Tips for Working With Animals At A Photoshoot

Tips for Working With Animals At A Photoshoot | Mastin Labs
woman is licked by her dalmation and smiles during a studio portrait session with animal and owner

photo by Lucas Ottone

Including animals in a photo shoot is a common request in photography. And for the couple that’s requesting, it’s usually a pretty big deal that the furriest (and usually slobbery-est) member of the family is not left out. When you can win over man’s best friend, or coax a hard-to-win-over feline friend, you will earn yourself a loyal following. So when a client asks if they can include one of the most challenging variables in photography, i.e. the family pet, here are a few tips to help you face the photo shoot with confidence.

Before The Shoot

Photo by Kristen Curette Hines

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 them bring these. 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 those with the pet once they’ve become comfortable with you. You can use these commands later during the shoot.

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 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.

Set Expectations

Prepare yourself and your client by setting expectations. Pets are unpredictable; there will be a lot of unknowns going into the day. Think about the photo shoot as a fun adventure and challenge for thinking on your feet, and let go of any Pinterest-y expectations.

If your couple has any specific must-have shots in mind, do them ahead of time without the pet so that you know you have them for sure. You can try them again with the pet, but you have the shots as backup in case they don’t go exactly as planned.

Get the Pet Groomed

Ask the owner to make sure that their pet is cleaned up or professionally groomed before the shoot. Clear their tear ducts of any distracting debris, or stains, and brush their fur so that it isn’t dirty or matted in photos.

During The Pet Photo Shoot

pre-teen white girl smiles at the baby chick standing on her shoulder with the evening sunlight filtering in behind them in this outdoor photoshoot with animals

Photo by Mel DeFazio

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.

Come Prepared

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

When taking portraits with an animal, it’s important to have an arsenal of tools to help keep the day running smoothly

  • Toys
  • Treats
  • Noise-makers
  • CommandsIf 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 (and 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 being the most-loved.

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.

The most important part of including pets in photo shoots is to let go of control. 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!