Why Play Can Be an Important Part of Your Pet Photography Session

Ask me what many of my clients’ favorite images are and I can almost guarantee that they’ll choose at least one that was created during some form of play throughout the session.  Action shots, especially, a commonality that should not come as a surprise.

A 2015 study of more than 4,000 dogs conducted by Bristol University reinforces that play is essential and beneficial for both dogs and their humans. Play, whether that be through a game of tug-of-war or fetch, has countless benefits, f giving your four-legged friend  an enjoyable physical and mental workout that alleviates stress to providing a safe, healthy way for him to express his natural canine behaviors. Here are five reasons why play should also be an important part of your pet photography session.

1. Play time creates expressive images.

My clients love being surprised by those unscripted, magical, intimate, and often unexpected moments that pop up during their slideshow at their reveal and ordering appointment. Sometimes, though, the very moments that inspire me to grab these shots are also the same ones that, during their session, leave pet parents cringing at their dog’s behavior, completely mortified by his antics and embarrassed by his unbridled energy and endearing spunk.  To that, I cannot emphasize enough that there is no need to feel bad.  They are often the very instances and quirks that will ultimately leave you with images sure to have you saying, “That is so [dog’s name]!”

2. Play time produces candid action shots.

Engaging in play is one of the easiest ways to bring to life the action shots many clients love. When your dog is focused on having fun, I’m more likely to capture that natural joyful expression that accompanies the bolt for a ball or the race to Mom’s arms for a quick cuddle. One of the ways I do that is to have my clients run their dogs towards me, often  by tossing a ball or toy my direction, as it gets them running to me head on and allows me to photograph them with a more direct angle on their expression.

white pit bull running and playing in a field at South Park near Pittsburgh

3. Play time leads to big smiles.

I believe all dogs smile, don’t you? According to Stanley Coren in his Modern Dog Magazine article, “How to Make Your Dog Laugh (really),” he writes, “…there is actually one canine facial expression that comes close to what we mean by smiling in humans. In this expression, slightly opened jaws reveal the dog’s tongue lapping out over his front teeth. Frequently the eyes take on a teardrop shape at the same time, as if being pulled upward slightly at the outer corners. It is a casual expression that is usually seen when the dog is relaxed, playing, or interacting socially, especially with people.”

With their wholehearted, wide-mouthed, live-for-the-moment kind of joy and  the way their eyes get a little extra twinkle when they’re engaged in an activity that just makes them feel good , it’s nearly impossible not to smile yourself.  I mean, is there anything better than a pibble smile?

4. Play time provides essential breaks.

Sometimes we all need a short break during a session. You cannot expect a dog sit, stay, and pose for an entire session and not become restless, stressed, or disinterested.  Replacing the posed with play offers a relaxing, low-pressure, and appropriate way for you and your pup to regroup throughout your session. Rebecca Sommerville, a Animal Behaviorist and Welfare Scientist at The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh, uncovered that a few minutes of downtime is often all that’s needed to refresh and relax his mind so he can focus on following directions when we’d like him to, adding”Regular, real play between a dog and owner does not revolve around commands, and is important to strengthen their bond.”

5. Play time is just plain fun!

There’s no denying that play is just plain fun for four- and two-legged friends alike! While Bristol University’s research has shown that “the domestic dog’s characteristic playfulness in social contexts is an adaptive trait, selected during domestication to facilitate both training for specific purposes,” it also facilitates “the formation of emotionally-based bonds between dog and owner.”  (It’s also one of my favorite ways to catch those hilarious derpy blooper shots that I try to include in every session. )

derpy blooper photos of Bull Terrier and pit bull at South Park near Pittsburgh

If you would like to book a fun-filled 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.


This post is a part of the Pet Photography 52 Weeks project blog circle. To see what the next pawesome photographer is sharing for the weekly theme, “Play Time,” check out Jo Lyons Photography, the down-to-earth dog loving photographer for cherished dogs of Sydney, Central Coast, Newcastle, and the Great Lakes Region of NSW. Continue to click the link at the end of each post in the blog circle until you eventually find your way back here.

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10 thoughts on “Why Play Can Be an Important Part of Your Pet Photography Session

    1. Thanks, Angela! I have been trying to put a client-friendly spin on my P52 posts. Sometimes it’s a stretch, but this theme fit perfectly! Glad you found it helpful!

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