6 Things You Should Expect from Your Pet Photographer

Whether their focus is pets, newborns, weddings, or seniors, there’s something to be said about niche photographers. Working with a photographer who specializes in a certain subject offers a variety of benefits that prominently outweigh those photographers who present themselves as a “jack of all trades.” As the saying goes, “jack of all trades (and master of none).”

Particularly when working with pets, there are certain necessities and expectations that need to be met to ensure that your pet is safe throughout the entire session, that he’s being photographed in a way that presents him as you love him best, and that everyone involved–four- and two-legged alike–have a fantastic experience. Before you hire just anyone to capture your furry friend, consider these six things you should expect from your pet photographer.

THEY GO WITH THE FLOW

Topping the list is a go-with-the-flow attitude and approach to photography. Patience and experience in working with challenging and unpredictable dogs goes a looong way in this niche. Some dogs may be timid or fearful or reactive. Others may be overzealous with a large and in charge energy. A skilled pet photographer will know how to work with all pawsonalities and quirks. In my experience, I’ve found that I thrive on these unscripted, magical, entertaining, and sometimes chaotic moments. It’s what aligns with my style–relaxed, candid, and expressive–and what I want every image to radiate: an emphasis on genuine emotion and the documenting of joy and love through small moments in time.

I think most photographers would agree that while we may have an idea of what shots we’d like to capture, how we’d like the session to flow, and the combination of how we hope lighting and location blend, but the truth is so few of our sessions often come together tied up in beautiful bows. There are often muddy paws, spur-of-the-moment dips into lakes that leave dogs soaked midway through their session, joyous rolls and wiggles in what-is-that?! smells, and spirited sprints after squirrels. Flexibility and a sense of humor are key. My clients often tell me how much they appreciate me letting their dogs lead the session, and there is a reason I do so: because the freedom and flexibility these dogs are encouraged to have create some of the most hilarious, breathtaking, heartwarming, and one-of-a-kind images.

THEY KNOW HOW TO READ AND UNDERSTAND DOG BODY LANGUAGE

We’ve all likely seen it at one point or another: ears flattened back against the head, a tail tucked between back legs, whale eye, hackles raised. Yep, you guessed it–all signs of a fearful or stressed pup. But what about excessive panting or yawning? Most people would assume a dog is hot or tired, but an experienced pet photographer in tune with your dog’s emotions and intentions knows that isn’t necessarily the case.

In her book Pet Photography: The Secrets to Creating Authentic Pet Portraits, Norah Levine explains, ” Like humans, every dog has his or her own unique character, tendencies, likes and dislikes. Unlike humans, however, dogs always share with us how they feel. This communication can be large and loud or small and subtle…A dog’s body language provides valuable information about his or her comfort level with you, the environment and situation overall. Our goal as pet photographers, is to allow the dogs to feel as comfortable as possible and as a result we’ll have a better opportunity for capturing the images we want and stay safe in the process.”

Trust me when I tell you that if your dog is not comfortable with a situation or your photographer or even the camera, it’s going to come through in your final images and no amount of post-processing is going to change that or hide his discomfort. So, what does a happy dog look like? Hank and Yoda are two prime examples. Both have slightly open mouths with relaxed tongues that hang to one side, relaxed facial expressions, somewhat squinty eyes, and while you can’t tell from these portraits, believe that they both had very wiggly happy backsides.

THEY KNOW HOW TO CAPTURE ATTENTION

Ask any past client how I got their dog to look at the camera with those irresistible expressions and adorable head tilts and 100% they are going to tell you all about my bells and whistles. Literally, it’s straight-up bells and whistles and hunting calls and squeakers and odd-mouth sounds all around here! And I am completely unashamed of it any of it, as any great pet photographer should be.

There are truly hundreds of ways to get the attention of your four-legged friend, but as you may have realized if you’ve ever tried to snap a photo of your own pet only to be ignored, some are more effective than others. From mouthwatering treats and well-loved toys to unusual sounds and ear-perking questions, you should expect your pet photographer to know how to capture your pet’s attention. If your pet is deaf or blind, this becomes even more critical. Even cats and sighthounds require special considerations with what motivates them.

dogs with cute expressions at Phipps Conservatory near Pittsburgh

They KNOW HOW TO REMOVE LEASHES AND Create Natural-Looking COMPOSITES

If you want to make your dog look like she’s the queen of off-leash good behavior, booking a photographer who knows how to remove leashes without a trace is non-negotiable. Like most pet photographers, I’d estimate that 80% of my clients’ dogs cannot be off-leash–and that’s OK and perfectly normal–because no one except you and I will ever know it was even there! When removed carefully using a variety of techniques, it is virtually impossible to detect any trace of a leash.

Natural-looking composites are another area where you should expect your pet photographer to excel, particularly if you’re bringing multiple dogs to your session and want them photographed together. I like to think I’m a magician with an unwavering knack at getting all dogs to look at the same time, but let’s be real: that rarely happens. (Squirrel!) Dogs get distracted, they may lose interest and look away, one may end up looking dapper and the other derpy. It’s totally normal and expected, which is why your photographer must know how to composite two images into one to create that dream moment in time when all dogs are looking at the camera…and looking good!

they’re a Dog-Lover at heart and Not Afraid to Get Down and Dirty

When you meet a true dog lover, you just know. We’re used to accessorizing in dog hair, kicking off a session with muddy-pawed pounces and wrapping it up with slobbery, face-soaking kisses. Those embarrassing moments of chaos that may make you cringe: yes, we live for those, knowing that we’ll be left with nothing less than those personality-filled shots you’ll love, and we’re not afraid to do what it takes to get them…even if it means getting a little down and dirty.

pit bulls and bulldog having fun during photography sessions

THEY KEEP IT REAL…REAL FUN

While it would be nearly impossible to pick just one quality to look for in your pet photographer if I had to it would definitely be an ability to keep things fun. You want your pup to have the freedom to be himself–and you need someone who knows how to pull those characteristics that you love so much out of him. Spur-of-the-moment zoomies, cuddles and pets, a quick game of fetch: whatever it is that makes you squeal, “Yes, that is so {your pet’s name]!”, your photographer needs to be able to capture that. Sometimes a little fun is all it takes to transform (i.e., wear out) a high-energy dog into a calm and relaxed good boy.

dachshund puppy plays and runs at Brady's Run Park near Beaver Falls

The above images of Uschi, for instance, were created just minutes apart. She absolutely loved racing through the leaves toward her mom for some action shots and fell head over heels for my husband who was assisting me that day by tossing her favorite ball in the field for her to retrieve. Nearly tuckered out, Uschi was good to go shortly after and created the most awww-worthy portraits posing on a nearby tree stump. (Seriously, look at that smile!)

Choosing a photographer who specializes in exactly who or what you want to have photographed can make a tremendous difference in everything from the overall client experience to the quality and style of your final images. Take your time, research, ask questions, and trust your gut as you inquire with potential photographers.


If you would like to book a Bark & Gold Photography session for your pet, click here or give me a call at 724-913-BARK (2275). For more information on Bark & Gold Photography sessions, visit “Your Session” in the menu and be sure to share your email on my homepage to join the VIP list.

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