Pet Photography Tips: Working with Puppies
A puppy photo session is always a treat but it can be one of the trickier types of shoots a pet photographer takes on since the dogs are more difficult to keep still, focused and awake. Don’t worry! After quite a few years experience at this I have five sure-fire tips and bits of pet photography wisdom for dealing with really young animals that I’m happy to impart to anyone thinking about taking on this sort of project.
Some background: all the images here are from a pro bono shoot for one of my favorite S.F. Bay Area rescue groups: Pound Puppy Rescue. The nine German-shepherd mix puppies all came from a litter with a British Royals theme for the names — momma dog is Lizzie, of course! We shot down in Los Gatos where the puppies and Lizzie were fostered on a large, sprawling property.
I know I hate it when posts like this take forever to give you the info you want so I’ll cut to the chase with the basic pet photo tips first and then fill in the gaps with more details if you want them. So, without further adieu: here we go!
My Top 5 Pet Photography Tips for Puppy Sessions
FYI: A number of these will work for pretty much any dog or animal you photograph
- Always bring a helper (or two) to a puppy pet photo session
- Stay zen when photographing puppies (or any animal)
- Put little dogs up on or in something (or have someone hold them)
- Do multiple, short sessions before meal times
- Shoot before they eat
Pet Photography Tip #1: Bring Help
If you’re photographing dogs this young it’s really important for safety and sanity’s sake to have at least one other person there there to keep them contained and to make sure they don’t fall if they are in an elevated position. I’d actually recommend at least two people if you can swing it. One to keep an eye on the dogs while you’re shooting and the other to stand behind you or next to you to help keep their attention. If there are multiple dogs involved as there were on this shoot you’ll want to keep the rest of them in a safely enclosed area while you work.
Bonus Tip: make sure anyone there to help is not making noise or fast movements unless you’ve asked them to. It can distract your puppy subjects.
Pet Photo Tip #2: Stay Calm and Photograph Cute Puppies!
This next photography tip may seem overly obvious but it’s really important and not always easy to do. Photographing lots of small, fast-moving and completely untrained puppies can be frustrating. They rarely do anything you want them to and a lot of the commands you use on even a moderately trained dog simply don’t work. Tension can mount quickly if you’re simultaneously holding a camera or phone with one hand and trying to get their attention with the other and they’re not doing it. It’s ok if they aren’t. Getting tense and frustrated won’t help at all and, besides, you’ll miss out on cute, unplanned moments.
Puppy Photo Tip #3: Put them in Something, Up on Something or in Someone's Hands
When they’re awake puppies move. A lot. If you have a lot of space and clean, good-looking backgrounds this isn’t a problem but if you’re shooting against a backdrop or are in a small room it’s really tough. I recommend elevating them on something solid to keep them in one place. For this shoot we had a sturdy, wooden crate on top of a picnic table. This helps restrict movement and also gives a photographer more room and angle range to work since you can get below them or level with them easily.
That said: it’s really important to have another person standing by near them to make sure they don’t fall off. If you want to use the ground as a background you can also put them in a foldable puppy pen on grass or a nice wood floor and shoot down at them.
Lastly, you can have a volunteer hold them and capture that human, animal bond but make sure they’re not wearing a shirt that colored the same as the dogs or has a distracting pattern.
Pet Photo Tip #4: Multiple Short Sessions vs. One Long One
Puppies poop out quickly so it’s best to work with them in short bursts while they still have energy and more attention span. If you have multiple puppies to deal with limit your time with each one for each set up or pose and if they don’t respond switch to the next puppy and then come back to them. Sometimes they just need a little rest.
Pet Photo Tip #5: Shoot Before Mealtimes
The nine puppies we worked with were only four weeks old and still actively nursing so they needed to feed more frequently than a puppy you’d bring home at 12 weeks. Puppies tend to get very sleepy right after they feed so if you can swing it, I recommend working with them before they eat. Otherwise you may end up getting a lot more images of sleeping puppies than you intend to. In our case with 9 dogs there was enough talent so that some could feed off mom and take a quick nap while others were being photographed.
There were multiple folks from the rescue group there to lend a hand, moral support and, along with me, get their cuteness overdose for the week. I also want to thank Laura Cazalet from PPR for her fabulous behind-the-scenes shots.
I hope you’ve found these puppy-oriented pet photography tips helpful and I’d love to hear from you if you any feedback on mine or if you'd like to learn more about my pet photography sessions or work with shelters and rescue groups.