Everybody knows the classic dog running toward the camera photo, gracefully leaping a log. But there’s so many other action photos and disciplines you can get into! If you love action and want to photograph athletic dogs in motion, this is the blog post for you! 

Here are our top 5 favorite types of sporty, dynamic shots of dogs in motion, and some tips on how to capture them best!

1. Disc Dog
2. Agility
3. Dock Diving
4. Sideways action
5. Front-on action
6. Bonus round – Water Action!

1. Disc Dog

Disc dog has to be one of the most exhilarating arenas when it comes to action photography.

Disc dog photographers require a rapid reflex and a keen eye for composition if they want to nail the shot. Fast shutter speeds – over 1/1600 sec to avoid blurring and continuous or burst shooting are essential at key moments.

There’s a big difference between set-up situations where you can tell the owners how and in which direction you want the dog to leap, compared to competitions, where you have to roll with whatever they give you!

Anticipating the jumps, catches, and landings will allow you a moment to pre-focus on the dog, frame the shot’s composition, and release the shutter at the critical, perfect moment – just before the bite.

2. Agility Action

Dog agility photography is similar in intensity to disc dog, however, it holds a few key differences when it comes to getting the shot.

Agility arenas often have a predetermined course that handlers will walk, and all run in the same order – though not necessarily in the same way! This does make tracking, composition, and framing slightly more “laid out” and predictable.

 Consistent lighting of indoor agility tournaments can assist you in getting your camera’s exposure settings spot on, but be prepared for a HIGH ISO (the photo above is ISO 4000). There’s no way around this issue. You still need a FAST shutter speed (at least 1/1600 sec), and although the hall seems bright, it isn’t really. Luckily AI Denoise does a great job of fixing a lot of noise issues. 

There are some specific shots that agility handlers LOVE. A beautiful jump, particularly where you can see the line of the body, the slalom from an angle in line with, or slightly off the line of the poles (not from side on), and the golden “money shot”…. the perfect running contact hit on the dogwalk. Rather than trying to photograph EVERYTHING, pick a spot where you can capture 3-4 different obstacles consistently and have enough time to photograph one, prepare for your next one, prepare for the next, and so on.


Dog jumping in water

3. Dock Diving Dogs

Dog dock diving combines running, leaping, swimming, and retrieving. Whether you’re in the water or outside the water, this has to be one of the most enjoyable methods of action photography.

Knowing the difference between Big Air (distance) and Air Retrieve (height and distance) shots, you can position yourself accordingly for optimal angles and timing.

The apex of the jump, the splash landing, the retrieve, and the exit from the water with the toy, offer prime opportunities to capture those peak moments.

4. Sideways Action

If you’re looking for a less adrenaline-fueled method of showcasing your dog’s athleticism, try the underrated sideways action shots!

Capturing your dog mid-stride, jumping or turning sharply, will surely get you astonishing results.

The great thing about sideways action is that it is often a lot easier to capture in-focus shots than front-on action, as the camera doesn’t need to constantly calculate where the dog is/will be as it runs toward the camera, but instead can keep focus pretty much the same while the dog moves. 

You also see a lot more of the athleticism of the dog in sideways action!

Use back-button focus and a slightly larger focus area like “zone”, to lock on to the dog before it runs, track the dog running and trigger the shutter when the composition is how you want it. 

This is definitely trickier to do when you’re by yourself. Try having the dog run to a bowl with some food, or a toy! Set it up, lead them away from the bowl, have them stay (yes, you need a solid stay for this!), and release them to run across in front of you, toward the reward.

5. Front-on Action

Capturing dynamic, front-on, or forward-facing action shots has to be one of the most popular yet challenging ways of photographing dogs running.

As renowned action photographer Chris Van Riel previously mentioned, the primary key to nailing these types of shots is repeatability.

Location is also of paramount importance. In terms of safety (for you and your dog) the area or path should be clear of sticks and unwanted debris. Additionally, the lighting in the chosen area should have bright yet ambient light.

When it’s time to shoot, pre-focus your camera on the dog while at the end of the path, call to release the dog to run towards you, wait until it’s in the air or at the exact point you want it, and release the trigger. Generally, the first 1-3 photos will be in focus. If not, rinse and repeat!

6. Water Action Tip by Chris Van Riel

There’s something seriously dynamic about dogs playing, running and splashing in water. It has got to be one of the most enjoyable ways to capture your dogs in motion, but it comes with its own challenges!

The biggest challenge is being able to keep the focus on the dog and NOT the surrounding water splashes. How, according to Chris do we achieve this?

With a Low Focus Sensitivity, he says.

When your camera is set to a high-sensitivity focus, it makes it much easier for your camera to latch onto anything and everything in the frame. When your camera is set to a low-sensitivity focus, it’s much more likely to keep the dog in focus and ignore the rest.

That’s all for now!

Want to learn more in-depth knowledge about action photography from an expert, alongside curious, likeminded people?

Join us as Chris van Riel runs a  a 6-part webinar series throughout 2024, where he will be breaking down & un-packing ALL things action photography.

All 6 individual sessions will be recorded, so if you can’t make the live events, you’ll have the chance to watch them back, in your own time!

Click here to find out more information or secure your spot. The first live episode will be TONIGHT, February 10th at 19:00 CET!

Chris & I are super excited to get the ball rolling! We look forward to seeing you all there!

~Emily, Loki & Journey

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