Dog Photography: Finding the Perfect Frame

Once again this year I took on the Unleashed Education dog photography challenge series – this round is called Emerge. What I love most about these challenges is that they help me stretch my creative photo muscles to see scenes in a different way depending on the challenge brief. Our first brief this year was Framed: “Create an image using the compositional technique of framing to bring attention to your subject. You can use anything as a frame, as long as it partially or completely surrounds the subject, and the frame can be behind or in front of the subject. Your subject should be placed clearly within the frame and the image should feel balanced.” This was a fun one for me – I love finding frames in the scenes I photograph to really make your dog stand out against the background. But, like all the Unleashed Challenges I’ve attempted – it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. In this blog, I’m taking you behind the scenes to the making of my Top 20 Awarded “Framed” photo.

Framed by The Rainbow Forest – Athens, GA

I first headed out with Afton & her black “goldador” (Golden Retriever & Labrador Retriever cross) Lizzie. She made a post on Facebook looking for unique Athens, GA photo locations and someone suggested the Rainbow Forest – immediately I knew I wanted to photograph a dog framed by the painted metal posts there. We spent some time photographing Lizzie among the brightly colored pillars, and got some really fun images. We even wandered a bit into the forest behind the rainbow columns to try framing Lizzie among the foliage.

We don't always hit it out of the park when we first attempt something new - so while this attempt at Framed dog photography was a flop - we still went home with images we love.

While I loved these images, I wasn’t sure I had found THE image to submit for the Framed dog photography challenge – so I went back to the drawing board.

Framed by the Stall Door – Rutledge, GA

I kept racking my brain for more ideas and looking for opportunities to frame dogs everywhere. In the meantime, I was still working with my Signature clients also and I photographed Kappy & GG (two beautiful horses) in a black background style.

While I was editing those images I realized how perfect a stall door could be as a frame – but since they are designed for horses, I’d need a horse sized dog!

In comes my friend Michelle with her Great Dane Matilda! We gained permission to use a stall in my sister-in-law’s barn and bribed Matilda with chicken nuggets, ensuring her cooperation.

The resulting images of Matilda framed by the stall door were compelling, but it still didn’t feel like “the one” for the photo competition.

Framed at Dog Friendly Oconee Brewing Company – Greensboro, GA

I was running out of time for Framed, and honestly had 3 images I liked to choose from for submission, so I put it to the side to focus on the next challenge – which meant photographing dog’s indoors.

When I started looking for some dog friendly indoor option locally, I naturally thought of the Oconee Brewing Company in historic Greensboro, GA.

Luckily, the staff was lovely and agreed to meet me before they opened with a couple of their personal dogs for an indoor dog photo session!

We photographed dogs at the bar, in the brewery, on the stage, outside on their gorgeous patio, and even playing darts! Both our doggie models were stars for the camera and I got some really fun images of dogs at the brewery.

Just before we wrapped up, Michelle discovered a fascinating old piece of equipment behind the patio. Serendipitously, the colors of the metal matched Ruger’s bandana perfectly.

I instinctively clicked the shutter, capturing what would become the “final frame” of the session. And the judges agreed – awarding this image a Top 20 spot in the challenge!

Outdoor patio space makes for a great hang out spot for you & your dog at Oconee Brewing.
Looking for a dog friendly indoor location for the next dog photography challenge - I came to Oconee Brewing Company in Greensboro, GA
Pour up a cold one on tap at dog friendly Oconee Brewing Company in Greensboro , GA
Finding frames in the scenes I photograph can really make your dog stand out against the background

Breaking Down the Framed Image

As a pet photographer, the post-production process allows me to refine my images. In the case of the winning framed photograph, I utilized specialized software like Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop to bring out its full potential.
Raw images tend to look ‘flat’ and dull when first opened. But, that’s actually a great thing! Raw files contain extended dynamic range contained within them. That’s the amount of tonal range (the darkest shadows or brightest highlights.) data in the file.

Taking the raw file and processing it through a specialized software, like Adobe’s Lightroom program, lets me push and pull the data inside the file. Working with a raw file gives me the most control in saving & bringing out the most amount of detail in the final image without letting the camera make my artistic decisions.

Once the raw file has been processed (adjusted for exposure, contrast, white balance, etc) I’ll take the image into Photoshop. My photography tends to be pretty true to life – mostly, I remove eye boogies, Georgia mosquitos, and other little blips that our eye typically glosses over in real life. But in the case of images being used for something where they will be viewed large, like an image competition or large scale wall art, I spend some time removing distractions so it’s clear exactly where I am trying to draw the viewer’s eye.

For this Framed image can you spot the things I removed?


Spot the Differences:
To achieve a polished final image, I paid attention to even the smallest details. Here are the subtle changes I made:

  • Removed the flap of the bandana
  • Filled in the hole in the metal at the bottom left
  • Filled the hole in the metal at the bottom right
  • Softer crack in the wall
  • Muted the color variation on the wall
  • Removed eye boogies
  • Removed loose fur
  • Brightened eyes for a captivating gaze
  • Slight crop to highlight the “Rule of Thirds”
A raw image file can appear dark or dull, but contains the greatest amount of dynamic range allowing for more editing flexibility.

Image directly out of camera – The RAW format often seems “flat” but so much detail is contained inside this file type. 

Images processed in Lightroom are ready to be finished in photoshop.

Image after post processing in lightroom – Lightroom is the darkroom of digital photography – bringing back the detail our eyes saw.

Finding frames in the scenes I photograph can really make your dog stand out against the background

Image after photoshop- Can you spot all the changes?

Atlanta Area Dog Models Needed

Do you think your dog might make a great Unleashed model?

This blog post is part of a series I participate in with pet photographers across the globe. This week, we’re all talking about frames. Next up Las Vegas dog photographer, Nicole Hrustyk, of Pawtraits by Nicole shares her new fine art artisan frame collection.

And be sure to keep clicking through at the bottom of each post until you land back here!

What to read next?


  1. Darlene

    Gorgeous “framed” images, courtney! I love your final edit of ruger – stunning! The brewery looks like a fun spot for variety 🙂

  2. Sharon

    Beautiful images. I spoted the changes. The forest and barn photos are my favourites.

  3. Elaine

    I love all the photos, but the one you chose is my favorite. Well done!

  4. Nicole

    Congratulations on all of those top 10s! I love that framed image so much!


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