Updated: Jan 16
Does everybody in your family love the dog?
Do you plan your holidays around your dog? Worry about them being home alone all day?
Would you ever dream of going on a walk that doesn’t allow dogs?
To me it only seems natural that if you are having family pictures taken your dog (or dogs) need to be a part of that.
Yet it always surprises me how many people don’t do this when having professional photos taken. It’s such a great opportunity to be able to look back in 10, or even 20 years, and remember how lucky you were to have that four-legged best friend in your life at that time.
The dog doesn’t need to be in every shot but one day those family pictures with your dog are going to precious.
My mini project shooting dogs and their families
I’ve been having a blast these past few months shooting loads of family pictures with dogs.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned along the way it’s that, just as with kids, a little bit of good preparation beforehand can make a huge difference.
You spend time getting the human members of your family ready for a shoot – fussing over what to wear, deciding on hair styles, talking the day up to the kids.
Dogs are just like kids right? They need grooming and to be in the right frame of mind before the shoot too.
Here’s three ways that will help to get the best family pictures with your dog.
You need to know what makes your dog sit up and pay attention
For the best family pictures we want to get your dog not just looking at the camera, but with head up and ears pricked. This makes for a much more interactive shot that you are going to love.
Most dogs have certain cues they react to – it could be treats, their favourite toy, squeaky toys, certain words such as “walkies”.
But here’s the rub – most dogs (unless they’re the ball-obsessed Collie type) will react really well only once, twice or, if you’re lucky, three times to these cues and then they lose their effectiveness.
So when I’m shooting family pictures I will get everything else right first – the right light, mum and dad set up, then bring in the kids and it’s not until the last minute I’ll use one of those cues to get the dog looking and there is a brief moment, barely a second or two, to click.
So play around and observe carefully in the weeks before your shoot to take note of what gets a reaction from your dog.
You could even easily train your dog to start reacting to certain sounds, like a rustling plastic bag, as that sound is always associated with a lovely yummy treat for them. Having a range of different methods to call on can be super-helpful to nail that awesome shot!
Your dog needs a clean face, brushed hair and just the right amount of excitement for the shoot
The person who knows your dog best is you.
When shooting your family pictures we want a dog that is alert and happy.
Dogs that are racing around thoroughly over-excited by having something new and different happening with a photographer in the house are going to make for challenging subjects.
Conversely, dogs that happily flop to the floor and just want to snooze don’t make for fun pictures either.
If you have a really high-energy dog, a good walk before your session may be a good idea - you are probably the best judge of that.
If you have a water-loving dog please stay away from all streams, ponds, beaches, lovely muddy ditches and even those oh-so-inticing puddles. If there's one time you can guarantee your dog will collapse and lie down in a puddle it's the day you have a shoot booked in.
If your dog is more low key and happily sleeps most of the day away then a walk beforehand definitely won’t be necessary.
A good brush the day before is great for dogs with long fur, but if a matted, crazy coat is part of your dog’s personality then don’t worry too much.
For all dogs make sure there’s no gunk floating around in their eyes and give their muzzle and face a wipe with a damp facecloth before the shoot.
Your photographer will love you for the amount of time you’re going to save her in Photoshop.
Be prepared for a long shoot
Everybody’s heard the saying don’t work with children or animals. But perhaps the reason this saying came about is because not everybody has the right amount of patience.
I love the challenge of including the dog in your family pictures but it does often mean we will need more time to get the pictures than a family shoot without pets.
If you have more than one dog getting one gorgeous shot of all you together can be an exercise in patience!
You basically have to think of them as another kid who also needs to warm up to the photographer before they are happy to smile, laugh and interact with the camera.
During a shoot I like to take individual portraits of all the children and this also includes the dog (or dogs). Not only can it be nice for the rest of the family to take a little break, a family shoot is also the perfect opportunity to get a beautiful portrait of your dog for the wall.
Find a photographer who is excited to hear about your dog
Having professional family photographs can be a big investment of time and money so make sure the whole family is part of the experience by choosing a photographer who gets excited when you mention the dog (or dogs).
If they start asking what kind of dog you have or about their personality then you’re probably on the right track.
Because – in my opinion anyway – family pictures just aren’t family pictures if they don’t include those four-legged best friends who are such a tail-wagging, unconditional love-giving and best welcome-homing part of our lives.
Learn how to take awesome pictures of your dog.
More than 90% of dog photos are boring because they're shot from a human perspective. Learn how to create a connection and take awesome photos of your dog.