Improving your Basenji photography!

  • Improving your Basenji photography

    I have received a few comments and questions about my dog photography over the years so I thought I would add some simple pointers in this arena. We all love our Basenjis and odds are almost everyone has a camera of some sort. So the question is how best to combine these two interests?

    Photographing pets is not as easy as it looks. They move so quickly so refining one's composition skills while coping with all the challenges can be tricky.

    Lets dive right in?

    • Know your camera. It sounds simple, but so many people never read the manual or experiment with the different functions. Most people use digital cameras these days. You get that instant feedback by viewing your shots almost immediately. Use this function! You are not wasting film so shoot a zillion shots of everything while learning what you camera is capable of. You can delete 99% of these experiments and this trial and error practice costs you nothing.

    • Have your camera ready. How many times do we all see great shots with our eyes but the camera is packed away? If your dog is doing something fabulous odds are that moment will be over by the time you go running downstairs for your camera. I keep my camera on the dining room table with my lens of choice, exposure settings, etc, all ready so I can grab it in an instant and capture that moment.

    • Maintain eye level with your dog. I see this all the time: pictures of little kids, dogs, cats, etc shot from a human eye level while looking straight down at the subject. Unless this is done for effect this disparity in eye level can really ruin a good photo opportunity. So get down low at your dog's level. Sit down, lie down but get the camera at the same height (more or less) as the eyes of your dog. This is not a 100% rule, but try it. You may find your pictures will do a better job of capturing the spirit in your dog.

    • Be patient. Back in my film photojournalism days I used to get many "how do you capture these moments?" type questions. I would explain that amateur snap shooters would expect 36 different pleasing images from one roll of film. Every shot would be different. I would want just one really great shot from that one roll. Sometimes it would take many rolls. But I would shoot a lot of pictures to get that one image I wanted. Of course this meant going through a ton of film. Most amateurs were not prepared to invest this much money and hassle. Digital has changed this. You can shoot 300 exposures to capture that one great image. So shoot away!

    • Pay attention to the background. Complex backgrounds can be really distracting. If you are at a park look around and try to position yourself so that the background is fairly neutral. Make sure the background is not way brighter than the area that your dog is in. If the background is way darker than the subject area make sure your camera exposure is not fooled by that background. If your camera has manual settings then learn how to set the exposure manually for the lighting conditions that your dog is in.

    • If your camera has settings for ISO, shutter speed and aperture then learn how these settings work. I can explain this if anyone is interested.

    • Be very careful with using flash. Flash can solve many lighting problems but flash can also kill a nice photo dead in its tracks. Direct on camera flash is the worst. It creates harsh shadows. Areas close to the flash are blown out and areas far from the flash are way underexposed. Flash can also cause unwanted "red eye". Try using bounce flash if your system has it. But try experimenting with turning your flash power way down or turn it off completely. You might have to shoot a lot more pictures with the flash turned off but the effort might be worth it.

    • Know your camera's shutter lag. Many modern cameras have awful shutter lag. Shutter lag is the delay after pushing the shutter button to the actual recorded exposure. Most point and shoot cameras are very poor in this area. It means if you see a great moment then that moment is long gone by the time you take the picture. Combatting this means getting used to the shutter lag in your camera and shooting before the moment happens. Sounds strange but it does work if you work at it.

    • Pay attention to the light quality. Bright midday sun is the worst. Overcast days, mornings or late afternoons are much better.

    • Have fun! Enjoy taking pictures of your pets. The more you work at it the better you will get, which increases the enjoyment. Let this cycle work for you.

    I will stop now. Hopefully this might be of interest?



  • Houston

    Thank you so much for this lesson in photography , I thorougly enjoyed it.
    I just got myself a canon 60D, so I am trying to get used to it….just yesterday I captured 5 does on our, was late afternoon/early evening, so dusk, yet with the camera in P setting I captured them all clear as day 100+ yards thrilled by that.
    Again thanks for the impromptu lesson.

  • First Basenji's

    I love this list. Thanks for sharing your expertise!

    May I ask what kind of equipment you use? I'm in the market for a good starter DSLR, hopefully in the < $350 range (used is fine with me). I have a Canon Digital IXUS right now with very limited manual settings… but I've done all right with it. I'm not set on staying with Canon. I rather like Nikon as well, and am leaning towards one of those lines, but dunno what to choose!

  • The Canon 60D is a great camera!

    It is capable of shooting great video as well. I am one of the main moderators at which is one of the largest DSLR video sites in the world. Definitely worth exploring if you have this kind of camera and were considering shooting video.

    There is so much to explore here. There are all kinds of composition facets to think about. Then there is digital software as well. The main thing I see with forum pictures is that many could use custom cropping. Cropping for content and impact makes a huge difference in the quality of the image.

  • There are all kinds of digital cameras: phone cameras, basic point and shoots, advanced point and shoots, "four thirds" camera systems, and DLSR systems.

    Jumping into this pool is all about figuring out your commitment and budget. But the important thing in my book is building/investing in a system that has longevity.

    The cameras are temporary capture devices. Its good practice to buy and sell these cameras while they still have good performance and resale value. Many users will buy a camera and hold on to it too long. Buying at the top of the curve and selling at the bottom of the curve will cost you more long term. Its better to buy below the top of the curve and sell your camera while it still has value. Long term you will have better average performance over time for the money you invest.

    If you are into DSLR cameras then the place to invest real money into is the lenses. I am a Canon user. I have many lenses that I use with my latest digital cameras that I once used in the 1990's with Canon film cameras. All photography is about the glass after all.

    There are great Canon, Nikon, Pentax systems out there. Its best to pick one system and stick with it. Jumping systems all the time while chasing the next big thing can be very costly.

    One of the reasons I like Canon is that I use older manual lenses made like 40 years ago with these cameras. The "alt lens" movement is huge with many Canon users. This is a huge topic all on its own though. Its easier to adapt these lenses with the Canon EF mount than it is with the Nikon mount.

  • Thanks for the great post! My husband had a bunch of SLR Canon and Nikon stuff, many, lenses, etc., but when he went digital we had a limited budget, he bought a Panasonic Lumix (Leica lens) and just bought the newer model, the FZ 50, around $400 if you shop around on-line. No interchangable lens but it is very light, range is from about 26 to 600 using optical zoom. He is still frustrated with things it won't do, but it is a very good camera for the price (all specs same as the Leica, but about 1/3 the price) is a site that lets you compare digital cameras side by side.

    Is the Canon your favorite DSLR, SeattleMax? Which model?

  • Houston


    It is capable of shooting great video as well. I am one of the main moderators at which is one of the largest DSLR video sites in the world. Definitely worth exploring if you have this kind of camera and were considering shooting video.

    .thanks for the link, will check it out for sure.

    We came from an XSi, a camera that we both loved, but it lacked the video cpapbilities and with two kids and four dogs..let's be honest..some great movies can be made with them as props or actors :):D. We also have a jvc Everio, nice little compact video camcorder..but with the camera in tow it usually meant we either left it at home or it got forgotten on a daily basis…now we can do both with one camera.

    I want to get some more lenses..we have with the camera the EFS 18-135mm as well as an EFS 55-250mm that we had with the XSi..thinking about selling the latter one and get a longer zoom and I also want a macro lens..Do you have any you recommend?

  • Thanks so much for the tips, which are a reminder for me because I was heavily into photography some 20 years ago. The 'getting down to the dog's level' is a great tip, otherwise you are always getting pictures of the top of your dog's head.

  • I currently use the Canon 5D mkII and the Canon 60D. Both can shoot hi def video at 1920 x 1080. The 5D is a "full frame" camera while the 60 uses the "crop sensor".

    The 5D mkII set off a revolution in that it records real hi def video with a huge sensor. The sensor size in these DSLRs dwarfs the sensors in most camcorders. This means you can record video with that shallow depth of focus look that film makers love. Camcorders record almost everything in focus which gives that daytime TV soap opera video look that more serious film types loathe.

    Using these DSLR cameras to record video can yield incredible video, especially when viewed full size & uncompressed on a large display or new TV. Be sure to explore the HD videos on

    Getting good, stable, in-focus video with these systems is not that easy though. Remember these are still cameras first. They can also record video. Most of the DSLRs that shoot hi def video will not use auto focus when recording video. You must focus manually! Some auto focus lenses are not that great when it comes to focusing them manually. Lots of DSLR video users will buy older manual focus lenses from old film cameras like Pentax, Olympus Zuiko, Zeiss, Nikon, etc as these lenses (some are 40-years-old) have great focus barrel movement and deliver great performance for the money. It might seem odd that users of the latest digital wizardry are looking for decades old lenses, but there you have it.

    The other difficulty with shooting video with these cameras is the form factor. Traditional video cameras used to be heavy beasts that sat on your shoulder and you used an eye piece to view the image. DSLRs are light and you have to look at the back of the LCD to view your image. Holding the camera in front of you while looking at the back of the camera while focusing the lens manually is a direct recipe for very wobbly video. Its almost impossible to shoot steady video this way. A huge industry now caters to providing support rigs, optical view finders, follow focus devices, sliders, video tripods, etc, all designed to increase the steadiness and focus accuracy of your footage.

    This is what my Canon DSLR looks like with all this extra stuff I now have for shooting video:

    Here are a couple of shots with a basic "rig" with optical viewfinder attached to the LCD that gives you a much better preview image and vital additional points of contact to increase video stability. The idea is to increase points of contact. Some rigs will also have rods and weights that go over your shoulder. A fluid head video tripod is a great way of improving your footage. The fluid head is designed so that you can pan the camera left to right or up an down smoothly. A still photography tripod head is designed to lock the camera down with no movement.

    Needless to say all this technology can be become a dangerous slippery slope!

  • A note on lenses…

    Lenses come in all shapes, sizes, weights, prices, focal lengths, zoom ranges, lens speeds, and image quality.

    In very general terms I will present the lens buying quandary as a three legged stool. The three legs are cost, performance and mass (size and weight). Its usually very difficult to satisfy all three at the same time. You have to give up one leg to satisfy the two others.

    For example, if you want the very best image quality then the lens will most likely be heavier and expensive. If you want small and cheap then you have to sacrifice performance with regards to image quality.

    Many new camera buyers will get the "kit lens" that comes with the camera. For many users this lens will do just fine. Some buyers will avoid the kit lens and buy specific lenses for their needs. Ever hear the advice about buying stereo equipment: "spend more on the speakers than on the amplifier/receiver". Its sort of the same when buying lenses. Buying good lenses is an investment. You might buy and sell (upgrade) the cameras constantly but the lenses you can use continuously. I am still using top quality Canon "L" lenses that I purchased in the mid 1990s before digital cameras were even invented.

    Some users will buy affordable long range zoom lenses that "do everything." Indeed they can do a pretty good job. But these lenses will usually have a long focal length zoom range like 28-200mm. There are compromises when designing lenses with such a long focal length range. These lenses will have a "sliding aperture" range as well, like f/4.5 - f/8.0. This means the "lens speed" will get darker as you zoom to a longer focal length. Constant aperture lenses are usually faster and have better image quality. They are also much brighter to look through. An f/2.8 lens will look much brighter than a f/8 lens. The downside to these quality faster lenses is increased weight and cost. The pro level wonder Canon EF 70-200/2.8 "L" IS mkII lens is a heavy beast that costs something like $2400! But the performance is simply amazing.

    Many users will naturally buy zoom lenses. They offer so much and the image quality of zooms now is way better than zoom lenses of yesteryear. But many experienced photographers will also use fixed focal length lenses. Fixed focal lengths means you don't have the ability to zoom to different focal lengths, you have to walk to get closer. But many of these lenses have faster apertures, reduced weight, reduced size, reduced costs, and better image quality than their zoom cousins. Some mid range fixed lenses like 50mm or 85mm can have very fast apertures like f/1.8, f/1.4 and even f/1.2. You will not find lens speeds like this in any zoom lens.

    Using a quality fixed "portrait lens" like a 85mm f/1.8 is a great tool for shooting portraits of your Basenjis. These lenses are built well, can be found used, are very bright to focus with and deliver great results at around f/2.8. Using a shallow aperture will produce that nice soft out of focus background that makes eye contact pop out of the picture.

  • Houston

    Thanks SeattleMax..for you lens expertise…Will look around and see what I can find..the 85mm lens is something I already looked at though..

  • Thank you for the tips Max, although I only have a 'plain' camera they are very useful. May I have permission to print your posting?

  • @Patty:

    Thank you for the tips Max, although I only have a 'plain' camera they are very useful. May I have permission to print your posting?

    Sure, go right ahead!

  • Thank you, Max, so done!!

  • Here is another tip for users who shoot pics and video with a iPhone, point and shoot, or any basic camera…

    The hardest part of using these cameras is holding the camera out in front of you while composing the picture with the LCD AND keeping the camera steady. Not so easy.

    A great tool here are those "gorilla pods". These are mini tripods made with flexible legs that can be shaped any way you like. They can also wrap around fences, trees, backs of chairs etc. They really improve the steadiness of your shots. They really help when shooting video with a light camera. Hold two of the legs with each hand and wedge the third leg into your shoulder. It can make a big difference.

    These Gorilla pods are light and reasonably cheap as well.

  • First Basenji's


    Hold two of the legs with each hand and wedge the third leg into your shoulder. It can make a big difference.

    Hey, I have one of those. Didn't think to use it that way though. Such a simple but useful tip!

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