By Bill Konway
Dogs are without a doubt the most loyal waterfowl hunting partners most of us hunters will ever have with us in the blind or field. They are always ready to go with no regard for the weather, the day, the time, etc. Getting a few good photos of your best friend can add to the great memories of your hunt. Personally, I love photographing dogs because of their eagerness to please, willingness to keep going despite the temps, and sheer enthusiasm.
You really don't need a lot of fancy gear to accomplish this; just keeping the idea in the back of your mind is usually enough to pay more attention to your pal and capture some great shots. Many of the same guidelines that apply to photographing human subjects apply to dogs. Good lighting, good composition, and sharp focus are vital. I think the one single thing that can produce better dog photos is to get down on their level. This alone will make the dog the center of attention. Another thing to keep in mind is to try to avoid a direct flash in the dog's face. He won't be too thrilled and it will probably make his eyes glow like a demon.
Try shooting available light. At times, a shot of the dog perched on the bow of the boat at the start or end of the day can make a great silhouette image with no flash needed. If you have the ability to use your flash off camera, or even dial down its intensity, you can open up a whole new world of opportunity.
Be sure to "bracket" your images for lack of a better word. Set the flash at different intensity levels and move it around - higher, lower, left, right, etc. Shoot a shot or two with each adjustment. Most digital SLR's will have an exposure and a flash compensation adjustment on them. Use these tools. You quickly learn what works best. Keep in mind that black labs will literally suck up light in gobs, so keep adjusting until you get it right.
Shooting dogs in action busting through the water on a retrieve, either real or training, or leaping over cut cornstalks or snow can make for the best pictures of your life. Dogs move fast in these situations, so you need to be prepared. Setting a high shutter speed (I like 1/1000th of a second or better) will freeze most of his movement and stop him in mid air. Some DSLR's will have a "sport" setting which will automatically boost the shutter speed. You may need to raise the ISO a stop or two to get an extra bit of shutter speed while still maintaining a decent aperture.
If you have a predictive or tracking focus feature on your camera, now is the time to use it. The cameras are pretty good at keeping focus, assuming you have a fairly fast lens with a max aperture of about f4.0. Once again, getting at the dog's level will improve your results. Lying on the ground if you're in a field or in the water with your waders on will accomplish this for you. I prefer to use longer lenses when shooting moving dogs.
I like the "compressed" effect it produces, plus it also lets me work back further from the dog and gives me more shots per retrieve.
As always, keep shooting, then shoot some more. Eventually it will all just come together for you.