Here at HQ, we have a special spot in our hearts for dogs. So when we stumbled upon Elke Vogelsang‘s dog portraits, we were instantly smitten. Her ability to capture her four-legged subjects at their most expressive and playful is just extraordinary. Mostly shot in close-ups, each portrait brims with intimacy, a sense of humor, and the photographer’s own technique.

So how does she do it? We asked this Germany-based photographer to share her personal story, her own tips to getting a good portrait shot, and her choice of gear. Ready to step into Elke’s world and gather some handy tips? Scroll down, and prepare to be amazed!

Photograph The goofy goober by Elke Vogelsang on 500px

Photograph Think twice by Elke Vogelsang on 500px

LET’S MEET ELKE!

How did you get into dog portrait photography?
ELKE:
Dogs and photography always played a huge part in my life. When our first dog, Noodles joined our family, I felt the need to improve my photography and capture her beauty and character. This was seven years ago. We now have three dogs, and all three of them are well-trained “photography companion dogs” as I call them. They love to pose for the camera, because they know they will always get a reward. You’ll find pictures of them on magazine covers and in books worldwide, which makes me very proud. I still can’t believe that this former hobby of mine turned out to be such a rewarding and exciting job! Because of the many dog pictures I show on 500px and Facebook, I now have quite a few customers who want their dogs to be portrayed. So I have the chance to combine two of my passions — dogs and photography.

Photograph Twist and shout by Elke Vogelsang on 500px

Photograph Black labrador by Elke Vogelsang on 500px

Where do you find inspiration?
ELKE:
Of course, 500px is my favorite website when it comes to admiring pictures. But I am also a huge movie fan, and I find inspiration in films or quotes. Music and books, of course, are further sources of inspiration. I did an “A Picture A Day” challenge for more than a year — I think it was nearly two years. This turned out to be the best thing I ever did to improve my photography. Every single day, I had to come up with a picture that’s worth showing publicly. This led to lots of ideas and pictures, which led to further ideas and pictures. So I guess my number one inspiration is to just do it — to snap away, to explore, and experiment. I’m kind of addicted to photography. Furthermore, my dogs are my inspiration. They are very eager models, and all three of them have completely different characters, which makes it quite easy to come up with different ideas, and try out different approaches.

Photograph All the good dogs by Elke Vogelsang on 500px

Photograph Nice nosing you by Elke Vogelsang on 500px

How do you find the dogs to photograph?
ELKE:
Quite a few of the pictures are of my own three dogs — Noodles, Scout, and Ioli. Furthermore, I photograph client dogs, and I’m happy for every client who wants more unusual pictures.

Photograph Happy Halloween by Elke Vogelsang on 500px

Photograph Artist by Elke Vogelsang on 500px

That’s so adorable, right down to their names! Now for a fun question — what’s your favorite breed of dog?
ELKE:
My favorite breed? Rescue! Well, that’s a saying I like! To me it will always be a dog from an animal shelter or from a rescue organization. As long as there are too many unwanted dogs in the world, I will always adopt one of these. Nevertheless, everybody should decide this for themselves.

Photograph Yummy by Elke Vogelsang on 500px

ELKE (continued): I’m also very much in love with sighthounds, especially the Galgo Español. My two girls — Noodles and Scout — are Galgo mixes. All three of my dogs are Spanish. Since Spanish sighthounds are still used for hunting in Spain, at the end of the hunting season some hunters get rid of their less successful dogs. They either abandon or kill them. When these abandoned dogs roam the streets, they produce further unwanted dogs. So lots of Spanish sighthounds and sighthound mixes — as well as other breeds — die in kill shelters. Thanks to the work of Spanish and International Rescue Organizations, some dogs find homes in Spain, and others are shipped abroad to Germany or England or elsewhere. Sighthounds are the perfect family dogs. They have a wonderful, calm, and gentle nature.

Thank you, Elke! It was great to get to know you better. Now let’s move on to your technique!

ELKE’S TIPS TO HANDLING AND PHOTOGRAPHING DOGS

1. Be patient
“Give the dogs some time to get used to you being around and to relax. The dog’s owner plays a major part in entertaining the dog, but sometimes the owners are even more nervous than the dogs. That’s when you have to try to calm them down. Dogs, or any other animal, should never be hassled to do something.”

2. Let the dogs explore the studio or the location
“The atmosphere should always be as relaxed as possible, which is especially important with portraits.” 

3. Ask the dog’s owner in advance to bring the dog’s favorite food or toy
“Of course, a well-trained dog is a plus, but sometimes your model has his or her own will. Then you have to try to persuade them with something they really like — whether it’s food or a toy. Ask the owner in advance to bring the dog’s favorite food or toy, but wait to see if it’s really necessary to use these items. Sometimes dogs get overexcited when you show them their favorite food or toy. Take a few minutes to watch the dog and its behavior to see how you can try to get its attention. Every dog is different and every dog needs a different approach. This is something I really like about this job.” 

4. Get an assistant
“A well-trained dog is definitely a pro, but some just don’t follow orders, so it’s always good to have a person to assist you. Although you can produce gorgeous spontaneous shots while watching the action unfold, you will get more predictable results when you are able to direct the dog.” 

5. Get their attention by using sounds
“Some dogs react to food or toys. Some are just not interested in either. You could use a squeaky toy to try to get a dog’s attention. Let your assistant hold the toy behind your head and squeeze it. But take care — some dogs won’t sit and wait — they will jump towards the toy, which could ruin the portrait you are about to shoot. But you might also get a surprised look from a dog looking straight into your camera. Test a few sounds and see what happens. Try whistling or humming. You can download apps with animal sounds for your mobile. Start every noise at a very low volume. This usually works better than loud noises. Always take care not to scare the animal off.” 

Photograph Pirate of the Baltic Sea by Elke Vogelsang on 500px

Photograph Kiss by Elke Vogelsang on 500px

Photograph Need a coffee? by Elke Vogelsang on 500px

ELKE’S MUST-HAVE GEAR

“Since I am also a wedding photographer, I have high end equipment to be able to capture every moment without any technical limitations.”

BODY
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Canon EOS 7D
(backup camera)

LENSES
Canon EF 70-200 2.8 IS USM II:
“My favorite lens for action photography.”
Canon EF 100 mm 2.8: “It’s great for portraits, action photography, and of course, macro photography.”
Canon EF 85 mm 1.8
Canon EF 50 mm 1.4
Canon EF 24-70 mm 2.8

COMPACT: Fujifilm X-20
Photograph The pleasures of liverwurst by Elke Vogelsang on 500px
“This picture is a collage of three pictures of the same dog. Sitting right in front of the dog, I feed the dog with treats, holding the camera very close to its snout. It takes lots of patience and lots of treats. The dogs love it, but you have to make sure they don’t get too fat. This was shot with a Fujifilm X-20, which has a super macro mode in the wide angle range, but I guess you can take this with any other wide angle lens with macro function. To be honest, I took my favorite and most successful pictures with this basic compact camera. The series, Nice Nosing You was also shot on this camera.”

Photograph Urban dogscapes - wind northeast by Elke Vogelsang on 500px

Fujifilm X-M1 with two prime lenses, Fujinon XF 18 mm 2.0 and Fujinon XF 35 mm 1.4: “I love the Fujifilm X series. This is my favorite camera now to have with me on all occasions. It is always in my bag, whether I’m walking the dogs, or on a shopping trip. I take the pictures for my series, Urban Dogscapes with this camera. It’s small and lightweight, but offers an amazing quality.”

Photograph Twist by Elke Vogelsang on 500px

ELKE’S POST-PROCESSING TOOLS

Lightroom: “Most of my post-processing is done in Lightroom.” 2. Photoshop: “I use this for cloning with a plug-in called Efex Pro, which I like.”

Photograph Hard Rock, Baby by Elke Vogelsang on 500px

ELKE’S STUDIO SETUP

1. Elinchrome D-Lite 4 set with two flashes: “I tend to keep it simple. I usually only use one with a striplight or a square softbox.”
2. Mobile Flash with High-Speed functionality
3. Plain charcoal-colored backdrop: “My favorite backdrop. I love reduced pictures, just focusing on the dog.”

Photograph They do love each other by Elke Vogelsang on 500px

Photograph Laughing vagabond by Elke Vogelsang on 500px

Photograph Angry birds by Elke Vogelsang on 500px

Photograph "Is she still sleeping?" by Elke Vogelsang on 500px

Photograph Codo and Gaga by Elke Vogelsang on 500px

Follow Elke to see more of her adorable work! You can also check out her Facebook Page and website.

Interested in buying her prints? Here you go!