Including Pets in Family Portraits

Including Pets in Family Portraits: Tips for Bringing Animals to a Professional Portrait Shoot

Pets play an important role in family life. Including them in portraits incorporates the whole family dynamic and brings warmth to the relationships captured in photos.

What to Consider Before a Portrait Session

What to Consider Before a Portrait Session

As with any professional pet portraits photograph, it is important to choose the right photographer and to have a clear understanding of what is expected from the shoot and what kind of photo is desired.

Some people want a studio portrait while others prefer to have a photograph taken at their home or outside in a park. Some want a formal portrait in which each person is posed by the photographer while others prefer shots that feel more dynamic and impromptu.

It is important to consider the style of the end result, but the temperament of a family pet may also help guide decisions about where the portrait should be photographed.

How to Choose the Right Photographer

Not all photographers welcome pets, but those who do agree that the challenges of including animals in photo shoots are balanced by the dynamic pets can bring to the pictures.

All professional portrait photographers have galleries or portfolios of their work that show their skill and style. The first place to start is with a photographer whose portfolio includes family pets.

Portrait photographer Donna Weaver of Davidsonville, Maryland says “they [pets] are just unpredictable and you have to be patient and you have to really enjoy your subject matter.” She suggests a conversation with the photographer to get a feel for how well he would connect with your family and your pet.

“Run through their gallery first, see if you like their style, and then talk to them to get a sense of whether they like animals,” she said. “I love babies and puppies. I’ve done horses too, but I’m not as familiar with them.” Weaver said she’s been asked to photograph reptiles, but doesn’t because she doesn’t connect with them.

An open conversation with a prospective photographer should clarify whether or not they connect with a given type of animal.

How to Prepare a Pet for a Photo Shoot

Of course, the pet should be clean and well groomed before a photo shoot. In the case of dogs and cats, an owner may want to choose a collar or accessory that matches the color scheme of the rest of the family.

“As with children, I always advise people to make sure their pets are well fed and rested as much as possible,” said Camille Contino, a photographer from Shady Side, Maryland. With dogs, Weaver suggested running them before a shoot, “like an hour before so they’re a little bit tired, calmer,” she said.

Contino and Weaver agree that a favorite toy and treats can help keep the focus where the photographer wants it. Cats pose a little more of a challenge. With a particularly active or fickle animal, sometimes Weaver will set the family up first and then place the pet in a family member’s lap right before the photo.

No matter what type of animal, certain individuals may be more comfortable and manageable at home. If shooting someplace other than home, however, it is still important to give your pet time to get comfortable. It may help to arrive 15 to 30 minutes early so the pet can look around and have time to relax. “It’s also a good idea to bring a favorite blanket or resting mat that they can sit on,” said Contino, “that tends to make them feel more comfortable.”

Will It Cost More for a Photograph With a Pet?

Will It Cost More for a Photograph With a Pet

Photographers who are familiar working with family pets do not generally charge more for including them in family portraits. Sometimes they can take a little more time and patience, but generally are no more unpredictable than babies and small children.

Pros and Cons of Including Pets in a Family Portrait

A good portrait photographer who likes animals, a well prepared family, and a comfortable, relaxed pet can combine to make magic of family photos. Though including a dog, a cat, an iguana or cockatoo in a photo session can require a little more preparation and a little more patience, the honesty captured when people and pets get together can result in a truer reflection of the family and a truly wonderful memento to last a lifetime.