an incredible Micro-Nikkor lens on it and the other camera is an N6006 with all Quantary lenses. I never shot with them both at the same time before of the same subject, lighting, etc. The difference between the Nikon and Quantary lens was short of extraordinary, really got me thinking about my current and future equipment choices. Although I am aware that of course Nikon produces better quality lenses than Quantary, I was curious to know if a fixed versus a zoom lens also effect overall photo quality. The macro is a fixed 55 mm and the Quantary lens I was using is a 35-80. I see with the 20D the option to buy the camera with the 17-85mm and I was just curious if I'd be better off buying the body only and a separate fixed focal length lens or two.
Also, what would you recommend as the best focal lengths for getting great dog portraits. I'm looking to do more on location at the owner's house rather than doing a studio set up. I realize the importance of shooting with a smaller apperture at around F11 or so to ensure that long noses are in focus, but I've been having the problem of my backgrounds being too crisp and coming off looking too busy.

Thank you, any advice would be appreciated before I sink my hard earned money into lousy equipment!


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3/31/2005 10:25:39 AM

Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/17/2003
  I will try to address your concerns in order:

First of all,...I don't think of film use as,..."a waste of money and time".
(But that's another can of worms we'll not open again.)

Yes,...Nikon (Nikkor) lenses are far superior to off-brands like Quantaray.
(I have a 55 mm Micro-Nikkor too,...and love it!)

It used to be true that primes were far superior to zooms, but technology has improved upon the image quality of today's (name brand) zoom lenses to the point where only a trained eye can see the difference.
The secret to getting the most of ANY zoom lens is to avoid the extremes of either focal length...(near and far), and shooting in the mid-aperture settings. And also,...placing your subject in the center of the frame as much as possible.
This is where zooms will yield the sharpest images.

As far as the best focal length for dog portrature,...that depends upon the lighting at the location and how "obedient" Rover is.
If the dog is real fidgety or if the light is dim, you will need a wider aperture than f-11 to stop action.

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3/31/2005 2:18:38 PM

Kristy    Hi Bob,
Thanks so much for your quick response! No, no, don't get me wrong as far as film being a waste of time and money! My point of view just being that you don't have to deal with as much overhead when you go digital as far as buying the film, processing it and waiting for the results from the lab. Also I'm a professional graphic designer and shooting digtally takes out a lot of the in-between when you want the images digital in their final form, no scanning etc. I shoot so much that I have a huge bag of film with rolls as far back as '99 that I still haven't had processed! Just wanted to clear that up.
As far as lighting goes, I'm primarily shooting outdoors with doing some bounce flash shots inside.

Thanks again,

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3/31/2005 5:24:49 PM

  I have shot dogs and I would shoot at you smallest f/ and then blur the backround in PS . Same with small children. D20 is an excellent choice and if you can the Mark2 is the bomb

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4/1/2005 12:51:30 AM

Christy L. Densmore
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/18/2005
  My advice will not be a technical as the others, but, I shoot working dogs in trial arenas. I have the Cannon Digital Rebel 300d, and for those working shots use the 75mm to 300mm lense(tipically set to the fullest zoom I can get). I know that the obiedance ring is not a 200X200 arena, but I would never be with out a zoom of some sort.

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4/3/2005 1:23:13 PM

Kristy    Thanks so much Christy and Savy for your opinions. Yeah, I think unfortunately at this time the Mark2 is a little out of my range. I'm gonna have to stick with the D20. As far as your needs go Christy, I can see how a good zoom lens is indispensable in the ring! I think I will start off with a zoom, the 17-85mm that there's the option to buy it with, and maybe get one fixed lens as well.

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4/3/2005 8:01:14 PM

Sandy Driscoll
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/2/2005
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  Hi Kristy,

I am also a dog obedience trainer, and have been photographing dogs for many years. I just upgraded to the Canon 20D (from the 300D) with the 17-85 lens and love it! I also have the 50-200 lens, but will probably upgrade that soon. I have had excellent results with both lenses, and highly recommend the 20D. Also, in case you don't have a lot of experience photographing dogs, I would recommend a book by Sally Anne Thompson, called, appropriately enough, 'Photographing Dogs'!

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4/6/2005 7:18:47 PM

Kristy    Hi Sandy!
It was great to hear from you especially since you are doing exactly what I aspire to be doing! I highly value your opinion on the 20D. Everything I've been hearing about it has been good. I will look into the book you recommended as well. Right now I am reading Creative Canine Photography by Larry Allan. I'm not really thrilled with it. I'd love to stay in touch. If you get the chance to email me I'm at Also my web site is I don't have any of my dog shots on there yet though, mostly graphic design and PS work.


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4/15/2005 3:25:13 PM

Toni  Hopper
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/7/2004
I have shot a ton of pets. The best advice I'd offer is that if you are serious, go ahead and get the digital rebel to start as you can always upgrade later....and practice tons before hiring's better to have the experience under your belt because it's really easy to get a bad rep as a pro photog if you're not ready....i've seen several photographers make that mistake. one way to get that experience is to do charity work for your local humane society shelter!!

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4/15/2005 9:09:24 PM

Kristy    Hi Toni,
Thanks for the advice. That's why I am building up a dog portfolio first before I start charging for it. I have a lot of photography experience and am a professional graphic designer / photo restoration artist. It's definitely more of a challenge for me personally though to produce great animal imagery than appealing nature scenes or posing people being that they are so unpredictable! I do volunteer work at two humane societies and have shot photos of the dogs there as well. In the future I'll have to post some shots once I start doing this more for everyone's critique! I love the community of people here at Better Photo, such great advice. Thanks again!

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4/16/2005 9:58:15 AM

Toni  Hopper
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/7/2004
  Sounds like your on the right track! Looking forward to seeing your work!

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4/16/2005 2:10:53 PM

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