Photo of Golden Retriever dog playing in the creek.

Photo Gold

by Kris Phillips

Halloran-0267Whether you’re planning this years family Christmas card, to commemorate an aging pet, or your big day, a professional photo shoot will be an investment of both time and money. So of course you want to get the best results possible for your investment. Here’s a step-by-step guide for getting the very best out of your photo shoot.


Kris_BurneyFalls_300pxStep 1: Pick your photographer. The title “professional photographer” is a pretty wide net. So how do you narrow it down? Personal referrals are a great place to start. But if all your friends are paying for senior portraits while you want some awesome shots of your favorite pups do some research. A quick Google search puts you just a click away from viewing all the pro portfolios in your area. We all have different styles and you’re going to be so much happier with the end result if you choose someone whose style really speaks to you. A lot of photographers post their pricing publicly, don’t let this be your decision maker. Sure, find someone who fits your budget, but if you just pick the cheapest shooter you may be really disappointed. In the world of photography, pricing is generally based on experience. If you find a photographer whose work you love but can’t afford- keep in touch. Photography is highly seasonal, and pros often run specials in the slow season or offer deals to cover last minute cancellations. Pet photography is one of the newer facets and a lot of family photographers have jumped on the band-wagon. But pets and kids can present very specific challenges as they almost NEVER follow directions. So if you’re searching for someone to photograph the less cooperative members of your family, find someone who specializes in exactly what you want.  

DSCF7697-001Step 2: Once you’ve found your photographer arrange a consultation. If we’re talking about wedding photography, this will probably be a lengthy in-person meeting. But for most of my clients it’s as simple as a phone call or email. I shoot on-location instead of in a studio. So choosing a spot is usually part of my very first conversation with clients. The right location could be your backyard, neighborhood park, or some awesome exotic locale. It just depends on what you want your photos to look like. What are your priorities? If you have 5 kids and 7 dogs, and a decently landscaped backyard. It may be best to stay close to home. If, on the other hand, it’s just you and your pups you may opt for a more adventurous location. I’ve even taken clients on short trail hikes with their pups. After all, we live in one of the most beautiful places in the country and scenic backdrops abound. Most of my clients fall somewhere in between. I’m always happy to suggest great spots that I know will provide a variety of beautiful backdrops and easy access. Ultimately, your photos are about you, your family, and your pets. Any location will work, as long as you love it. Also, I love to hear about any specific ideas you might have. Do you have a special thing with your pup, a hug or high-five, favorite toy, or a silly ritual? Was there a particular shot in my portfolio (or anywhere else) that caught your attention? Is your pup a top notch frisbe- catcher?  Sometimes clients just want one great shot with the whole family. Some want some cool shots that highlight their pets beautiful eyes or crazy personality. Knowing what your priority is helps me plan where to focus our time together.

2015-02-16SnowDogs-0045Step 3: Optional Preparation: One of the most popular responses I hear from people who see my work is ‘oh my dog(or cat) would never sit still like that!’. The truth is that the dogs I photograph rarely sit still for long. Cats are even worse, they just do whatever the hell they want! But, it never hurts to spend some time working on the basics like sit and stay. Treats are awesome for training but try getting your dog to sit and stay even without a treat in hand. The longer you can get them to stay put the better the odds of getting all the shots you want. If you want a photo of your pup sitting up on his haunches, work on getting him to do it while you back away. Try the trick out in different locations, the front yard, the backyard, the park. DSC_0121-001Remember, on photo day you’ll be in the shots with your dog, so I’ll have the treats. If you want to get your kitty ready for her close-up just spend more time playing and socializing. Then hide that favorite toy a couple days before the big day. That way it’ll be that much more enticing. If you’re planning to photograph your cat in an unusual location it’s a good idea to get them comfortable there beforehand. Of course, all of this is totally optional. I have successfully photographed 8 month old puppies who hadn’t learned a single command yet. And I have created beautiful shots of deaf, senior dogs who have seen it all and are unimpressed. And even cats who spent a significant portion of their shoot hissing at me.

2008_0829GabiBrian0029Step 4: Getting yourself ready. What to wear? While it can be cute when couples and families wear complimentary outfits, it’s most important to pick something you feel awesome in. A couple days before your shoot try on your planned outfit and check yourself out in the mirror. Are you comfortable sitting and standing? Will you be able to wrangle pets or kids? Think about the whole outfit. Make sure you also wear shoes you like, unless you’re planning to go barefoot for the whole shoot. Which could be pretty cool, and I would say wear shoes you can quickly get in and out of.  I have had a couple of clients ask me to crop out or photoshop their ugly shoes. While I can work a lot of magic when it comes to photobombers and background trashcans, it’s a little more difficult to make someone’s feet disappear without looking bizarre. If you’re going to change your appearance radically try it out the week before. If you’re going to get a new hairstyle give yourself enough time to get it fixed if it doesn’t turn out like you hoped. If you’re going to get a spray tan, please do it at least a couple days before your shoot so it has time to even out and won’t be orange in your photos. I want you to look great and be comfortable. You’l be looking at these photos for years to come, make it something you’ll love!

Wilcox-0194Step 5: The Day Of: Give yourself plenty of time to get ready and get wherever we’re meeting without being stressed. Bring favorite toys & treats. Swap out utility harnesses for decorative collars if you like. Fill me in on any other ideas or wishes you have. You’ve done all the prep and now it’s picture time. Some things to keep in mind. Safety is super important;  everyone and every pet has different limitations. If you’re uncomfortable with a shot, just let me know and I’ll change plans. I will do my best to pose you in the most flattering way possible. But you can do a few things to help yourself as well. Remember all those childhood lectures about posture? Keeping your back nice and straight will make you look slimmer, taller, and healthier. We’re so used to taking selfies that it’s almost instinct to duck your head down to be the same height as your spouse, or dog. In some shots this works, but most often you’ll end up looking like a hunchback. So sit up tall with your shoulders back, and lean forward just a little.Rogers-0053 Do your best to keep your eyes on the camera, unless we’re going for something specific — like you looking lovingly at your partner. Dogs, cats, and kids absolutely never cooperate as much as you hope they will. You don’t have to let ’em get away with bad behavior but try to keep it light. Almost every shoot my clients go on and on with apologies for their little ones not listening. I can’t say it enough: IT’S OK. Laugh about it. With a little patience and a light mood we will get the shots your hoping for.

Client Sessions

Dog Info - Helpful tips & tricks