We’re in the dog days of summer now and National Dog Day is on August 26 – but you can celebrate all year long with professional photos that prove just how amazing your pup really is.
Modern dog photos aren’t just for calendars of pugs in pearls—professional dog photography is all about your animal. Janice Booth of Just Beautiful Animal Photography, Krystina Moran of Funny Bone Pet Photography, Clair Flaherty of Clair Flaherty Photography and Karen Hocker of Karen Hocker Photography share their tips for capturing some really great dog photos.
[Top photo: Funny Bone Pet Photography]
What are current trends in dog photography?
It all depends on the owner’s aesthetics, says Janice. “Some want staged studio shots, especially for show dogs. Others want to dress the dog up in pearls and bows. However, I find my clients tend to take my lead and are interested in my editorial style.” Janice aims to capture the dog, the dog’s family, and the dog’s life more so than creating a staged image. She recently photographed a rescue pitbull who was wheelchair-bound. The dog looked so fierce and frightening, she says, but was so gentle. The owner was distressed about the bad reputation of this breed and so, “the shoot became a love letter to the pitbull and capturing the dog’s sweet spirit.”
Pinterest influences Krystina’s clients who often bring examples they’ve seen and are inspired by. She shoots a lot of lifestyle photos that “showcase the bond between the person and their fur baby” she explains. As with other photographers, this is less about a staged shot and more about looking at an individual situation, factoring in what the owner wants, and capturing unique moments.
Environmental portraiture is Karen’s specialty and clients seek her out for that, although she takes all manner of animal shots. She loves to highlight a dog in its element—say a golden retriever out in the fields—in a way that captures that particular dog’s spirit. It all depends on the dog, too. Puppies have far less obedience than a trained dog, so you just have to keep the sessions flowing and find beautiful, candid shots of the dog interacting with their environment.
What happens at a dog photo shoot?
After a photographer is booked, they speak with the client on the phone to determine the goals of the photo shoot and arrange a time and location.
Before the photographer arrives, clean up! If the shoot is in your yard, take down laundry, put away gardening tools, clear any garbage. Also clean up your dog. Brush hair, consider a bath, have the pup groomed or clipped if that’s par for the course. Janice recommends cleaning up their collar, too. Make sure to feed and walk your dog before the photoshoot so the dog can remain comfortable and focused, suggests Clair.
At the shoot, Karen lets the dog get to know her and know her equipment. Krystina and Clair agree it takes a few minutes for the dog to check out the camera, sniff it a few times, and to accept their presence and relax. Janice also accustoms the dog to the shutter noise of the camera. The goal is to have your pup as comfortable as possible.
A shoot lasts anywhere from 30-45 minutes, says Clair, or up to 1-2 hours, says Karen. Depending on the location, there might be multiple backdrops as well as a variety of shots. Karen likes to allow up to two hours so the dog has time to de-stress and she’s able to capture a mix of posed, play, and candid shots, as well as a few featuring the owner if they want.
Have a favorite toy and bite-sized treats on hand, recommends Krystina. Every shoot will be different, so she tries to stay until she captures the magic. “You have to let the dog’s personality come out naturally,” she explains, “it takes patience,” and for lack of a better word, mojo to connect with the animal.
Clair brings a mobile studio to provide options on-site. The shoot all depends on the dog’s energy, she says. You can never plan how it will go with dogs, Janice agrees. One woman wanted a formal portrait of her 10 dogs. One would just not join in, and kept skulking off and hiding in the corner. She took endless pics, but at the end of the day, the dogs were in charge of how the shoot went.
How long is turn around time for photos?
Around one week is standard turnaround time for these photographers. The hard work comes after the photoshoot in post production. The photogs have taken hundreds of images of your baby, and now have to pore over proofs looking for that elusive mix of composition, artistic style, and your dog looking glorious. They draw out the best of the best and photoshop those pics to perfection. Many of them offer access to all the photos digitally, with the option to purchase high-resolution prints. Each photographer will be different, so be sure to clarify when finding your artist.
What are the perks some people may not think of?
People never have this conversation about baby photos, points out Janice. We love our animals forever, but they won’t be with us forever—and they’ll never be as young as at this moment, so capture it. Down the road is where the investment pays off, when they might be gone. If you have any inkling you might want them, she says, do it.
Personal experience drove this point home for Karen. Last year she lost one of her beloved dogs, and she only had one portrait of it. She regrets not having more special photos, because, as she explains, you never really know how long you have with an animal. A beautiful photo helps her remember their time together and the dog’s joy and personality.
Krystina points out you can always take cellphone pictures, but professional photos really capture your animal. Not to mention they’re professionally retouched to highlight the animal’s beauty.
Many people don’t realize having an actual print is important, shares Clair. Digital images can be lost. She gives discounts to senior dogs or rescue dogs because she wants to help them and have their owners have something special to remember them by. People may think, why pay when I can do it myself? But there’s years of education, camera gear, and experience with photoshop that goes into it, explains Clair. These are images that will look great years down the line.
Why do you love dog photography?
Animals are some of my favorite people, says Clair. “I can be an awkward person,” she laughs, “but when I meet another pet person, it’s like we’re a different breed and just get along.” There’s an instant bond she feels with clients because they’re the type of people who love animals like she does. “I understand how important it is,” she says, “it’s their baby.”
Unlike people, Janice says, animals are completely unselfconscious. “I love photographing them because they are who they are. There are no fake smiles. They are just pure.” The only challenge, she explains, is keeping up with them because they move so quickly and don’t hold a pose. With people, you need to get them in the mood, with animals they just are.
I love the innocence of dogs, says Krystina. There’s so much personality and love. You can really see it in their eyes. With the right photo, that personality shines through and captures the soul of the animal. Best of all, she shares, she loves people that love animals. “They’re the best kind of clients.”
I started with shooting action shots of animals, explains Karen, horses specifically. And now I think my favorite is photographing dogs. “I love that capture of the still photo where you say, wow—all four feet are off the ground! Wow, that truly tells the story of the dog.” I add in elements like shapes and lines and textures. “I turn the image into one not just of the dog, but the spirit of the dog. Look at the soul of the dog, get it into its element, and from there create a beautiful photo.
What’s a memorable dog photo session you’ve done?
The 15 year old rescue dog Krystina shot last week was especially memorable. The pup was quite sick and the owner’s mother hired Krystina as a gift to her daughter. She knew how sad her daughter was the dog was dying. “You could tell the woman and dog were best friends,” Krystina shares, “the dog was deaf but so sweet, and you could see the love between owner and pup.” The woman had worked at the SPCA doing rescue work. This dog had been tied up for the first two years of its life, malnourished, neglected, and near death. When she made eye contact with the dog at the rescue site, she explained to Krystina she knew she was meant to be its owner. She adopted it and nursed it back to health. It’s had 13 happy, healthy years with her now, and these professional photos will mean so much to her.
Every dog is so different, and every dog is special, says Karen. Each has its own story to tell. I don’t think I can pick one out as my favorite, although older dogs—those on that last journey—are always touching and important to do. But at the same time, the joy and potential of a new puppy is really special, too, she says.
A blue heeler mix rescued from the streets of LA stands out for Janice. The dog would smile, and the owner wanted portraits of her grinning dog. Living wild on the streets, the dog had grown very wary of humans and it took long time to be collected. Now, the dog was happy and lighthearted and the owner wanted that captured. But when Janice got there, the dog wouldn’t smile, although it cooperated in every other way.
Reviewing the photos later, Janice was astonished to see what the dog was expressing was her gratitude. There was a stoicism coming through in the photos that was unmistakeable. Janice describes it as gratitude to be with people who loved her. It was a deep presence that was obvious. You couldn’t see it with the naked eye or through the viewfinder, says Janice, but it shone through in the photos. The dog had something to say.
A deaf dog with three legs and two different colored eyes really captured Clair’s heart. The dog, although having some physical shortcomings, was amazing to work with and so responsive, she says. The dalmatian-pit mix was trained as a service dog and does sit-ins at schools and Veteran’s Assistance offices. Additionally, it was the first photo Clair entered (and won) in competition—winning at district and then state level.
Any last tips?
Remember to walk, feed, and water your dog before the shoot, recommends Clair—you don’t want your dog to be a ball of energy. Provide enough additional time to let your dog be a dog and get adjusted.
Ask questions of your photographer, suggests Krystina. Ask how many photos are included in the price. You may get a lower quote from one person, but if it’s only the photo shoot and doesn’t include pics, the prices will increase.
Find a photographer that fits a style you like, advises Karen. You’ll be hanging this as a piece of art in your living room—make sure the style fits you and your animal.
Even puppies with obedience problems can be good models. Don’t avoid a shoot just because your dog is still learning to behave, says Janice. A good photographer can capture great images, regardless of the dog.
Ready to celebrate National Dog Day with some gorgeous dog photos?