From creating expressive images to providing essential breaks, play can be an important part of your pet photography session. What better way to encourage those big doggie smiles and amp up the energy of your session than by incorporating toys as props for a few portraits! While I’m not a huge fan of props during most sessions (just my personal preference–no judgment if you are), I love when clients bring along a favorite stuffed animal or beloved ball to use for action shots or because it has a special connection to their pup.
If you’re considering using toys as props during your dog photography session, these three tips will help as you sift through those multiple toy baskets to find the perfect playtime photo companion.
1. Consider Its Signficance.
The best props are those that carry significance to the subjects or that help enhance the meaning of a portrait. They tell a story, but more importantly, they tell your dog’s story.
The toy you bring along should have relevance and meaning to your dog. If he has zero interest in catching frisbee mid-air, a flying disc won’t make sense. If he loathes water, he’s going to have no desire to dive in after a floating toy or amphibious floating bumper.
Maybe you choose a rope toy that’s been with your pup since day one or a stuffed animal that he’s grown up alongside to document his physical transformation. Maybe it’s a squeaky bone that he loves to carry for comfort. Whatever you pick, know that it will be a part of your portraits for generations to come, so it should be something you don’t mind looking at each time you flip through your fine art album or stop to admire that grand-sized signature wall art piece in your entryway.
Client favorites that photograph well and provide plenty of options in creating variety in your portraits include large bouncy balls, frisbees, small tennis balls, colorful knotted tugging ropes, Kong Wubbas, and soft stuffed toys. Those designed from durable and water-resistant materials are also great since they’re more likely to stay clean during action shots and throughout your session.
2. Be Mindful of the Colors.
While your dog may love his vibrant purple and bright yellow stuffed alien, the contrasting color combination may not be the best bet for his portraits. Just as brightly colored, flamboyant toys catch your dog’s eye, they’re going to do the same for viewers of your photos. Absolutely, colorful pops of colors can be a fun way to incorporate more visual interest into your images, but you also run the risk of having the focus pulled away from your furry friend’s face and toward the toy instead. The dominant (brighter, stronger) color will always be emphasized and more prominent within your photo.
When styled strategically with color harmony, however, toys and props can complement your dog, enhance the storytelling aspect of a portrait, and make an otherwise bland environment more visually exciting.
3. Clean ‘Em Up (Yes, Even the “Well-Loved” Ones).
If your dog is anything like Hunter, I’ll bet he’s got a couple of go-to’s that are…well, “well-loved” would be putting it kindly when it comes to their appearances. You know, the ones that have weathered years of shaking, tugging, fetching, and chewing–and it shows. If your dog insists on bringing along the most slobber-soaked, stinky toys, set aside some time to clean them up as best as you can a day or two before your session.
For plush toys:
- Reference the care and clearning instructions on its tag.
- Wash in your washing machine inside a mesh bag using warm or cold water only; hot water risks damaging squeakers, stuffing, or crinkle filling.
- Wring out excess water before hanging or drying on a low-heat cycle; delicate toys and those with plastic parts, crinkle stuffing, and squeakers should be hung to dry.
- Trim any loose strings and fluff fur for a photo-ready finish.
For nylon, plastic, or rubber chew toys:
- Steer clear of the dishwasher unless specifically marked as dishwasher safe.
- Pre-soak especially gross toys by mixing one part vinegar to two parts water; let soak in this solution for about 15 minutes before washing.
- Handwash in a sink, tub, or bucket of warm water using antibacterial dish soap.
- Use a toothbrush or small scrub brush to removal dirt from tiny crevices.
- Always rinse toys with clean water and allow them to dry completely; keep in mind some toys can fill with water.
For rope toys (without pieces made of plastic, metal, bones, etc):
- Soak them in warm water for a few minutes then microwave for approximately one minute to kill bacteria, mold, and yeast,
- Transfer to the washing machine for a thorough removal of dirt and drool build-up.
- Run through the dryer to complete the cleaning process.
And heck, if you can’t clean ’em, why not treat your pup to a few new ones for this occasion.
Where to Buy Toys for Your Dog in Pittsburgh
- Wagsburgh, a favorite in the business district of Northside, has been the place where Pittsburgh pets go to shop since first opening its doors in March 2017. (Just peep those furry faces who stop by all over its Instagram account!) With a goal to strength a more joyful bond between Pittsburgh pets and their people, Wagsburgh carries a wide selection of fun, quality toys to encourage both physical and mental engagment from brands like Chuckit!, HuggleHounds, and Kong. Grab your dog’s favorites at 623 East Ohio Street in Pittsburgh’s Northside neighborhood.
- ZippyPaws, Outward Hound, and Snugarooz–oh my! You’ll find all these and others at independently-owned Petagogy. Each toy is personally sourced and chosen according to the same standards as the store’s selecton of food, treats, supplements, accessories, and grooming products: with uniqueness, health, and innovation in mind. Petagogy has two locations for your convenience: one on Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside and another in Greensburg at its newly constructed East Pittsburgh Street store.
- Three Dog Bakery may be best-known for the drool-inducing natural, homemade dog desserts that fill its bakery cases, but this Sewickley-based dog bakery also offers a colorful collection of toys from West Paw, Tuffy’s, Orbee Tuff, goDog, Benebone, and more. Visit its 555 Beaver Street location in the heart of Sewickley Borough for the perfect prop for your photography session (and some samples and head scratches from executive pastry chef, Maggie).
- Fluff & Tuff, Ruffwear, K9 H2O Katie’s Bumpers, and Cycle Dog are just a handful of toys you’ll find at Healthy Pet Products. Locally owned and operated by founder Toni Shelaske, Healthy Pet Products is on an awarness and education-based mission to serve Pittsburgh pet parents by offering only the highest quality food, treats, toys, and supplies. Shop any of Healthy Pet Products’ three locations throughout the greater Pittsburgh area.
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, “Props,” check out Gretchen Ciccone with GCiccone Photography, capturing special moments. Continue to click the link at the end of each post in the blog circle until you eventually find your way back here
3 thoughts on “Using Toys as Props During Your Pittsburgh Dog Photography Session”
Thanks for these tips! I have a golden retriever and I always want to photograph him. I’m also considering hiring a professional photographer. Thanks a lot!
Oh, you totally should! Having someone else do the photography makes it so much easier to get great photos–and get in them as well. (If yours is anything like mine, he’s probably over you trying to take his photo!) If I can help guide you in finding the right pet photographer for you, please reach out.