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12 Tips for Including Dogs in Family Portraits

Do you want to include your dog during your family portraits?  Family members come in all shapes and sizes and some of them are extra furry.  You don’t want to leave your fluffy family members out of your photoshoot.  Here are my best tips and tricks to get your pet comfortable in front of the camera!

happy dog introduces 12 tips for incorporating your dogs into your family photography portrait session to a washington dc family

12 Tips to Get Great Photos with Your Dog

1.Bring treats:

Making sure to pack your pup’s favorite treats can really go a long way! It’s likely how your trained them to sit and stay, which you’ll probably want them to do at some point.  I tried bringing my own treats as a photographer, but really every dog is different and owners really know their pets best.

Shippensburg couple walking their dogs for a family photo session

2.  Interact Normally:

It might sound like a no-brainer, but doing things that you normally would with them makes them comfortable and is a great start to the session.  Candid moments tend to be the most well-loved shots, too!  Did I mention I love puppies??  Let’s get on to more dog family portrait tips…

a sweet puppy giving kisses to it's owner during her Pennsylvania puppy portrait session for article on tips to include your dog in a family portrait session

3.  Visit Familiar Places:

If your dogs love to swim in a certain lake or take a walk in a certain park, incorporate that into your photo session!  They’ll be happy and you’ll capture a special place in your photos, too.  It might not seem all that exciting to you for now, but the “twenty-years-from-now-you” will probably miss this place.

three dogs walking their owners during their family portrait session showing tips to incorporate dogs into family portrait sessions

4.  Go Somewhere New:

I know, it totally contradicts my last piece of advice, but the truth is, every dog is different and what works for one pup won’t work for another.  Some love routine (my dog is like that) while others love adventures and exploration.  Go wherever your dog is happiest if they are the star of the show.

DC couple walking their dog on a farm just outside of washington

5.  Bring Toys:

A simple game of fetch in the backyard got this authentic expression and body language of this brand new family member!  It doesn’t get much cuter than this!

adorable black yorkie poo hopping a tiny wall in his parents backyard in pennsylvania

6. Allow Plenty of Time:

Hire a photographer that spends plenty of time with your pet.  I know mini sessions are popular and typically inexpensive, but if you want great photos of your pet, you will need time to get you and your pet at their best.

tips-for-great-family-portrait-photography-with-dogs-in-washington-dc-2I’m sure you’ve experienced this first-hand already with trying to get your own pet photos, it can be tough!  This will alleviate stress and result in high-quality photos.  For me, I also utilize the time to get creative angles and compositions for my families.

maryland couple in a park walking three dogs in the forest of a local park

7.  Connect with your Dogs:

Hug, kiss, or cuddle your pets, let them sit on your lap, and do their thing.  Even if you want them to face a certain way, don’t force it, let them be themselves.  It usually turns out better anyway!

adorable Pennsylvania pups looking cute in black and white with a couple

8.  Hire a Dog-Loving Photographer:

Dogs can pick up on emotion; ideally your photographer will love dogs as much as you do.  If so, they will able to bond with them from the start and capture some really sweet moments of your family in their element.  They will need to be the right combination of patient and spontaneous to really capture your dog’s personality.

A dog looks up at the camera during his portrait family's portrait session in maryland

9.  Let Your Dog’s Personality Shine: 

Indulge them and bring out their uniqueness.  Don’t force them to be anyone other than who they truly are.  If they start mercilessly begging for belly rubs mid-session go for it, capturing their sweet playful nature.

black and white puppy belly rubs during a family photography session in pennsylvania

10. Don’t Force Traditional Portraits:

Getting a shot like this one might be the reason you are hiring a photographer in the first place, but believe me when I say it can’t be forced.    When I photograph a family portrait like this one, it takes time.  I actually try a few times throughout the session.  I take a few minutes here or there and get everyone settled and still and try it.    In Kayla & Andy’s case, they were sure Maddy wouldn’t show up in photos, either to sit still or to have any features show as her fur is so dark, but they were really happy with this shot:

Washington dc family tips for great dog portrait photography

Even in this shot, we were contending with the intense sun, wind and all the other people that were also in Washington DC‘s Tidal Basin for the peek of the National Cherry Blossom Festival.  If you live in DC, you know what I mean.  There are tens of thousands of people, lots of puppy distractions, and background distractions, too.  I waited for wandering tourists to dissipate, and had the couples hold their smiles as I waited for Finn to relax, and the wind to blow Ellen’s hair just right:

a washington dc portrait session with a couple and dog taken in spring during the cherry blossom festival in the tidal basin

11. Find a Place with a View:

I’ll meet my clients anywhere, my photos in this post range from backyards, to beloved parks, to new places pets have never been before.  Finding a place with cool architecture or a view just adds an extra element to your photos that gives them some pop.  A scene like this also looks great on a canvas.

a couple walks two dogs during their family portrait session

12.  Have Fun & Love your Dog:

I’ve saved the best for last as this is my most important tip for successfully including your dog in your family portrait session.    If your dog wants to do something crazy (dig a hole in your garden, roll on her back in the dirt, chase a squirrel, etc.) play along.  Be free, and have a good laugh.  It’s all about real life, real love, and real you with Rhinehart Photography.

black and white photograph of a child hugging his dog during a family portrait session

Looking for a Family Photographer who is Great with Dogs?

I hope you enjoyed reading my 12 tips for capturing family portraits with your dog.  As a professional photographer with ten years of experience, these are my go-to pieces of advice.  If you are looking to hire a photographer to capture your family, and want someone who loves dogs and has experience capturing authentic moments as you have seen above please reach out to me!

tips for natural dog family portrait photos in dc

Who Wrote This Article?

My name is Lisa Rhinehart and I’m an award winning photographer who has been shooting for a little over ten years!  I’m a pet owner, too and live in south-central Pennsylvania in a small University town, so I shoot often in PA, but also serve Washington DC, New York City, and well beyond.  Distance is no problem as we can meet initially via video chat and can travel to you.   You can read more about my family portraits here.  I have so many great options that I’m sure you’ll love. Dogs are family, too :).

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