Have you decided to take the plunge into pet photography, but are not sure where to start? Here are tips on working with dogs and their owners to capture amazing portraits. Learn how to prepare for a pet session.
Getting the Details Early
After speaking with a potential client to find out if we are a good fit for each other and booking the session, I immediately send out a pet parent interview to get to know their dog(s) better. Some of the questions I ask include finding out about the pet’s temperament, health, behavior problems and if the dog is a rescue or a puppy mill dog. Finding out the important details early on will save you time during the session. I knew beforehand that a Yorkie I was photographing was a rescue, had been abused before he was adopted and was extremely scared of people. With that information, I was able to plan the pace of the session, which took longer than most dogs that I photograph. I also opted for a long lens so that I was a comfortable distance from the dog and there were no noises used to get the dog’s attention.
Allergies – Not Just for People
Another important detail to find out is if a dog has allergies or food restrictions. If a dog has a food allergy, then it is best to have the pet parent bring suitable treats. I would never want to cause an animal to have a reaction by giving them something they are not allowed to have.
Pets With Their Humans
I also find out during the planning of a session if the pet parent would like to be photographed with their pet as well. Many people just want their dog photographed and do not want to be included. But, for those pet parents that want to join in on the fun, I like to give them wardrobe and makeup tips as well as other suggestions that I offer to my portrait clients. It is also good to find out if they are looking for posed photographs with their dogs or something more casual with them interacting with their pet.
Starting the Session Off Right
The first 15-30 minutes of a dog session is getting to know the animal. Some pets are super friendly right off the bat, while others, especially those who have been abused, are scared out of their mind. I quietly introduce myself to the dog and offer them a treat (if permitted). That way, they know that I have gifts to offer. Getting acquainted with a new person can be exciting or upsetting, so I allow as much time as needed. I want to make sure that their personality shines through in the photos and to do that, they need to be relaxed with me. Belly rubs, treats and playing with the toys they brought all help to relax the dogs.
Keeping Pet Parents In Check
Just like with a kids portrait session, if the mom starts getting angry with their child it all goes downhill. I tell owners that I’m ok with the fact that their dog might not sit and stay. If I need to crawl on the ground to take a photograph, that is fine with me. Not only do I want the owner to have a good experience, but also the pet. If a dog is showing fear or anxiety during the session, it will show in the photographs.
Safety – My Number One Priority
I would much rather spend the extra time in post production photoshopping out a dog’s leash than to have a mishap on my hands during a session. If photographing outside of the owner’s property, I tell pet parents to bring the leash even if they think we won’t use it. If a dog becomes spooked or there happens to be a flock of geese where we are photographing, better safe than sorry. Also, I always request that if the dog is going to be wearing a fancy new collar or leash for their big photo shoot, that the owner test it out prior to the session.
Working with dogs is a joy and every session feels like I’m playing rather than working. A dog will be able to quickly read how you are feeling about a session, so be sure to relax, have some patience and get ready for a silly and fun time.
Danielle Neil is a Columbus, Ohio pet photographer who also specializes in children and senior portraits. She has been in business since 2008 and fell in love with photographing pets shortly after. She’s a wife and a proud pet parent to two rescue dogs and one cat. You can see more dog photography on her blog or stop by her Facebook page.