Most people I know who have pets keep about a dozen snapshots of their furry friend on their phones. Photos of their dog sleeping, their dog hiding under the bed because someone forgot to spell V-E-T, their dog covered in mud from the latest romp in the backyard after a rain. You can tell their dog is a much-loved member of their family.
And then, at some point, these same friends will show off some professional photographs of their engagement or graduation or some other big, life-changing event. And their pets are always mysteriously absent.
I get it. The idea of having to wrangle your dog into a family photo on a day that’s already a little stressful can seem overwhelming, especially when you’re dressed in your finest fur-free-and-let’s-keep-it-that-way clothes. But, as a professional photographer, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be! Whether you take a few photos before, during or after these important events, you can restore your dog to his rightful place beside you with just a few easy steps.
1. Stay in calm, familiar surroundings.
Family photos are usually taken before or during major life events: holidays, engagements, weddings or, as above, the announcement of a first pregnancy. These events can all seem hectic and strange to a dog who’s used to his daily routine. While off-site photo locations have a certain charm, when including your pet in your family photos, it’s often best to stick closer to home. In the case of the Bielenins, we strayed no further than their front porch! The familiar smells and noises meant their dog wasn’t too curious about the world to listen to his owner’s commands, which allowed us to photograph him off-leash… and freed up the hands of the new parents for the cute reveal.
Of course, close to home doesn’t have to mean that you’re chained to the back yard. If there is a park you frequent, or if you dog is particularly fond of car rides, or out on the water, then you have another great backdrop you can add to your list of options. Just be sure to keep your dog safe, first and foremost.
2. Wear your dog out. A tired dog is a good dog — and a great photo subject.
Even when you stick close to home, you’re going to be pretty excited about the big change in your life. And your dog is going to pick up on that undercurrent of energy. Even the calmest pet will have trouble standing still for pictures, let alone sitting! The more you can do to ensure your dog has worked off his energy right before the photo shoot, the more luck you’ll have getting him to stay where you point. If possible, have him walk straight out of the puppy gym and onto the studio floor.
This pre-shoot workout will be enough to tire less active dogs; for the more energetic breeds, you should also pack a couple toys and plan on a few quick games of tug-of-war, fetch or hide-and-seek in between poses. Which brings us to the next tip…
3. Work in brief spurts.
Dogs can add a touch of nobility, majesty and beauty to your photos… right up until they bring the goofy, silly or crazy. You’ll see your dog’s tongue hanging off to the side in one photo, or she’ll have her head cocked at a weird angle while she gives you wide eyes. Then it’s back to beautiful. Then she’ll go on a tear around your apartment or take off and plunge into the middle of that gorgeous autumn leaf pile you were using as a backdrop.
In other words, dog will be dogs. Don’t expect them to work for an entire hour without a break; you’ll be doing extremely well if you get a full 10 minutes. Get your dog in position with praise and treats, take a flurry of photos while she looks presentable, and then let her go a little nuts. And while she goes nuts? You may as well keep taking pictures. Because you’ll do a lot better if you follow our last tip.
4. Embrace serendipity instead of perfection.
I’ve been a photographer for longer than I can remember, and I spent a few of those years working almost exclusively with kids. I learned that even when children love to be photographed, sometimes they get shy or they might be having a bad day or they don’t like their outfit or maybe they just don’t quite understand what’s going on. In the photo above, we wanted a shot of little Emma in the new spring dress her Nana had made. And for some reason she thought we just wanted a picture of her dog. So, naturally, she hid. The next two photos are her realizing we also wanted a picture of her.
When you’re taking pictures of kids and dogs — and especially when you’re taking photos of kids and dogs together — you really have to let go of the idea that your shots are going to turn out Pinterest perfect. There’s no such thing. Oh, sure, you may have those moments when the stars align and the Fates smile down upon you, but while those photos are fun to post in a portfolio, they usually aren’t as precious as pictures like the ones above: photos that tell a story, that show a little personality, that give you a bigger memory to hold on to.
And in our families, we know the biggest and the best memories always include the ones we love — two-legged and four-legged.