Two of my favourite things in the world to photograph are newborns and animals so it goes without saying that I adore being able to shoot newborn with their fur siblings. As much as I love it, there are sometimes challenges involved and I am happy to share with you a few tips on capturing these types of images for your clients.
First and probably most importantly, you have to decide whether this is something you are comfortable offering. Not everyone is comfortable around animals and you need to be very upfront with your clients if you are not. You also have to decide if you allow pets in your studio. If you do, this should be information that is readily available to all your prospective clients. Some people do have severe allergie and pet dander can often linger even if you clean thoroughly.
There are different ways to approach photographing newborns and pets. The following will be more specific towards dogs, but can be adapted to other types of pets. Safety will always be your number one priority. You can shoot posed studio style, you can go to your clients home and shoot lifestyle images or you even shoot outdoor family images. I choose to shoot my dog and newborn images in my studio as opposed style imagery.
The first thing I do when a client enquires about bringing their dog is ask them a little about their dog's personality. The best chance for success is with dogs that are calm and obedient. I make sure they understand that if the dog is hyper and not cooperating that we will likely not get the image. I never guarantee a dog/newborn image. I also make sure they are fully aware that I have a dog in my home and although she does not come into the studio her presence in my home might agitate other dogs (although truly in my case this is never an issue as my dog is very submissive)
Next I recommend a few things in preparation for the session. It is best if they can thoroughly exercise their dog before coming to the studio. An exercised dog is usually much more relaxed. I also recommend a similar approach to the session as I would with toddlers, in that if possible have someone available to take the dog home when their part is done. This is for a couple of reasons. One, it makes for less for the parents to worry about during the session and secondly newborn sessions are typically very warm and dogs are not always comfortable in that heat. Alternatively, if they need to stay, I do have a fenced in back yard available. I also make sure to provide water for the dog to drink.
When they arrive at my studio I let the dog have a good sniff around to check out the environment. They need a little time to adjust otherwise they will be on edge the whole time. As soon as I see that they are relaxing and getting comfortable I get started with their photos.
While the dog is getting comfortable I discuss the client's expectation again (even if we had discussed it during a pre-consult). Do they want baby/dog alone? Do they want dog included in a family shot? Has anything changed in dogs behaviour since the baby was born? Is there a sibling involved? (now there's a challenge! Newborn, dog and toddler) I also ask them how important this shot is to them? Do we want to try until we get it or is it more of a if it works, great, if not no big deal kind of situation.
Most clients bring treats with their dog and we sometimes use them as incentive to get the dog to cooperate for their photos. Dogs behave very similarly to toddlers in these situations where they often get a little nervous not understanding what is going on. We must remember that their lives have also just changed drastically with the addition of a baby in their home and they might have a slight change in their behaviour because of this.
It is very important that you and the clients are very clear on what is happening and that the client make all the decisions on how close they would like their dog and newborn to be and if and when they give any treats. I personally prefer to get the dog and baby in the same shot however would never push my clients to put them close together if they weren't comfortable with it. This is 100% their decision. If necessary a composite can be done, even for the close, sniffing, looking at baby shots.
When working with 2 dogs a composite of some sort is usually necessary, or at the very least head swaps If neither you or the parents are comfortable with the dog and baby close together then take a shot of the baby on a posing bag or in a prop and then have a parent remove the baby and bring in the dog and take the second shot. Combine the two images in Photoshop to create your final image!
Safety always comes first. I ALWAYS have a spotter for the dog and one for the baby. Always. Within arms reach at all time. I just edit out arms that are hovering close by.
I love connection images where the dog is looking or sniffing the baby. It is my preference that babies are asleep when working with the dog so that we have one less wiggly subject to worry about. I make sure all my lighting and camera settings are ready. I often take a test shot of just the baby first then bring in the dog. (this also helps give me at least one shot if I will end up need to do a composite)
I give my clients clear instructions about standing within arms reach and I work quickly to get the shot. The parents and/or assistants are never to take their eyes off the dog and baby while posing.
Don't shoot newborns and dogs if you are not 100% comfortable with it. (or at the very least consider in home lifestyle family images with parents holding baby)
Have clear studio guidelines on your expectations of the dogs behaviour (stay off the furniture,no running around, must be kept on a leash etc...)Clients need to respect your environment.
An exercised dog will be more cooperative. Have your clients walk/run the dog before coming or even when they arrive while you are starting with baby.
Use treats only with parents express permission
Allow dog near baby only with parents express permission. They must be 100% comfortable with this… no image is worth making them think it is the only way to capture the image
Create a composite image if it is not safe or possible to put both baby and dog in the shot at the same time.
Consider using a prop for the baby for easier posing with them together or as a composite
Keep calm and advise your clients to stay calm, this is a process and it might take a little time
Have parent/friend/family member take the dog home when you are done with them
Have a yard to let the dog cool off in and also relieve himself if he is there for the full session
Provide water at all times so they do not overheat
Article and Images by Shelly Ferguson of Shelly Ferguson Photography.