5 Tips for Photographing Your Senior Dog

“If I know what love is, it is because of you.” The words of Hermann Hesse, German-born Swiss poet, novelist, and painter. (I’m not an overly emotional person by any means, but excuse me while I go bawl my eyes out as I look down at my 11-year-old boy asleep at my feet.) Gah, seniors dogs are simply the best.

If you have an old dog, or rather, if you’ve been lucky enough to earn the love of one, you get it. There is simply something special about these sugar-faced seniors. Those soulful eyes filled with appreciation for the little things, their gentle demeanor, and the desire to celebrate the many years of love and loyalty they give us are all part of the inspiration behind my Rainbow Sessions, designed specifically for aged or ailing pets.

Because I believe every dog deserves to be photographed beautifully, seniors equally as much as those super floofalicious puppies that fill your Instagram feed, I’ve pulled together my top five tips for photographing your senior dog.

1. Go at their pace.

Older dogs, much like older people, often present their own unique set of physical limitations and may need more time to rest. Be patient and let your dog set the pace. Slowing down allows for you to capture those quiet, candid moments you may otherwise miss when you’re focusing solely on posed portraits.

If you sense your furry friend isn’t comfortable with a specific pose or in a certain location, or that he’s growing tired, take a break and regroup. Dogs are so in-tune with us that it doesn’t take much for them to pick up on your stress or frustration and for that to come through in their body language and expression.

senior dog in the flowers during Rainbow Session at Phipps Consservatory near Pittsburgh

Keep in mind, too, that some senior dogs can become more unsure and disoriented as they age, particularly in unfamiliar locations. If your dog has developed a habit of roaming, be sure to keep him on a leash. While you may not love the look of a leash in your final images, remember safety first. Leashes can easily be removed during post-processing.

2. Capture what’s important to them.

How does your dog like to spend his golden years? While an action-packed game of fetch or long hikes may not be on his daily agenda as often, surely there are activities that he still enjoys. Whether cuddling with you on the couch while you softly pet him into an afternoon nap, lounging in a sunny spot by the back door with a well-loved toy nearby, or showing off his Puppacino mustache after a Starbucks run with the fam, capturing your dog doing what he loves to do best and with what or who is important to them is a great way to add personality to his photos and continue making memories that you’ll cherish for years to come.

3. Embrace the now.

Lumps, bumps, cloudy eyes, gray faces, missing patches of fur: I get that you may want to remember your dog as the exuberance, shark-toothed young boy he once was, but there is beauty in these transformations, each its own time-honored badge of constancy, companionship, and exuberance awarded only to the best of our furry friends who have walked alongside us through life’s many ups and downs. While I can always correct the natural cosmetic changes that come with aging to ensure your senior looks the way you want to remember him, I also encourage you to embrace him as he is now. After all, growing old is a gift not every dog is privileged to.

A word of caution on using flash, particularly if your dog has cataracts (a clouding of his pupils), which can cause his eyes to appear green or even cloudier than normal. Instead, try natural light. Open natural light sources, like windows and doors, or move your session outdoors. Avoid shooting from directly above him, something that can also accentuate this cloudiness, by getting on his level.

4. Join in.

I get it: sometimes even the thought of getting out from behind the lens and in front of it can leave you feeling…well, pretty darn awkward, but I can’t encourage you enough to please consider joining in at least a few photos with your loyal companion. Don’t give me excuses about not being photogenic, needing to lose weight, or whatever other stories you keep telling yourself. There are plenty of subtle ways to include yourself in these photos that don’t even require you to show your face. And besides, this isn’t about you. It’s about celebrating the joy and love between you and your pet.

senior dog cuddles during Rainbow Session at Phipps Consservatory near Pittsburgh

Use the self-timer on your camera or ask a friend to snap a few shots while you kiss, cuddle, or play together. Finding natural ways to connect with your dog helps tear down that barrier of self-consciousness that comes with being photographed. I see it all the time with my clients who initially may have resisted joining in. My simple requests to kiss their dogs on the forehead, gently pet them and tell them how much they love them, ask for a paw, or give them a hug as they nestle their face into their fur always result in images that they end up surprisingly enamored with (and thanking me for). I can’t think of a single time I’ve had anyone tell me they regret having photos with their dog.

5. Don’t wait.

John Galsworthy reminds us, “Not the least hard thing to bear when they go from us, these quiet friends, is that they carry away with them so many years of our own lives.” As I wrote in my recent post, “For the Love of Your Dog and Those Million Dollar Minutes,” just take the photos! I don’t care if they’re professional-quality, if they’re taken on a whim using your phone, or if they’re plastered with a silly filter that makes you and your dog look ridiculous (but really, those are kind of the best, aren’t they?!). The important thing is not to wait. Don’t wait until you own a better camera, or your roots are freshly colored, or until tomorrow. Take. The. Photos.

Rainbow Sessions are designed to be a celebration of your relationship with your pet and are ideal for senior dogs. I photograph the little things that you’ll want to remember: the way your pet’s paw felt in your hand, his familiar expressions, those funny quirks, and the love you share with one another. Clients who have done a session express great appreciation in having beautiful keepsakes of their fur babies to maintain that irreplaceable connection and reinforce how these photos have helped ease the difficult pain of losing them. To learn more about these sessions, inquire via my Contact page or schedule a no-obligation intro call.

This post is a part of a photography blog circle featuring photographers specializing in a variety of niches. To see what the next photographer is sharing for our weekly theme, “Seniors,” check out Holl Photography, a professional portrait photographer whose first priority is to create a stress-free experience that you’ll enjoy as much as the photos you’ll treasure. 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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