Don’t be surprised when you get a request to have animals at a photoshoot. People love their pets! They occupy a special place in our hearts and in our lives. For that reason, including animals in a photoshoot is a common request made to photographers. Your clients can’t imagine leaving the furriest (and usually slobberiest) member of the family out.
Plus, if you can win over man’s best friend or coax a hard-to-win-over feline friend, you will earn yourself a loyal following. When a client asks if they can include one of the most challenging variables in photography, you want to be ready to face the shoot with confidence.
In this post we’re sharing what you can do before and during the shoot to make sure the experience is as smooth as possible.
Photo Credit: Kristen Curette Hines
How to Prepare for Working With Animals At A Photoshoot
Meet the pet in a neutral space.
Especially if you’re meeting a hyper, nervous, or territorial pet, we strongly suggest you meet them in a neutral space before the shoot. Talk to the owner about their pet ahead of time. Ask them about any toys or treats their pet likes, and have the owner bring them. At the meeting, greet the pet with closed fists (for your safety) and always let them approach you first. Get on the pet’s level so that they feel more comfortable, and talk to them in a soft tone.
Ask the owner about what their pet can do; sit, stay, roll over, shake, etc., and practice with the pet once they’ve become acquainted with you. You can use these commands later during the shoot, if needed.
If you meet the pet ahead of time and get along with them, they will remember you on the day of the shoot and you’ll have an easier transition. If you are not a good fit with the pet, it’s better to know before the shoot so that you can plan accordingly or have your client reschedule the shoot with another photographer. Never take a job with a pet that you don’t feel safe around.
Subdue the pet's excitement.
Animals are incredible at sensing energy from people. If you are fearful, stressed, or overly hyper, they will mirror those emotions. Be calm, don’t pay them a lot of attention, let the pet come to you, and don’t act overly excited when they do. This will help them stay mellow on photo shoot day.
Interact with the pet and the owner.
Observe the way the owner interacts with their pet and try to mimic it. The pet is comfortable with everything about their owner, from their body language to the timbre of their voice. If you act similarly to the way their owner acts, the pet will feel safe around you and respond to you more quickly than if you do not.
In addition to interacting with the pet, it’s important to spend time interacting with your client in front of the pet. Seeing you interact with their family will help the pet know that you are a welcome visitor. Pets are very conscious of the emotions of their owner, so if their owner is at ease around you, they will be too.
Control what you can (and know what you can’t).
Pets are unpredictable, so there will be a lot of unknowns going into the day. Think about the photo shoot as a fun adventure; a challenge for thinking on your feet. Let go of any need for control and allow yourself to see what unfolds.
It can also help prepare your client by setting expectations. If your couple has any specific must-have shots in mind, discuss this in advance and remind them that sometimes pets operate with a strong will and a mind of their own. While you can promise to do your best to get the shot, you can’t guarantee anything unless the animal decides to play along.
Make sure the pet is getting groomed.
Grooming before a shoot ensures the animal shows up looking their best. However, this is a step so many owners tend to forget! Don’t hesitate to remind the owner to make sure that their pet is cleaned up or professionally groomed before the shoot.
This could mean a visit to the groomer for a cut, if needed. More often, all that’s required is clearing their tear ducts of any distracting debris or stains, and brushing their fur so that it isn’t dirty or matted in photos.
What to Do During a Pet Photo Shoot
Tire out the pet.
On the day of the photo shoot, ask your client to tire their pet out. Know that young animals like puppies and kittens tire out more quickly, but regain energy sooner because their energy happens in bursts.
Middle-aged pets, on the other hand, tend to be harder to wear out, but need more rest to recover. Plan accordingly so that the pet is tired when you arrive for the photo shoot. Tired pets tend to be better behaved and easier to capture during a photo shoot.
Remind your client the morning of the photoshoot to arrive with several of their pet’s favorite treats, poop bags, and toys. Bring some backup if you have any at home. Ask the owner also to practice commands like “sit” and “stay” ahead of time so that the pet is all warmed up for the shoot.
For treats, make sure the owner brings treats that are enticing, but not so big that the pet will get sick eating a lot of them. You want to be liberal with the treats. If the owner brings toys, make sure you don’t bring them out until you’re ready to take photos with them. Once they’re introduced, it can be hard to take them away without losing the pet’s attention entirely.
Capture natural moments and use props.
Even the goodest of boys might not be able to give you their full attention for a whole shoot. When taking portraits with an animal, it’s important to have an arsenal of tools to help keep the day running smoothly.
Here’s what works especially well for dogs:
If you overuse any one of these the pet will become disinterested, so introduce them as the day goes on. Bring a squeaky toy, a barking noise-byte, or a tiny bell to ring when you want to get the animal’s attention for a picture.
Use whatever commands they know for posed images or portraits. If (read: when) the pet loses interest in your props or becomes antsy, take the opportunity to have the owner play with their dog. Capture fun candid moments during this time. Oftentimes, these candid images turn out to be the best and most-loved ones.
You can bring treats and toys for cats too, and they can certainly help during a shoot. Most cats will also respond well to a calm atmosphere, so keep it light and easy during your shoot.
Of course there are more pets out there than cats and dogs, and if you’re shooting another kind of animal you still want to be ready with whatever you need. When in doubt, ask your client if there’s anything that can help their pet stay calm, relaxed, and attentive during your shoot.
Bring a zoom lens.
A zoom lens can be a game-changer when it comes to taking portraits with pets. It can help you keep up with a running dog, or give the pet and their owner a little time to themselves while still capturing the action from a distance.
Don’t Stress Over Photographing Our Four-Legged Friends
Photographing animals isn’t easy, especially if you’re approaching this task for the first time. Being prepared is the first step, but having fun is important too. To a certain degree, you must be prepared to go with the flow. Focus on capturing interactive moments between pets and owners. Laugh off a stubborn dog that won’t sit, or a shy cat that won’t look at the camera.
If you’re not stressed, the pet won’t be either, and you’ll be more likely to get the cute shots that capture the personality of the pet and the connection they have with their owner.
Have you worked with pets? Share your tips and tricks in the comment section below!
Looking for more photoshoot tips? We’ve got great ones for shooting a higher number of people. Read our Tips for Photographing Large Groups.