The Joys of Dog Photography – Interview with Zoltan Kecskes

Marianne Stenger
1st September 2020

Most dog owners take hundreds of photographs of their canine companions each year, so it’s not surprising that dog photography has experienced a surge of popularity in recent years. East Sussex-based photographer Zoltan Kecskes primarily shoots portraits and weddings, but got into dog photography after a happy accident a few years ago. Last year, he also won second place in the Kennel Club’s Dog Photographer of the Year Awards in the category Dogs at Play.

“The whole thing started in 2013,” he says. “Photography was my hobby back then and I had only been doing it for about a year, although my images were getting better and better.”

He started posting his photos on Facebook where they soon began attracting attention. Initially, he would mainly shoot landscapes and portraits, and he was doing 365 and 52-week photo projects on the side, which helped him develop his photography skills.

“One day a girl called Agnes contacted me to take photos of her five-month old American Staffordshire puppy called Alfie,” explains Zoltan.

“It was my very first dog photography session and it was a significant one. That day I fell in love not just with dog photography, but also with Agnes who is now my wife. Alfie has also become my best friend, along with Beau who joined our little family a year ago. In the beginning I would just take photos of Alfie and share them on social media. Then people began contacting me to create portraits of their dogs. I've been photographing dogs ever since, and although wedding photography is still my main focus, I love making time to photograph dogs too.”

We asked Zoltan to share a bit about his work as a dog photographer and his winning image, as well as his advice for anyone looking to capture better portraits of their beloved canine companions.

Images © Zoltan Kecskes

First of all, could you tell us a bit about the image that won you second place in the Dog Photographer of the Year Awards? What’s the story behind it? 

The owner is called Kathleen and the dog's name is Rebel. I posted in some local Facebook groups offering a free session for someone who had dogs that were well trained and could jump over things or do tricks that were exciting.

Kathleen replied and it turned out she was the owner and instructor at Fun Tricks Dog Training. She sent me a link to some of her videos and I just knew that I wanted to photograph her and her dogs.

Technically, it was a little bit difficult because it's a backlit portrait and it's fast action, so focusing was a bit tricky. I used burst mode and we had to repeat it a few times. But we ended up with some really cool shots and this one was my favourite.

I was familiar with the Kennel Club competition so I knew they had a category I could enter with this image. I thought it was special, as it’s something you don't see very often and I had high hopes that I could win something. I'm very proud of it because for someone who photographs dogs, this is a really big honour.

Images © Zoltan Kecskes

What are some of your favourite things about photographing dogs and their owners?

When you love dogs it’s awesome just to be around them. Combining this with my love for photography and creating beautiful images gives me such great pleasure. Meeting the owners is great too, as they are always lovely people. I love capturing the cuteness and beauty of the dogs and also the connection between dog and the owner.

I also love that feeling when I capture an image that looks exactly the way I wanted it to. That feeling of looking through the viewfinder and knowing it will be awesome, and then showing it to the owners on the LCD screen and seeing that they love it too. Being able to give them these beautiful memories of their beloved dogs is really a great feeling.

What are some of the more challenging aspects of photographing dogs?

I think from a technical point of view, you need to have the right gear. It doesn't have to be the most expensive gear, though. I would say it has to be the gear that you know well and trust.

I'm a big Sony fan. I switched from Nikon about three years ago and I love it. I’ve been even a bigger fan since the day they released the animal eye autofocus update. It was about a year ago and it makes my job much easier.

I mainly shoot with prime lenses and my favourite is the 85mm. I have two 85mm lenses actually. One is an f/1.4 and the other is an f/1.8. I trust the f/1.8 more when I photograph action, but I love the f/1.4 when I want to create a blurrier background.

I think the most challenging part of photographing dogs is to make them look at the camera. My dog Alfie, for example, always turns away when I ask him to look into the camera. I have a few tricks I use to get their attention, though. I always have treats with me and whistles that make funny noises or squeaky toys, and I usually ask the owner to stand behind me and call the dog.

Images © Zoltan Kecskes

Do you have any tips or advice on how to capture better photos of dogs? Especially when it comes to helping them feel at ease around the camera.

Most importantly, get to know your camera well. When you photograph dogs everything happens fast and you have to be able to change the settings quickly. 

I would also suggest shooting around sunset, maybe one or two hours before the sun sets. If this isn’t possible, find some shade and place your dog there. Always look for interesting backgrounds too, like an old garage door or colourful bush. Don't place the dog too close to it, though. It’s best to leave about two meters distance between the dog and the background and then use the smallest f-number you can.

Burst mode will be your best friend; just keep shooting so you’ll have a better chance of capturing something unique, like a cool expression or a tongue hanging out. Use the rule of thirds when you are composing the picture.

Honestly, I don't think I do anything special to help dogs relax, but I do think it’s very important for them to sense that I’m relaxed around them and enjoying the session.

I usually spend about half of the time just observing them and letting them do what they like to do, whether they want to play or sniff around. Then I follow them and just sort of document what they do. Actually, many times I get lucky and they stop and look at something and I just have to position myself to get the best composition, lights and background as possible.

Even so, I’m always prepared with ideas for some posed images as well. I also like to get information from the owner about the dog beforehand, so I know what I can expect. Sometimes it’s easy, especially when I’m photographing a well-trained dog. But every dog is different. Some of them aren’t very obedient, and just like us humans, not all of them like being photographed. That's absolutely fine, as I just go with the flow and we always end up with great images.

Images © Zoltan Kecskes

Images © Zoltan Kecskes. You can see more of his work by visiting his website The Soul of My Lens or following him on Instagram and Facebook. For more photography interviews, tips and inspiration, be sure to browse the Bob Books blog, or find out how you can turn your best photos into personalised photo books, wall art and more.