Ask David: Reducing Blur In Pet Photos :: Digital Photo Secrets

Ask David: Reducing Blur In Pet Photos

by David Peterson 8 comments

No one can argue that camera lenses and cute dogs go together like peanut butter and jelly. After all, who doesn't want to capture memories of their dog from puppy to adulthood? Our dogs' photos go on the mantel, in photo albums, and on our walls just like the rest of the family's photos do. But, photographing your pup can be a bit of a challenge, as one reader found out. After a few valiant attempts at it, Ramona Samoila e-mailed me her photos and asked for an analysis. Here's my response, and the happy ending.

Here's part of the e-mail from Ramona:

I have a Cannon EOS 1000D and a fluffy dog. I set the camera on Auto mode, but in many photos my dog is blurry when running even when we are outside and the light is good. I love my dog and my camera and not being able to take clear pictures is upsetting me so much. What should I do?

Photography takes practice no matter what your subject is. Lighting and motion are two of the greatest obstacles budding photographers face. While Ramona wasn't worried about lighting so much, she didn't know how to get her images sharp - stopping the motion. It's challenging unless you know the tricks!

I asked Ramona to send me the photos she took of her dog so I could better evaluate them. As you can see from her "before pictures," the cute, fluffy dog is indeed a bit blurred, some shots more so than others. It's really noticeable when you zoom in.

In order to fix Ramona's problem, I gave her two solutions. But before reading ahead, can you guess what advice I might have given her? What setting changes can you make on your camera to avoid a blurred moving subject? What adjustments can you make while shooting to ensure a sharp image?

See if you guessed right:

Shutter speed is too slow. On a few of Ramona's photos, the shutter speed was set at 1/80 second. That's very slow for a moving subject. If you make sure the shutter speed is at least 1/1000s, you'll have greater success with stopping motion. If necessary, you can also increase the ISO to allow for a faster shutter speed.

Remember, Ramona used Auto mode. Auto mode will average out everything and give you settings mostly based on lighting. Your camera won't know you're shooting a fast moving subject; and therefore, won't pick its shutter and aperture settings based on such. So, this is one situation where you want to switch over to Shutter Priority mode and intentionally choose a fast shutter speed (or choose Sports scene mode). You don't have to go to full Manual mode if you're not comfortable enough with it. In Shutter Priority mode, your camera will go by the shutter speed you select and then compensate the f-stop accordingly. Of course you have control of your ISO unless you're in the auto mode for that as well.

The focal point isn't set correctly. If your dog is running towards you, your camera won't be able to keep up with the focus. The solution here is to pre-focus on the area of grass where you know Roxy will run towards. You can pre-focus by half pressing the shutter while the camera is pointing at that bit of ground. Or you can set manual focus and set it where you know the dog will be.

Another tip would be to use continuous mode (instead of single shot). This setting lets you take a series of sequential photos, which better ensures that at least one will be good! A lot of sports photographers use this mode for just that reason. In continuous mode, when Roxy runs right before that focal point, as long as you keep holding down your shutter, your camera will take 3-4 images in quick succession. One of two of them should be in perfect focus.

After giving Ramona these tips, I asked her to give my advice a try and see if she could better capture the ball of fluff! Romano took the challenge on and wrote me this:

Thank you very much for your answer! I hope I will be able to make better photos next time, following your advice! I was so enthusiastic, so I took Roxy to the park today and I've tried to follow your advice. I think I've caught better pictures today. I'm very happy about this, but I know I have to practice more. The light is not very good in some pictures.

Here are the pictures Ramona captured of Roxy after implementing my advice. Much better, aren't they?

Taking photos isn't just about pointing and clicking if you want stellar results. Thought must go into each picture. Are the shutter, aperture, and ISO settings all appropriate for light and motion? Are you focusing and metering in the right spot? Is your composition helping or hindering your subject? And so on, and so on!

Congratulations to Ramona for marked improvement!

P.S. This final image Ramona sent me I liked the best because Ramona got down to Roxy's level. When photographing kids and dogs, this is almost the always the first piece of advice given! She did it on her own and it worked out great.

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  1. dick stein says:

    I sometimes use the scene mode on SPORTS, and seem to get. pretty good results at horse races,landing helicopters etc

  2. Patrick says:

    Isn't her camera prefocusing? Looks like every image is focused about 12-14 inches in front of the dog's nose. ???

  3. Renette van der Merwe says:

    Dawid my daughter plays hockey and is goiing on a hockey tournament. How do I take pictures of action hockey at night without leaving the picture blurr I am desperate

  4. Terri Fulper says:

    David, I simply do ot have the knack for taking photos of my pets. This one was shot on an overcast day fall day. I have a Nikon D40, used aperture priority, iso 1600, f18 RAW. It looked great in the camera! Now I see how blurry it is. I also used continuous shooting, as I read on one of your tutorials. I'm thinking camera movement?

    Thank you for all the wonderful tips and tricks you give to us. We are all so grateful.
    Thanks again, Terri

  5. Abe Tejada says:

    Thanks David and Ramona. Great shares indeed.

  6. Lud T. says:

    Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge!!!
    This tip is going to help me a lot taking pictures of my little daughter interacting with our pets!!!

  7. Navdeep says:

    Hi David,

    Setting the focus to AI Servo for moving subjects - does it not help?
    Just curious, if in case I do not want to increase ISO (and if due to other limitations with the lens).

  8. Ramona Samoila says:

    Thank you so much, David! You are amazing!

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