When the puppy has other ideas…

So there I was, lying on the floor one (really) cold December day, capturing portraits of this family walking along with their new puppy. All of a sudden, the puppy hurtled towards me. What to do? React – quickly – and seize the opportunity for a totally different image: this one.


Families who rarely meet up during the year often make the effort to do so over the Christmas period. So, even though it’s too late to make sales on portraits in time for Christmas gifts, it’s a great opportunity to capture portraits that you can sell in the quieter month of January.It does, however, get cold here in the UK around Christmas. This was taken on 22 December and it was flippin’ freezing. Family members tend to be quite conscious of the camera, and I wanted to keep them as comfortable temperature-wise as possible. My solution was to get them walking.

Walk this way

Asking your subjects to walk towards you works well at any time of year. Moving helps to burn off adrenaline caused by the novelty/anxiety of the situation (your pro camera is quite intimidating from the other side). Walking also helps people to relax and interact – ask group members to look at each other as they walk and the absurdity of the situation often leads to genuine grins and laughs. The added benefit during winter, of course, is that walking – or, in fact, any movement – helps blood flow. That might give you precious additional minutes with your subjects before they get too chilly and get fed up.

Happily, this family had coordinated their outfits, which is always a photographer’s dream. They also had a new puppy in the family, which they wanted included in some of the portraits.

Setting up the shot

My idea for this shot was to get a nice group portrait of all of them walking towards the camera. I chose a low angle for a bit of drama and for a nice, bright background that would render beautifully when out of focus.

The sun was low in the sky, creating some beautiful light in this spot and also throwing shadows behind the trees. I noticed the shady areas on the path, and was going to time my shot when the family walked just inside the shade. This would ensure that there wasn’t any hard, direct sunlight hitting their faces.

They started walking towards me, with their puppy trotting along beside them. I captured a few with everyone in focus, using my long lens (70-200mm f/2.8) which really helps separate the subject from the background. I timed each shot for when everyone’s feet were in the most flattering and visually interesting point during each step. All was going to plan.

But then the dog suddenly decided to hurtle towards me. Because I had been photographing a moving subject anyway (the group walking), I was already on continuous autofocus mode. I just needed to – very quickly – focus on the running dog and recompose the shot.

This gave a completely different take on the image, with the puppy centre-stage and pin-sharp, with his proud new family in the background.