So many of my clients love their dogs as if they were their children. When it comes to engagement sessions or wedding photos, they can't imagine leaving the family pup out of the action. In the past, I've had clients who ask if it's ok to bring their dog to their engagement session and if that's "weird". First, I think it's a great idea to bring your dog! These are your photos, your memories. The more you personalize them with the people, places, and things you love, the more special they will be to you years later.
If you are considering bringing your pooch to the party, I do have a few suggestions that will make the experience a better one for you and your best friend while at the same time getting great photos.
1. Bring a Handler
It's important to have someone who can walk around with your dog and get them familiar with our location while I do the first few photos with you and your fiancé. Ideally, your dog would be familiar with this person and bonus points if your dog loves them. I've had couples bring a parent, a roommate, and one even brought their dog trainer.
Having someone on hand is important because we won't be taking every photo with your pups, so we want to be sure they are safe and attended to when you can't be with them. When your dog is in the photo with you, It's super handy to have someone who can be behind me to get his attention. That way I can give you direction on how to look your best, while the person behind me keeps your pup looking the right way.
2. Know the Rules
If there is a specific location you'd like to have your portraits, check to be sure dogs are allowed. Some gardens or arboretums that are perfect for portrait sessions often don't allow dogs. Most beaches in NC typically only allow dogs during the offseason between October and April. If you're unsure, feel free to ask me. It's likely I've been to the location you're considering and can let you know if there are restrictions.
If you choose a location that doesn't allow dogs but still want a few photos with yours, we can always begin your session at a dog-friendly spot like your neighborhood or the front steps of your house. Once we have a few great shots with them, we can move on to the dog free destination for the balance of the session.
3. Don't Forget the Treats!
I know it hardly needs to be said, but the quickest way for a stranger like me or even their handler to get your dog's attention toward the camera is with treats. Otherwise he'll be looking at you the whole time for reassurance that everything is ok.
The treats should be something more exotic than their regular kibble. I've even seen goldfish crackers go over with huge success. It should also be something small enough they can take down in one bite and be back to looking toward the camera without making a mess.
Also, don't forget the leash, some water and a few of those little plastic bags for when he, well, you know...
4. Relax, They'll Do Great
I've seen couples come to their session nervous because of concerns about how their dog will perform. You don't need a well-trained dog to get great photos. It helps, but it's not critical. In my experience dogs are actually easier than children at most photoshoots because they respond so well to treats and unusual noises like squeaky toys. Plus, as long as their eyes are open and ears are up, it's hard to tell if they are smiling.
With or without dogs, your photos will look best when you appear confident and relaxed in them. My best advice is for you and your financé to be really into each other and let me and your handler worry about what the dog is doing and where her face is pointing. We'll make sure everyone looks fantastic.
5. Give Them Lots of Breaks
This is especially true if you are including your pooch at your wedding. A new environment full of people, sounds and smells he's not used to can be overwhelming. Make sure there is a quiet place your handler can take him between photos to recharge, get water, and have potty breaks.
6. Bonus! All of These Tips Apply for Having Horses at Your Session!
I couldn't resist. Even though I admit that horses make me nervous because I've nearly been crushed by a few during my wedding photography career. Mortal danger aside, I am always ecstatic with the sense of magic they can bring to an image.
To be sure, transporting horses and dogs is quite different. The treats are different and those little green plastic bags you use when Rover makes a doodie will most definitely not cut it here. Still, all of the above tips apply, though you might want to raise the bar on your choice of handler by choosing someone who knows a thing or two about horses.