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Richie Schwartz of Pets Photography Studio on Long Island, N.Y., has photographed more than 70,000 pets all over the country during his 30-year career. Whenever a call comes in from a puppy owner who desires pictures, he has certain expectations. “I know it’s going to be fun but also a lot of work,” says Schwartz.
Puppies might be among the cutest animals on the planet, but capturing them at their best can pose challenges. First, they bounce with energy. They also go to the bathroom a lot. No matter how adorable your pup is, a bathroom shot isn’t what you want to pull out at your next dinner party.
Schwartz, a former veterinary technician who turned his love of pet photography into a career, shares some tips on how to take perfect pics of your pup.
Puppy Portrait Preparation
You probably have a lot of shots from your cell phone or camera of your puppy doing cute things. To take a portrait, however, your pet needs to settle down. “The puppy should get exercise and go to the bathroom before the photo sessions,” says Schwartz. That’s especially true if you plan to take your dog to a professional studio. New environments can cause happy-go-lucky puppies to “either become really shy or overly playful,” says Schwartz, who last year was named one of the 25 Pet People of 2010 by NBC, sharing that honor with Betty White and other celebrities.
Schwartz often photographs celebrity pets, but no matter the owner, puppies like to be comforted by familiar objects. “Have a favorite toy or blanket nearby,” advises Schwartz. Los Angeles–based photographer Nick Saglimbeni notes that squeaky toys can serve double duty. The surprise of a squeak, says Saglimbeni, can cause the puppy “to prick his ears, cock his head and give an alert look.” Don’t overdo it, though, or else the element of surprise will disappear.
Next, consider what visual information you want to convey and accentuate in the photo. Ask yourself the following:
- Is your puppy a male or female? You may want to photograph your dog with items that are associated with its sex. The goal is not to stereotype your dog but to inform your viewers.
- What color is your dog? Both the lighting and backdrop will depend upon the color of your dog’s fur. Outdoor shots that use just ambient light are often easiest for home photographers.
- How big is your puppy? Schwartz has a fantasyland full of props in his studio. Chihuahuas, for example, might be placed in an oversize teacup, creating the perfect contrast. The effect would be lost on a larger pup, though.
- What’s your dog’s breed? Similar to the “male or female” question, you can convey information with your props. A Scottish Terrier puppy, for example, might be placed on a tartan blanket.
When to Bring in a Professional Photographer
Digital technology permits even novices to take decent shots, create YouTube-ready slideshows and more. “We professionals are not in competition with the home photographer,” says Schwartz. “Our images can complement those other pictures.” A pro probably would not be around to capture the little impromptu moments, like your puppy suddenly jumping on your lap or dragging in the laundry.” But when people start taking such images, it makes them more appreciative of what I do, in terms of capturing certain expressions, using the best equipment and lighting.”
Working With Your Photos
Whether you take your own photographs or hire a professional, you’ll want to share those images with others. Social media makes that possible, with many owners even creating Facebook pages for their pets and posting the photos online. If you input the images into slideshow templates, you can add music and post them to YouTube, then share your slideshows via Twitter and other services.
You can also transform the images into more tangible and long-lasting gift items or keepsakes. At Schwartz’s studio, you can buy books, calendars, key chains and magnets that feature your puppy. But you can also make the paper items at home with some basic software and a desktop printer. Just like a wedding or baby album, a puppy photo album is an easy and fun project that involves putting a fabric cover over an otherwise plain photo album and adding fabric appliques and scrapbooking endpapers.
Puppyhood is such an ethereal stage in your dog’s life, and it lasts for just a short period of time. When your pet is only 18 months old, he or she will already be well on the way to becoming a fully grown adult dog. Now is the time to capture those cherished puppy moments in timeless images. Photographing puppies takes work, as Schwartz says, but you won’t regret it.