I used to be fairly opposed to photographing dogs on the beach –it’s too bright, there is too much sand, dogs can be distracted, etc. But over time I’ve learned to let go of my preconceived notions of how challenging a beach session can be and have embraced the incredible beauty and magic of beach photography.
All it took to create beautiful and warm portraits of these dogs was a little patience, a quiet demeanor, and strong exposures. Personally, I think these are qualities all photographers should have. In our contemporary world where photographers are a dime a dozen, many new people in the field have come to rely simply on keeping their camera settings at a certain exposure they read in some book, as well as relying on heavy post-processing in the editing stage. They are forgetting that they must remain artists before they even pick up their camera, no matter if they are shooting digitally or with film. To be able to juggle correct exposures on the beach while opening up the amazing tones and texture of a black silky dog, or a grey dog running in circles, all while keeping my human client engaged and at ease is like juggling a dozen glass bottles. It’s quite tricky, and takes a lot of practice, and if you aren’t focused you’ll mess it all up. But there is a moment within the chaos and challenge that is completely calm and easy- that is where photography happens. And for some reason I came to truly appreciate that entire crazy process.
A few other things to consider when photographing dogs on the beach:
1) Keep the sun at your back. Though shooting into direct sunlight can certainly give your images an ethereal, glowing feel it is very hard to focus when looking straight into bright sunlight. Even on auto-focus your camera will have a hard time. And since most dogs like to run around while at the beach you want to be able to focus quickly and focus well. So make sure the sun is at your back, hitting your subject nicely but not hitting your lens. A proper lens hood is also a smart idea when shooting at the beach.
2) Use the horizon to your advantage. A good beachy horizon line can make for a beautiful visual element. Face the horizon and have people and dogs walking toward the water, making sure your camera is level (no one likes a crooked horizon line).
3) Find some pockets of shade to do more composed portraits. Because there is so much light at the beach, any shady areas will be bright enough for even-toned, flattering portraits. Save this for the end of your session so that dogs and people are a bit tired. This will help them feel relaxed and keep them in one place.
4) Don’t be afraid to move. Your subjects are going to be moving, the light will be moving, the water is moving, sand is moving- so pick up your feet and move with the elements.