Dog shows are quite an endeavor- from watching beautiful representations of the breed waltzing around a ring to seeing long haired breeds get meticulously groomed. Photography plays an important part in these events, as they document all of the happenings and memorialize best in show winners! However, as detail-oriented as the owners are about their dogs, they’re just as focused on the photographs of their pups. You see, the image is how they are able to share their animals to the world (and even find proper breeding prospects after winning to ensure the breed continues forth).
Although photographers hold a lot of technical skill on working the camera, photographing dogs in a show stack requires more than just the settings. You need to know the right angles and positions- because that makes all of the difference. This growing need for photographers leaves room for new blood to enter the show ring, here is our article on how to correctly capture pups in all of their show dog glory and give you a leg up in the ring! f
What is a Show Stack?
Let’s go back a step and chat about what a show stack is.
Stacking is one of three things that a dog must learn how to do when being entered in a conformation show. Conformation shows are the dog shows we all think of when the term is mentioned. The official term for dog shows is conformation because it is the act of conforming or producing conformity. Dogs are being measured by how closely they conform to the standard of their particular breed.
Stacking means that the dog must be able to stand still on the ground (if he is a small dog, he must also learn to stand still on a table), so the judge can observe the dog and form an opinion as to how the dog appears when standing still. Each breed has a specific stacking form and requirement it must adhere to.
Most commonly, show stacks are where the dog stands in profile, all four feet perfectly parallel and in alignment with one another, with the head held high to elongate the neck. Each breed’s stacking requirement highlights certain facets of the dog’s structure that is characteristic of the breed.
Why Photographing Properly Is So Important
There are so many reasons as to why photographing show stacks correctly is so important.
Firstly, documentation. A show stack photograph represents the dog in its most proper and noble way.
Secondly, breeding. When show dogs are selected for breeding, their structure comes into play (as well as rigorous health testing). Having good show stack photographs showcases the dog’s form, and is often used as advertisement to generate interest in either the breeding or the potential puppies.
Thirdly, win photographs! You want to show why your dog won its title, and a good photograph can do just that.
Finally, critique. Good show stack photographs can express the dog in its proper way, which allows professionals to better critique the stacking ability, dog’s structure, and more.
Improper photographs lead to misrepresentation which can further spiral into trouble.
Vantage Point and Angling
The definition of vantage point in photography is the same as its definition everywhere else- vantage point is the perspective at which you see. With photography, vantage point refers to the perspective you take a photograph at (so, it’s what your lens sees!). This is the key concept when photographing show stacks.
The general rule is that you want to come in at the dog’s shoulder. Position yourself so that the vantage point begins at the shoulder, but captures the whole body- if that makes sense. Basically, if you’re capturing eye level, you’re basing the height of the camera on the eye, correct? Here, you want to base it at the shoulder. This creates far more flattering proportions.
Ensure the camera is aligned well with the dog- the dog should be centered with the frame. Make sure your horizon is straight, aligned with the dog’s back.
As well as this, come in at the shoulder as well. Whether you are capturing the dog in total profile (parallel to you) or a three quarter view, coming in at the shoulder continues to be the flattering move for most all dog breeds. That’s your angle.
Biggest Mistakes when Photography Show Stacks
Here are the three common mistakes that happen when photographing show stacks.
1. Too High of a Vantage Point
If you capture a photo above the dog, the dog looks squashed and you can’t see its body.
2. Too Low of a Vantage Point
Too low may be tempting for large dog breeds such as Great Danes, but this crushes their proportions and makes them look unlike themselves.
3. Not Being Properly Aligned with the Dog
If you are not perfectly aligned with the dog, you’ll find the shows look really off. Maybe the dog’s read looks higher than their head or the chest looks too small! These differences impact the perception of the dog’s structure.
You Are Not the Dog Owner
Keep in mind that you are the photographer, not the owner. You direct the owner of where to stack the dog and towards what lighting or location, but you are not the dog’s owner. Let the owner do the stacking and positioning, certainly don’t try to help!
That being said, it is advised to be versed on the breed you are capturing. Even if you had not heard of the breed before, a quick Google search can yield plenty of fruit. Study how the dog is supposed to be stacked and make note of it when you are capturing photographs. It is alright to tell the owner that the dog’s leg is not properly aligned or that the head needs to be higher, that is your job after all!
The main point is to not impulsively grab the dog to try and adjust them yourself, the owner knows how to do this properly. Most of the time, show stack adjustments are done by the dog’s head or by moving the paws. The way the head is turned or leaned affects the body itself.
Post Processing Can Be Your Friend
How masterful are you at Photoshop? The real secret is that a lot of great show stack images are actually adjusted a bit in post processing. Remember, you are working with animals, not robots! Sometimes the fur isn’t laying right or a foot shifted a couple of inches right as you clicked the shutter.
Consult with the owner and talk to them about what they ideally need to see from their dog, and see if you can somehow bring this to fruition with a tweak or two in post processing. The dog’s very own version of “beauty retouching”!
In conclusion, this should help you capture perfect show photos for dogs every time!