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What is in focus really? Plane of Focus / How Focus Works

Recently in our Learning Community, there were some questions posted about how to get both dogs in focus, since the camera only ever seems to focus on one dog, or about how the paw of the dog AND the nose can be sharp, but not the eyes – when these two body parts are seemingly quite far apart from one another.

This is where a solid understanding of what depth of field and the plane of focus is.

Throughout the following lessons, we’re going to be focusing on and talking a lot about getting a NARROW depth of field – that is, a very small plane of the photo in focus – in order to get soft, blurry backgrounds for our portrait photos. But there are times you may want to manipulate that plane of focus to make it wider, or to know when you’ll need to take multiple photos and mask them together in photoshop, because the physics of the situation won’t let you have a wide enough plane of focus.

What is focus?

I think this is where most people get mixed up.

There is a belief that the camera focuses on a thing. A paw, a nose, an eye, and that focus is isolated to that one place, to the exclusion of everything else. 

But that isn’t the case, and I’ll prove it. 

Grab a photo where you can see some of the ground (eg., the ground isn’t obscured by blurry foreground). Where is the focus on the dog? Maybe the eye, maybe the nose, it doesn’t really matter. 

Now look at the ground. 

I’m willing to bet there’s a line of grass/gravel/leaves that is also as in focus as the eyes/nose/whatever of the dog. 


Above, Loki’s eyes are definitely in focus, his nose is not, and yet there is a distinct line on the ground that is in focus, as well as a line of bushes on either side of the road. 

Because, in fact, the camera focuses on a distance from itself, and the area that is in focus is a width which can be wider or narrower depending on the factors you’re about to learn about in this topic. 

This area that is in focus (the plane of focus) goes front to back (or back to front) and anything that is in this plane, will be in focus, fading out to less and less in focus as you get closer to the camera, or further away. 

Let’s look at a photo from above.

Imagine that we’re a bird looking down on the scene of Loki.

This is how our scene would look with no depth of field, no camera, just looking with our eyes.

If we follow the ideas laid out in the lessons you’re about to dive into, we will hopefully end up with a narrow depth of field/narrow plane of focus, which means a small width of the photo will be sharpest, with focus falling off as the scene gets closer or further away from that plane.

This is about the plane of focus shown in the photo above. Everything inside the two black lines as indicated by the arrows, will be in focus. So from above, it would look something like this:


Which is essentially what you see in the photo of Loki. Let’s do a side-by side. Can you see the line of focus on the ground and in the bushes?

If we were to change some things about our photo, namely: 

  • the aperture chosen
  • how far away we are from the subject
  • the lens we use

we would be able to change how wide this plane of focus is. You’ll be learning a lot more about these conditions in the lessons to come. Let’s have a look at a quick example of how the depth of field widens simply by changing the aperture of the lens. We’ll use some graphics as well with our birds-eye-view to help us see it. You’ll encounter these photos with full explanations in the aperture lesson, but for now I want you to pay close attention to the moss on the tree trunk, and the fur of Journey’s knee (back leg).

For the example graphics I’m using the same photo of Loki because Journey’s sleeping right now and I don’t want to disturb him. Just imagine it’s Journey, lying down. 

This photo has a narrow depth of field, or a narrow plane of focus. You can see that the plane is probably only a few centimeters wide, from his snout to just behind his eyes. His knee and the moss in front are blurry. This was taken at f/1.8

This photo was taken at f/8, which has resulted in a much WIDER plane of focus. The plane is now probably 70cm wide, going from the moss almost at the very edge of the log, right to Journey’s knee and possible further back, we just can’t see it.

This is also a great example of how the focus doesn’t just stop and start (it kind of appears that way when the depth of field is narrow, because it happens very fast going from in focus to out of focus.) but that it goes gradually. Look at the background in both photos. In the top one, the plane of focus is already so far away by the distance of the background that it is super soft and blurry.

In the 2nd photo, the plane of focus and therefore the graduation of it going out of focus GRADUALLY, is wider, meaning the trees we see are more in focus, but the ones behind THEM are just as blurry as in the first photo.

Here’s the two images side by side. Again take note of the moss and the knee.

And yes, I realise that in the 2nd photo I was a bit closer to Journey.. but if anything that would make the plane of focus NARROWER than if I’d been further back, shooting at f/8

What this means for group photos

As mentioned at the start, there have been some questions lately in the Community about group photos. 

Have a think about everything you’ve just learnt about the plane of focus. If you have two dogs sitting side by side, one 20cm forward than the one the camera focused on, what will this mean for your photo? Does it mean the camera has only focused on one dog, or that the 2nd dog is outside the plane of focus?

There will be another lesson on group photos in this Depth of Field topic, so don’t worry if you aren’t yet sure how to take photos of more than one dog, or of a dog and owner. 


This is about colours, fonts, consistency, a style, a way of talking to people…

I immediately decided to just use my favourite colour for my branding, a kind of teal. I then went on and started playing around with combinations. This was a reasonably long process and I had a LOT of variations. In the end settling on a kind of wild mix of teal, yellow, purple, green and white. Was it logical? No. Did I care? Not really. I didn’t want it to look like I’d stolen it from somewhere else. I wanted it to be fun and a bit quirky. I wish I still had all the variations but eventually I deleted them. 

Often now, it’s just the teal/yellow/white combo in use. But I feel so bored locked into only 3 colours so sometimes the others get to come out. 😂

I spent some time with Erin and Tarryn from Pet Biz Creatives trying to come up with a name. This was one of the hardest parts but I think it’s MUCH easier if you’re just doing photography. Just use your own name. I talked about this in a branding lesson somewhere too. 

Since my brand was always so wrapped up in me, I knew immediately that it couldn’t really take itself too seriously. If I tried to do things seriously and professionally, I would never get anything done. 

So this kind of culture of relaxed anti-perfectionism came out of that, and in everything I do: my captions, blog posts, mailing list emails, I try and write in my voice (I love writing and used to write novels for fun so copywriting isn’t a hard task for me in terms of voice… more in terms of “I don’t wanna!”) so that I can joke around a bit, or sound sincere, or open up, or let you experience  a bit of my world. 

We also picked the fonts, and made the logo: based on Journey, which is probably due for an upgrade but that’s something I don’t have the energy for. 

For me, brand identity is something that starts with the superficial: colours, an aesthetic, fonts, a feeling…

And develops into something much deeper. How you embody that aesthetic. Is your brand identity fun and carefree? Ok, how do you show up like that in your copy, in your captions, in your stories, in your videos?

Less so now because life is a bit boring, but in the past people would reply to my stories saying how much Journey cheered them up, or how my sense of humour about something made them laugh. This was building my brand identity (whether I realised it or not at the time!

Below are some things I found from back in the day. 

Emily Abrahams Photography Branding Ideas

Inspawration branding notes

I don’t have a heap of notes from when Inspawration was in its creation stage. I think I moved so quickly from photography to giving tips and teaching that I barely had time to think about it – and the brands were so intertwined at the beginning that I wasn’t even thinking of them being something separate… until I was.

This is the earliest note I could find where I was starting to think about them as two separate businesses and trying to figure out a name.

Again, have a look at what’s changed and what hasn’t! 

Honestly, the more I’ve done this, the more I believe that what you need, your style, your ideas, the things you’ll end up doing are all there already. You just mightn’t realise it yet.

Notes from creating inspawration:

Mission statement. WHY do I do what I do? 

We all have phones and cameras, and the convenience of being able to snap a quick picture of our pets means we have so many opportunities to capture memories. But I want to help people take photos of their pets that are more impactful, something they can really cherish in years to come. I do this because I have so many photos of my dogs now, that it’s hard to choose which ones to get printed! But if I look at the photos of my old dog, there’s so much I wish I’d known about settings and composition and light. The photos are fine and I cherish them… but they aren’t AMAZING. I see people’s photos on Facebook and know that with just a few small changes, they could have photos that are really special.

For people who already have a grasp of the basic concepts, either semi-pro photographers or hobby enthusiasts, I want to take their photography to the next level, to help them find their style and create art, to inspire them to create and explore and play with their images, and for them to therefore be able to bring that gift to THEIR clients. I am so inspired by photography, by turning a photo into something more, and I want to share that with people. I want people to make work they’re proud of, and for us to all work together to support one another and build each other up, rather than seeing It as a competition

Next is an email I wrote back to Erin & Tarryn after they had brainstormed and sent through a HUGE list of names for me. Beneath that are a bunch of my own name ideas/preferences/things I was considering as contenders.

Chasing Wonder

Fetching Light

Canine creatives

Initial name thoughts:

Great list! I think it’s great as a guide to start getting a feel for what I like or am drawn to, and what I’m not..

Initial thoughts:

Insititution to me is like a “mental institution” – mad house or like… “the institution of marriage” 😬😅

Other ideas:


Club? (This shouldn’t have the “free” connotation since you often have to pay to join a club)

I like “School” or even “Learning”

I like the term “Learning Journey” a lot, even in terms of the courses. Instead of referring to them as courses on the site, I could use that, as I’m really into the idea of a growth mindset when learning…

I think from the list, I’m much more drawn to not pun names (even though I LOVE puns, I feel like they’re a bit “tacky” for a brand name? And though I want to be “fun” it’s maybe more like “whimsical” fun? If that makes sense? So some of my favourite names have been Chasing Wonder, Canine Creatives (doesn’t work if it’s more of a pet focus though I guess), and ones that I came up with a while ago which were Fetching Light, Journey Wild (doesn’t work for this project but I’m keeping it in my back pocket cos I love it so much). The idea of joy/happiness/wonder/light are some of my favourite things (Journey’s registered name is “n’Joy the Journey”.) and I guess it gives a sense of that “whimsical” kind of name. I wrote down Fetchworthy once, which I think is cute. And “Snouts and Tails” in terms of the idea of making heads or tails of photography, but snouts make me think of pigs 😂 Wet Nose Wonders from your list is cute too (it’s that kind of whimsical thing again).

I wonder about some ideas around “Bright Eyes” even? Eyes are the window to the soul and all that, and there’s such a focus on the eye in pet photography.

The other thing I think could be interesting is using bright/light or something somehow… one thing that’s quite distinctive/well known about my photos is my “pretty sparkly lights” as people tell me 😂. Obviously not suggesting “Pretty sparkle light photography school” but the use of light is super important to me (and can also fit that kind of whimsical idea). Can we turn “bokeh” into a pun? 😬 I also like Tails/tales play on words too.

Something like: “Wagging Tails & Wet Noses” is cute… we could possibly do something with the idea of two things, eg., “Muddy paws, Bright eyes” but… better than that, cos it doesn’t roll off the tongue 😂 If it’s any help, Journey has a Spotty Snout/nose and legs (naughty spots) and Loki has perfect triangle ears.

Things like Teach a Dog New Tricks is fun from a “learning” perspective but I would think it’s a dog behaviour school, instead of photography, same as dog ate my homework… I guess if it’s going to be a sort of saying or a pun, there should be a photographic element maybe? Something like “Pets in Focus”? “Pets Exposed” (ahahaha sounds like a scandal).

Rule of 3 could also be interesting maybe? Eg: “Sit, Stay, Snap”? But I’ve never liked “snap” as the photography part given negative connotations with dogs biting.

Definitely could have it more pet related than specifically dogs – I think confining it to the niche of dogs only is too narrow, I would like people interested in cats and horses to join. So maybe this will help, but also, if we’re adding the “Pet Photography School” (or whatever afterward) the name itself could be a bit whimsical and photography related without necessarily being specifically pet related I guess?

You mentioned on the Loom about being able to branch out into in-person courses and this is 100% my intention, to do quite a few in-person workshops around Europe and even back in Aus when I go to visit family.

Re: the boys’ names in the name, I’m not so wedded to this idea. I don’t know if there’s a way to get both in (especially Loki) without it being weird. But you did give me an idea for some monthly member’s bonus session with “Professor Loki” so I’m just gonna jot that down for future use. Not sure what it will be yet but it sounds bloody cute.



Something to do with Guide/GPS/Map, eg., Journey/adventure/learning theme…


“Snouts and Tails” eg., making heads & tails of photography

An Acronym? Eg., LEAP – Learn w/ Emily Abrahams Photography



Licks & Snaps

Journey Pack


Lick, Snap, Grow

Spots and Snouts


Tails United?

Journey Wild

Canine Clan

Wag Pak



Snap & Wag?

Flash, Snap, Woof

Joy of the Journey

Joy in the Journey

Critter Collective

Lead me to wonder

Photography Is a Journey

Something about light.. chasing light


Leading to Light

Lead into Light

Journey The Light Fantastic

Journey Club

Pets B-Okeh

Inspawration (I’m actually not sure why this is on this list, I must have added it after the fact because as soon as I had this name I was 99% sure it was the right one)

Inspawration in Focus

Illumi-nation (“nation” as in the membership thing)

Paws Illuminated

Paws in art?

Captivate Create

What the Snoot


Snoot & Spots.

Paws to Focus


Light Journey

Bright Journey

Journey Bright



Random words/feelings/ideas













Fun, but not cutesy

Sophisticated but not sterile

About the brand:
Teaching people to delve into their art and their photography in a way that encourages exploration while also telling a story with the photos


Erin spoke to us about a few questions relating to story. Finding your why, where your dream leads, who the person behind the brand is, what’s your greater purpose. 

The story of Inspawration started when I saw someone taking not-very good photos as a pet photographer, and thinking “I could take better photos than that” 😅 but this isn’t the story that gets shared to the public. 

I consider story to be something that is STILL evolving and being refined. I think it’s easy to start our story as: “We don’t have enough time with our pets and I want to capture their memories forever.” 

This was a BIG part of Inspawration’s story message at the beginning, when we were all in lockdown. I wanted YOU to capture their memory forever. This was the main “story” for the first year or so.

About 6 months ago, I shifted the story slightly. To regret about not capturing great photos of my Aussie shepherd, not knowing what I was doing wrong… also, to you (the customer) being frustrated about not being able to capture the photos you imagine in your head. This message resonated with a LOT of people. 

And now I’m shifting the story slightly again, to a story about chasing dreams. That quiet dream of becoming a pet photographer, and giving you the tools, skills and knowledge to make that dream a reality – at least for the Learning Journey. For Fundamentals, the above message about capturing the photos you imagine remains. This shift in story is somewhat financially driven. After all, people who want to earn money, will spend money. But also I think it allows me to serve more people. Pet owners who want nicer photos can sign up for PPF. Aspiring professionals can sign up for the LJ. And those who want more… well, I have something in the works for that. 😉 

And then there’s the story of ME. A LOT of my brand has been built on my personality, my chaotic energy, on being relaxed and personable, and my two boys help with this as well. I think as many people sign up because they like and trust me, as they do because I make nice photos. Do not underestimate the power of you.


Here are some  notes I wrote at the very beginning of my Photography business journey… before Inspawration was a blip on the horizon:

Why: Why do you do what you do. Why is a purpose or a belief. It’s the reason the organisation exists. Not about making money.

Need to go deeper to stand apart from the crowd and get out client


Your why is a value or belief that you stand by. It’s a mission that moves you. It’s the reason you get out of bed in the morning.


Something like…

I am passionate about people seeing moments and appreciating them, finding the beauty in them, capturing those times and sharing them, seeing the joy that sharing them can bring. Maybe it’s capturing the goofy, cheeky awkwardness of a puppy, immortalising that time that’s so brief… or maybe it’s those absolutely incredibly special moments between a senior dog and their owner, a time where they get to be special, and cherished, and loved, and when the person looks back at those photos in years, they can remember that bond and that relationship, remember the way that dog looked when he smiled, or how he bounded through the grass toward them. I want people to see how special their dogs are, to hold on to that moment, and find the joy in it. I also want to make something special with the owners and their dogs, inspired by my adventures with my own dog and how much that influenced me, and by one of my first clients, who took their pugs on something of an adventure to get the photos we took – I want them to look at those photos and see not only the personality of their dogs, but a memory of the time we spent making those photos. 


One was the “adventure” with the client – all of us going through the location, maybe taking a walk, doing what we need to do to get the shots, trying new things, really making an experience of the whole thing… but also, puppy photos and senior dogs. I haven’t done any end of life shoots, but I can imagine that would be incredibly special too… and I think it comes back to wanting to find the beauty in and appreciate the moments we’re given – I did this huge trip around Europe these past 2 years with Loki, living in the van, seeing the most incredible scenery, and it really taught me how important it is to find beauty, and to be grateful for the fact that we’re here, with our dogs, that we can go out and get photos and capture those moments… and puppies grow up so quickly, blink and they’re an adult dog, but there’s something so special about building that relationship with them, seeing their personalities develop… and senior dogs… I had to leave my senior dog at home in Australia with my aunt… and I left him knowing I wouldn’t be there for the end of his life (though he’s still going strong at 16!!) but that breaks my heart, and I wish so badly that I’d gotten a million photos of him before I left, or got someone to take photos of the two of us (I cry writing this actually, is how deep it hits) and I so want to be able to give that gift to other people with their senior dogs…



5 words that describe my personality

Independent, creative, bubbly/friendly, down to earth, humorous


5 words to describe my work

Bright, natural, light, colourful, a touch of fantasy/whimsical


5 words to describe work that moves me:

Soft, beautiful colours, sharp/engaging, candid/personality, artistic, natural with light/scenery


Area of branding:


Light, colour, a touch of fantasy/whimsical, personality/humour 


What else can I infuse into my brand?
Dog training, travelling and beautiful scenery, anything sweet! And coffee. A lot of coffee.


Teal & Brown?

Teal & white?

Can you see how much of that story and the ideas I was already putting down on paper have carried over to what I do now? 

I’ll talk more about the branding process in the “Identity” part.

I think a lot of these thoughts were driven by Simon Sinek.

Inspawration Connect

Note: Inspawration Connect has recently undergone some small cosmetic changes. Nothing huge, but the navigation may not match up exactly with the instructions below. I’ll be updating these ASAP but you should still be able to join and find your way to where you need to go!

Our community is a HUGE part of being in the Inspawration family. The positivity, support, helpful feedback and celebration is unlike anything you’ll find in any Facebook group.

Inspawration Connect, vs. Private Group: Learning Community

Inspawration Connect is made up of two parts. In Pet Photography Fundamentals, you have access to Inspawration Connect, which can be seen by other PPF members, and Learning Journey members.

Then there’s the Learning Community,  which is where my Learning Journey members hang out. 

The only real difference is that in the LC, we often post quite in-depth educational posts relating to topics and lessons found in the Learning Journey, and the community is a bit more established there, since PPF is still new at the time of writing. That being said, any LJ member can comment on your posts in Connect, so they’ll still be there for feedback, advice and guidance, and us as well of course!


How to Join

Just click this link!

You will need to set up an account, as the website and Connect aren’t linked. I strongly suggest you use the same password as you do for the website, though!

How to post in Connect

Accessing the chat & other features

Take some time to explore the site! There’s plenty of useful and interesting features there and I’m sure they will be adding more.

We have a chat where you’re welcome to message others, or chat informally about anything.

Please note: Any questions that would be of interest to other students, eg., photography issues, software questions, questions about dogs, camera settings, gear, etc, should all be posted as a new post, and NOT messaged to me privately or written in the chat. It is not fair to other students if I answer general questions privately, as it deprives them of an opportunity to learn, and turns your membership into a one-to-one mentoring situation.  Questions about your specific membership, eg., billing, password issues, etc, or general website bugs or glitches can be messaged privately to me.

You will also find our live events listed in the Events section. You can RSVP to the events here, and get a reminder from MightyNetworks emailed to you before it starts. 

Make sure you check out the Featured Posts, have a look at the Welcome Checklist, and then introduce yourself!

Important note

Because Inspawration connect is on a subdomain of, some browsers get confused with the username/password situation, and will try and use your Learning Journey password to log in to Inspawration Connect. 

Therefore, I highly recommend you use the same username/email address and password across both parts of the site, to save yourself a lot of frustration of constantly entering the “wrong password” into Inspawration Connect.

Light Direction Quiz!

Take a look at the photos below. See if you can work out where the main light source was. Some photos may have TWO sources of light, so keep an eye out for them!

Example 1

Shining directly on Journey from behind me/possibly slightly over my left shoulder.

Example 2

It was to camera right! It was a BIG area of open sky on a cloudy day.

On Journey’s left was the woods, which cast a lot of shadow and let no light through.

Example 3

It was to camera left, and slightly behind Journey

You can see how bright one side of his face is, and check out the direction of the shadow on the ground.

Example 4

It was pretty much directly overhead, maybe slightly more to camera left.

Example 5

It was behind and above Journey.

Example 6

It was almost directly behind me and quite overhead, probably just slightly over my left shoulder.

Example 7

Straight off to camera right.

Example 8

Very even lighting, more coming from camera left due to the flowery bush to camera right.

Example 9

Sun setting behind Loki, secondary light source camera right.

Example 10

Sun creating dappled highlights to camera left, probably slightly behind rather than directly to the side.

Example 11

Sun is directly above and behind Journey, just out of frame… secondary light source is behind me/slightly to camera left

Symmetry vs. Asymmetry

The first and most obvious thing to decide is whether your image will be symmetrical / centered – with the dog straight in the middle, or asymmetrical, with the dog off to one side. 

When I’m talking about symmetry here, I don’t mean that both sides of the image will be identical – this is rather difficult in natural environments. More that the dog is more or less in the middle, without the balance of the image being to one side of the other.

There are a few reasons you might choose to do it one way or the other. Symmetrical photos are great with balanced, even backgrounds (eg., there isn’t one side that is very dark and one side and one very light side.), where the dog is quite perpendicular to the camera, looking directly into the lens. 

These photos tend to be powerful but not very dynamic, and quite safe. They can make for dramatic, strongly-connected images. Some examples of symmetrical/centred photos:


Asymmetry is when the image is “off-centre”. There are two instances when you can use asymmetry.

  • One, where the dog is looking to the side instead of straight forward. You should give him “space to look into”.
  • The other is a little more tricky. The dog may be perfectly situated for a centred, symmetrical photo, but you compose it so that he is off to one side. This is quirky, a bit interesting, and should suit the mood. For example, I would not necessarily use a quirky off-centre photo with a very dark and intense mood (but again, rules are made to be broken). These can make use of elements or frames in the image (eg., tree trunks) where it wouldn’t make sense to have the tree in the middle of the mage.

Here are some examples of off-centre asymmetry where the dog COULD have been centred.

Action & Candids

Candids & Action Photos

For the most part, candid photos and action photos still require us to be low to the ground so that we can get that soft for foreground in.

However if you are doing photos of say disc dogs or agility dogs or dogs who are kind of in the air you may then need to lift your camera higher in order to track them so you just follow them up as high as they go. 

So it really depends on the effect you’re going for. By seeing no ground and pointing the camera higher, they will have the sense of being higher… but sometimes having the ground gives us context as to their height!

The photos below are variations of “leaping” photos. For some, the drama comes from perceived height: they are so high we can’t even see the ground.

For a few others, the drama comes from seeing the ground and having that extra layer with the blurry foreground. We get more of a sense of their place in that space and how they’re moving through it. 


Otherwise in general we still need to be trying to keep a sense of the space and of the size of the dog and we can do that by being nice and low.

However we also need to be conscious of not cutting our dogs ears off or having them get too close to the top of the frame which can be quite a challenge in candid shots where they are moving around and you’re trying to track them. 

So just try and keep them more less in the centre of the frame. You may just need to lie on your belly so that you’re forced to stay down low.

Plenty of examples below of different kinds of movement or candid photos.

Head and Shoulders

Head and shoulder portraits obviously don’t require you to be quite as low, but still aim to be no higher than the dog’s eye level – and this is possibly even lower than you would think! 

It’s still worth getting some foreground or surrounding foliage for context and to really place the dog in the scene. Finding a place where you can frame the photo with some leaves, flowers or other bushes can help create the depth we are aiming for in more “artistic” portraits.

Notice how all of these photos feel like you’re looking directly AT, or slightly up at the subject. We have a real sense of being on the dog’s level.

Zooming in… Zooming out

Recently, I taught a one-to-one lesson in person with one of my Learning Journey students and we came across an interesting situation.

To note, I don’t ever use my zoom lens. I have one, but I don’t use it. But this student was using a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens – super common amongst pet photographers!

She had the lens zoomed in to 135-200mm which would also be my recommendation, and had the lens on a crop-factor body. So… suddenly, at 200mm, we have a huge amount of compression, and cropping of the scene.

Now, I’m a BIG fan of compression… but in these woods we’d found a couple of beautiful backlit areas with sparkly bokeh, and while we could get really cool rimlight around Journey, we were missing out on the charm of the location because of the compression of the scene! eg., We were only able to see a really tiny amount of the background because of how much it was ‘pulled toward us’.

But of course… we didn’t want to loose that narrow depth of field by simply zooming out to get more of the scene in in order to see the bokeh. If we did, all the leaves, grasses, and stuff in the foreground and background would be more in-focus, with more detail. Not what we necessarily want!

So I suggested to this student that she play with depth of field here. 


What we did:

I suggested my student zoom her lens OUT. Maybe all the way…. and then move HERSELF toward Journey. By zooming OUT, we have less compression, and more of the scene/background in the photo… but by moving CLOSE to Journey, we narrow up the depth of field again!

Below are the two different photos we got. Journey hasn’t moved, but the student has zoomed out and physically moved herself forward in the 2nd photo.

So this is just a reminder that if you are using a zoom lens, that although zooming all the way in gives you beautiful, soft backgrounds, and lovely compression, you can play with the zoom length and how close you are to the dog to include more of the scene in, if it’s beneficial to do so. 

Don’t feel like you always HAVE to be zoomed in – or you might be missing some pretty bokeh oportunities.

Times to NOT Get Low?

It is up to you to analyse the location you’re shooting in, the pose your dog is in, the background, and the story you want to tell, in order to determine how high or low you want to be.  In general, we should aim to be quite low – enough that we have a foreground layer of some description, however it may not be enough to apply a blanket rule to all images that one should simply “get down low.”

After all, we can be taking:

  • Portrait photos
  • Candids
  • Action
  • Head/shoulders
  • Puppy-dog-eyes/looking down from above
  • Dog on an object
  • Other creative options

Every situation will need you to analyse how low or what perspective you use. There’s no mathematical formula.

Look at your scene.

Is there a horizon cutting through the head? Change your angle. Does this mean the dog suddenly has no legs? Maybe you need to break the rules and get higher.

Is the dog up or down a hill? Does your angle and perspective cut their back legs in half, making them look stumpy? Can you change your angle, their pose, or their position on the hill?

Cutting a dog doesn’t end at cutting through them with the edge of a photo (more on this in the Composition lessons coming up next!) – although it’s less important to see all the toes and paws amongst moss and bushes – but be conscious of how your angle can make the dog look like it has no legs or body, or makes a horizon cut through the head, and adjust accordingly. If you need to get slightly higher to make sure the dog doesn’t look stubby, but this means you have no foreground – I would rather do this. We want the dog to look its best, not the foreground. I can always add an overlay or make a panorama if I want that foreground effect

Similarly, if the photo ISN’T all about the dog, but it a harmony of dog and landscape, then you may need to break the “get down low” rule completely, to work with the shapes and elements in that landscape and to actually SHOW the landscape, where getting down low may hide most of the good stuff!

These images needed quite different considerations when it came to the height at which I held the camera. The image to the left needed me to be very low to get any kind of foreground to to the flat, open nature of the snow. The image to the right required me to be higher, and in fact to cut off much of the dog’s legs. To be any lower would have meant half an image full of dark grass, and probably the dog’s face covered by the sparkly tops of the grass. What I’m saying is that by making conscious choices about where we position our camera, our images will make more sense. 

And of course, the type of foreground you have in your image (whether bushy or open) is also a stylistic choice.


Puppy dog eyes/looking down from above

These photos work best with a wider-angle lens, unless you’re really tall – although I have taken them with my 85mm before, but then I’m usually standing on a stump or a hill.

They work best when you aren’t directly overhead of the dog but overhead enough that they’re looking up at you, with a good amount of catchlight in their eyes but not so much that it overwhelms the eye with the reflection of the sky and the trees above, making it turn completely white.

It will just take some experimentation and practise to find the perfect overhead angle for these types of shots.

In these photos, I don’t think it’s necessary to have context or foreground. They work best as the dog alone, though it doesn’t hurt to have some vaguely interesting ground colour/texture to add some visual interest. You can also find frames of leaves or branches that surround your dog, for something a bit extra.

Notice how most of the dogs here are sitting. It’s really difficult to not cut off parts of a dog if they’re standing or lying down. Check out the few photos below where they aren’t sitting – the composition just doesn’t really work.

Dog on a log/hill/bench/raised surface

A point to be careful of, is having the dog on some kind of raised surface – such as a log, bench, stump, rock and so on. If we get too low in this situation, the dog will have to look down to see us, which blocks the light from the sky from hitting their face (meaning their face is dark) and because of this, they also may not have catchlights in their eyes.

It’s also possible that if you get down really low, the hill/log/whatever is going to block our view of their legs or body, causing them to look stumpy, like they either don’t have legs, or their legs are only half their length. This generally isn’t flattering.

For these shots, you may want to treat them similar to head and shoulders photos – be at eye level to them, or slightly lower. You may not be able to get a foreground layer from the ground because then you’ll just be too low. Having something else in the foreground (leaves, the log itself, the slats of the park bench, bushes) can help add extra depth to your image.

If you are not used to shooting with a low perspective, you may need to be slightly lower than you think! But remember, we probably don’t want our dog looking down! If you want to get them towering over you for artistic effect, have them looking off to the side, or up (like watching a bird) to keep their faces and eyes bright and well lit.

In each of the examples below, I was either NOT on the ground/down extremely low… and/or, if I was, the dog was looking up or up and to the side.


The other time you’ll need to be especially aware of how low you want to be is if you’re wanting to include the landscape in the photo.

Most of what I do is portraiture – that means, the photo is mostly about the dog, and it just happens to be in a pretty location. 

Dogs in landscapes places much more importance on the landscape, than I normally do in my type of photography. It aims to give the dog and landscape equal weight, or to harmoniously incorporate the dog into the landscape by using the shapes, negative space, light and dark tones, horizons, and so on, that are present in a landscape photo.

In these situations, you need to not only be aware of horizons cutting through the dog’s head or neck, but also: what is it you want to show your audience about this place?

For example. If I go to the beach, and I pose my dog on some rocks, and I get down so low that you can’t see the waves any more… then I might as well have not been at the beach in the first place. 

If I go to a dramatic field in the highlands, and get down so low that all you can see is grass, a hint of mountain, and sky…. then I might as well have just taken a photo in the dogpark at home. 

If you’re in a landscape and you get so low that you can’t see the most important part of the landscape… then you may want to reconsider your perspective in that location.

Below are some examples of some rare situations where I managed to take a photo both slightly higher, and slightly lower, in landscape situations. Keep in mind I am NOT primarily a landscape photographer, and many of these – especially in the mountains – were just to practise with my flash, rather than with the intention of creating a good photo. But I want you to look at how a change in perspective can change the scene in the background – not ALWAYS for the good, although in the case of the mountains, I’d say they almost all look more impressive and imposing when taken from slightly higher, as this allows them to LOOM over the subject.

Photos taken from slightly HIGHER are on the left, LOWER on the right. 

In the first two – yes, I know you can see more of the sky in the  photo from lower, but that’s more about the composition and how far to the right I took the photo, rather than the perspective.

These are almost all taken with the 85mm, or 35mm lenses. The very last example has the 85mm mm, then the 35mm for the “lower” version. In these examples, “low” probably isn’t anywhere near as low as I would normally go – because I would have already noticed this perspective wouldn’t work in this situation, and not even bothered to take a photo there.