A question I see posted over and over again in online pet photography groups is this:
"What's the best lens for dog photography?"
And you know what? I don't really have the answer. 🤷♀️
Because everyone is different.
Just because we're all pet photographers doesn't mean we have the same style, shoot the same subjects, use the same locations or prefer the same lighting conditions. This wide-ranging variety of ingredients adds up to some very different looking work out there in pet photography land, which is awesome! And it figures, established photographers probably all have a different "favourite lens" that they personally think is "the best lens".
🍏 At one end of the scale, there is my good friend Ms Kaylee Greer's super wide angle "Dog Breath Photography" look. SUPER wide, SUPER close, big skies, super sharp, colourful, off-camera flash, huge depth of field and personality packed. Her lens of choice is the Canon 11-24mm.
🍊At the other end of the scale, there's the much-admired "euro" look. Created using a long lens with a very shallow depth of field, these dreamy portraits and action shots feature a super sharp subject floating in a sea of foreground and background blur, with highly co-ordinated colour schemes and often stunning locations. I often see 200mm or even 300mm prime lenses used for these shots.
(I personally fall somewhere between the two - my two favourites have the number 35 in common.) 😉
So really, depending on your style, there is no "best" lens for pet photography. There is however, a "best" lens for your own personal style, which if you shoot, shoot and shoot some more (my best advice for improving) you will soon discover all by yourself.
What I think people should be asking instead, is:
"What's the MOST USEFUL lens for dog photography?"
Now assuming you are shooting outdoors, with natural light, and also assuming you're shooting for a client and aiming to get a variety of shots ranging from portraits to action...
My personal favourite that is on my camera probably around 75% of the time, is...
Drumroll please... 🥁
The 70-200mm f/2.8 lens.
So, why do I believe this lens is the most useful for an outdoors, on-location, natural light pet photographer who mostly photographs dogs? Let's explore a few reasons!
1. It nails shooting action. This is hands-down the most versatile and useful zoom range for action shots of dogs. The long focal length allows you to hang back and shoot from afar, enabling you to track the action more easily and zoom in and out if required to get the framing you desire.
2. It makes photographing dogs with their owners easier. Most people don't really like being photographed, so giving them the space to interact with their dog without you being "all up in their faces" allows them to act more naturally in front of the camera. You'll end up with more genuine smiles and relaxed expressions if you give them some distance and zoom in, rather than shooting wide and close up.
3. The focal length versatility helps you create variety. With a zoom ranging from *just* telephoto (70mm) to well into the telephoto range (200mm), the ability to zoom through this range means you can easily create a very different image just through a change in focal length. The more variety you have in your session, the more likely your client might just decide they need to purchase ALL the images from their session, directly resulting in higher sales!
4. You can still get great shots of fearful or nervous dogs. There are many reasons why dogs might not be comfortable with you (and your big scary camera) right up close to them, ranging from a fear of strangers to general nervousness. On the few occasions I've not been able to work up to approaching a dog closely during a session, I've resorted to using my 70-200 with them exclusively. And ended up with some amazing shots that would not have been possible had I not been able to give them the space they craved.
I've found this lens invaluable when photographing rescue dogs looking for their forever homes. I can virtually guarantee a good shot of any dog with this lens - no matter how fearful or hyper.
5. You have more options when shooting in urban areas. A long lens has a narrow angle of view, allowing you to "cut through the clutter" and zoom right in to eliminate distractions. While sometimes the surroundings are worth including, sometimes you just want to get rid of all those extra people, rubbish bins, street lamps, cars and other random urban objects!
Shooting wide open also allows you to blur out unimportant things in the background, keeping the focus firmly on the subject. Oh - and did I mention the beautiful bokeh from this lens? 😍
6. The ability to shoot in low light. I highly recommend an f/2.8 version of the 70-200mm - in fact I would say it's nearly a must. Aside from the beautiful blur you get wide open, the simple fact that more light is being let onto the sensor means you can keep the ISO down and the shutter speed up. So shooting beautiful images at twilight (even action) becomes a lot more achievable!
7. Easier leash removal. If you're anything like me, most of the dogs you shoot are actually on-leash. Lots of leash removal in the editing stage happens before my clients see their images! With a long focal length and narrow angle of view, the owner can be standing just off to the side, holding the leash, and you can in effect "shoot past" them through to the background to eliminate them entirely. The leash is also much easier to remove if it's held up against a blurry background.
So, are you convinced yet? 😆
While a 70-200mm lens might not be the lens that gives you your signature style, it's versatility alone makes it an excellent addition to your camera bag if you;
✅ Shoot a lot of action (or want to start!)
✅ Photograph dogs with their people
✅ Aim to create variety in your session
✅ Work with fearful or nervous dogs, including rescues
✅ Shoot in urban areas
✅ Shoot in low light situations such as twilight
✅ Want to cut down the work required for leash removal!
I don't know about you, but that list sums up the sorts of sessions I shoot allll the time, really well!
My best advice when it comes to choosing a lens is to buy the absolute best you can afford - the most expensive are generally the on-brand versions. While some people do swear by their off-brand lenses, I also see many photographers not happy with their performance who eventually upgrade to the on-brand models. I firmly believe that with camera gear, you get what you pay for! 💵
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