If you’re like me, your family doesn’t ONLY include the two-legged variety of family members. More than likely, your family unit is also made up of dogs! However, including them in a family photo session can feel like a daunting task, and just the thought might spark anxiety. As a Spokane family photographer who also photographs dogs, here is my best advice on family photos with dogs and how to make your session inclusive of all family members.
Find a Photographer That’s More Just Pet Friendly
The reason we look for a photographer that’s more than dog friendly is the same reason why we often take our children to a pediatrician. It’s also why we occasionally drive across town to go to that boutique dog store to find the best gift for our furry family member. A family photographer specializing in working with pets will bring expertise, calm and make any session enjoyable.
When you’re researching for the perfect photographer, go beyond just looking at the portfolio. Here are some questions to ask.
- Can you remove leashes from a shot if necessary?
- What’s your experience working with nervous or excited dogs?
- What is your experience working with dogs outside of photography?
There’s a difference between a photographer that’s happy with well-behaved dogs at a session and one equipped (and excited) to work with every variety of pup they encounter.
Preparing For Family Photos with Dogs
Arrive early and let your dog smell. Seriously, this matters A LOT. Smelling is a dog’s primary sense, like sight is ours. Show up 15-20 minutes early and let your dogs smell the surroundings. I compare not letting a dog smell before a session to a person showing up blindfolded.
If your shoot is during mealtime, feed your dogs first. It’s never a good idea to bring dogs or kids to a photography session hungry. In fact, please feed yourself first, too. Food first is just a great general rule.
Pack high-value rewards. Your session day is not the time to pack those healthy (sort of bland) dog treats. Come armed with your highest value rewards, and be prepared to pass them out liberally to encourage engagement and reward all their awesomeness. Q’s go-to high-value snack is string cheese. Cheese is the key to his puppy heart.
Pick a Dog-Friendly Location for Your Family Photos
Here is what I look for when scouting locations for family photos with dogs.
First, make sure the location allows dogs and respect their rules. Frequently photographed natural areas sometimes prohibit dogs.
How busy is this area with other pups? Even the best dog can be reactive with other dogs. Not liking other dogs is OK and not a reason to skip out on photos. Look for a location with areas with room to get away from other dogs that are out walking.
Consider wildlife when planning a location. From personal experience, avoid those beautiful lakes where you feed the ducks. Ducks and geese are HUGE distractions for dogs. Also, so is their poop. Skip any area with wildlife freely walking around.
Family Photos Tips with Reactive Dogs
So, you’ve read the above, but you still feel uneasy about the session. That’s OK. Here’s what I recommend for family sessions with highly reactive dogs.
- Bring a friend to help hold the dog. Having a helper takes the pressure off you when you want to relax for a few photos and not worry about Fido.
- Consider doing your family photos at home. Seriously. At-Home Sessions are an excellent option for reactive dogs or to have a more relaxed vibe. You can read more about my At Home Photography Sessions here.
A good photographer will have a couple of tricks up their sleeves for family posing with pups, but the most important part is what they are with you. Work on a few photos with your dog looking or engaged with the camera but let go of Pinterest expectations.
What I mean by that is a full 45 minutes of your dog looking sweetly at the camera is highly unrealistic. When we set unrealistic expectations for us and our dogs, we fall short. Embrace your dog simply being with you at the session and let the moments unfold naturally.
MB – A Spokane Photographer whose more than just “Dog Friendly”
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