Photo of Golden Retriever dog playing in the creek.


by Kris Phillips

Recently while responding to a glowing Google review from one of my awesome clients I came across a less than favorable one left for another photographer. Curiosity got the better of me and I read both the cringe-worthy review and the photographers response. And from what I could gather the majority of the problems stemmed from the format of the session,  it was a Mini Session for charity.

Mini sessions are offered by a lot of photographers for different reasons. The top two seem to be seasonal minis and charity fundraising minis. They’re typically themed, shorter versions of whatever the photographer does, often packaged with a small print or digital at a reduced price.

For a lot of pet parents the mini sounds like a perfect way to get some professional photos of their babies without the usual price tag. If your dog has the right disposition and you have the right expectations, a mini session may work out great. But mini sessions also seem to spawn the most horror stories from dog-moms and photographers alike.

To make sure you don’t end up a cautionary tale, let’s look a little deeper.

How about we start with the what & whys of minis. Professional photography is an investment. Sometimes Mini Sessions are offered to try and make it more accessible to a wider group of pet parents, and sometimes they’re offered as a charity fundraiser. In either case the photographer is usually reducing their fees substantially or donating them entirely the selected charity.

In order to accommodate as many people as possible short sessions are booked back to back at one single location. This is where things can begin to unravel.

Let’s talk about time first. My regular client sessions run between 90 minutes and two hours. This gives the dogs time to run through their various energy gears. When we first start most dogs are either excited or nervous. But as the session progresses on they’ll figure out sitting gets them cookies, or where they’re supposed to be looking. I’ll usually get the more intense stares and action shots during this part. And by the end of the session most dogs begin tire out and lose interest. Which is great for achieving more relaxed & content shots. But a mini session typically runs 15-30 minutes. This may not even be enough time for your dog to get used to the camera, especially if they’ve never been professionally photographed before.

The tight back-to-back schedule also leaves very little wiggle room for late arrivals. If someone with an early session gets lost or stuck in traffic it can ripple through the whole day. A regular 90 minute session offers a lot more cushion for little delays & late starts.

Next, the numbers! In order to make up for the reduced price of each mini session or raise as much money as possible for a charity, photographers will often book four or five times more dogs than they would normally work with in a single day. And this can lead to absolute exhaustion. There’s not a dog photographer out there who doesn’t LOVE what they do. But every session takes a high level of energy. And if the dog is difficult that energy may drain twice as fast. So a photographer who normally works with 2 or 3 dogs in a day, may not have much left in the tank by dog 10.

All of these factors can lead to an unpleasant experience for dogs and their moms. And put the photographer at risk for reviews that may not reflect their usual business practices.

So why do it? Mini sessions can offer pet parents a cost-efficient intro to working with a photographer. A photographer may want to donate money to their favorite pet charity, but not be able to give up more than a single weekend’s worth of income.

Skip the Mini and book a regular session if:

  • Your dog is easily distracted.
  • Your dog is nervous.
  • Your dog struggles with new situations and environments.
  • Your dog doesn’t have a really good grip on basic commands like sit, lay down, stay.
  • This is your first time ever working with a professional photographer, or your dogs first time.
  • You want a wide selection of images to choose from.
    • Mini’s usually only yield 5-10 images
  • You want a wide selection of print & product options.
    • Most photographers limit their product options to suit the smaller, less costly format.

Go ahead and book that Mini if:

  • Your dog is really easy going.
  • You really do want “Just ONE good photo”.
  • You really like the theme.
  • You really just want a good reason to donate to the charity.
  • You do professional photos multiple times a year, so the shorter format and limit options are totally fine.
  • You really want to work with the photographer but can’t fit a regular session into your budget.

If you do decide to book a Mini session, set yourself up for success. Make sure you understand what’s included in the offer and that the circumstances are right for your dog.

For all of the reasons mentioned above I generally don’t offer mini sessions. I feel like the condensed format creates too much pressure for most dogs to have a great experience. I’d rather provide each dog with the time and attention they need to have a wonderful adventure. And give you the beautiful memories you deserve.

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