African wild dogs are well-known for their hunting prowess, as well as their strong family bonds.  Whilst it isn’t easy to photograph them hunting, the social side of their behaviour is something that I do try to show in my photographs.

The alpha female and her pups, enjoying some late-afternoon family time. Canon 5Dmk3 and EF 70-200 f.2.8 IS II lens. 1/2500sec at f/5.6, Iso 640.

Interaction between members is frequent in a pack of wild dogs.  Most times, as long as the dogs are upright and awake, there will be some form of interaction going on between some or all of them. Interaction can take the form of greeting, when the dogs will approach one another with lowered heads and tails wagging.  It can also take the form of play, both between adults and pups.

Dogs that are engaging in play make for good photographic subjects.  I always try to take images when at least one dog is looking toward me.  I have learned too, that wild dogs will often come face to face during bouts of play.  Sometimes the two dogs in question may then leap upward, presenting good photographic opportunities at that moment.

Such interaction offers the photographer a chance to capture images that have some emotional impact.  Pictures showing bonds and relationships can strike an emotional chord with their viewers.

Wild dog pups playing

Young wild dogs photographed at play. Canon 1DX and Canon EF 70-300L lens. 1/400 sec at f/5.6. Iso 800.

Wild dogs do most things moving quite fast, and this is one reason that they can be difficult to photograph well.  For this reason, I keep my camera in the autofocus mode best suited for capturing moving subject (which is Ai Servo in Canon, and AF-C in Nikon) and I tend toward shooting fast shutter speeds, perhaps ranging from 1/800 second upward to 1/4000 second.  I also try to use zoom lenses, as they will allow me to keep adjusting my focal length whilst shooting, as the dogs will often be moving, and can go from being quite far away to being right alongside the vehicle within a moment.  Zoom lenses that can focus quickly, like the Canon EF 70-300L and the Canon EF 70-200L f2.8 IS II are ideal.

Also, in keeping with their high-energy approach to life, it seldom happens that wild dogs will do any one thing for very long.  What this means is that it is best to be paying attention to the dogs all the time, and to try and track and photograph their behaviour as it unfolds in front of you.  You may not get a second chance.  Play sessions can be the exception though, and sometimes go on for longer periods.

African wild dog background

A young wild dog stares into the distance, whilst a sibling walks by in the background. Canon 5Dmk3, Canon EF 70-300L lens. 1/1250 sec at f/5.6. Iso 800

Although wild dogs are not overly predictable in all that they do, most packs that are surviving comfortably will tend to rest through the middle of the day, and then wake up sometime around sunset.  Typically this wake-up period coincides with a bonding and play session between pack members.  If I know where a pack is during the day, I try to do whatever I can to be with them in the late afternoon, so as to take advantage of the photo opportunities that come with the afternoon wake-up and bonding rally that takes place.