Have you ever tried to photograph a group of people? Even when you take six pictures of the group of four, someone is blinking or transitioning between expressions in every single frame. Argh!
With dogs, it's a lot like that. In a group there are usually different levels of energy, different colors and lengths of hair which reflect light differently, and different personalities. It is not easy to create a portrait of two or more dogs that represents everyone in the right ways, and these kinds of portraits take a little longer.
It's definitely outdoor portrait season, and I'm receiving more and more inquiries and bookings about multi-dog families. Whether you are planning a session with me or another photographer (or you are DIYing it), these are a few things that will help deliver the best experience for you, your dogs, and the photographer. Oh, and when all of these beings are happy you'll see that in the photographs.
Let go of the expectation that the photograph you love will look a certain way.
Truly, this tip applies to everyone, regardless of the number of dogs in the photograph. Being attached to a particular outcome leaves a very, very narrow window of possible happiness. Being open to possibilities can result in some pretty neat stuff happening.
This photograph above of this Lab brother and sister, for example, was an unexpected outcome. Sure, it's not the classic portrait with both are looking at the camera. That would have been lovely. This portrait says more about their relationship - each looks out for the other, as their person explained.
Let them be who they are.
You love them because of who they are. That's what you'll want to see in the photographs. Give them the space to be and express themselves.
"Well, of course I do that," you may be thinking.
Because you have invested your time, effort, and money into this session, you really want it to knock your socks off. You have a place on your wall picked out for your art. You know that you're going to order several photos to display on your mantle at home and your desk at work. That very often means that when it's time for the camera to come out, you might give your dogs lots of directions (which takes us back to the first point). Instead of looking relaxed and in the moment, the way you know them best, they might begin to look super focused or distracted.
Oh, you have a Border collie? Never mind. Then super focused it is!
For other dogs, though, like the pair above, staying out of the way can be really lovely. I was in a meadow with these two following at a distance so they had the space they needed to feel comfortable being themselves. Their people were watching from even farther away, which mean that this dynamic duo turned their energy and attention to each other rather than to me or their people.
Let the action happen.
This is especially true for young dogs. If you can convince them to sit for a short period, chances are they'll look impatient or on just this side of a massive outburst of zoomies. You know that look of intense anticipation, right?
Let 'em go.
When we capture them in play we see their glorious movement and that look of deeply satisfying freedom and joy. That doesn't mean that everyone has to play the same way at the same time. In this case, these two German sisters were in the same space together and very connected. The youngster was thrilled to play with a ball while her elder sister was very happy to supervise. We managed to freeze the personalities of both and a hint of their relationship all while playing with a ball.
How do you want to feel?
Before we do any camera time together, we talk about what you'd like to see in your finished art. This isn't about developing a comprehensive shot list - it's about me understanding how you want to feel when you see your art pieces. I want to learn about each personality in your family and how they interact with each other. I'll listen to stories about how you became a family and the terrifying visits to the ER at 3:37 a.m. on Sunday.
This is the most important part. When I understand what your lives have been like together and what love looks like for you, I then know what I'm looking for from behind the camera.
I'm Shannon, and I love and am loved by four Great Danes, four cats, and one horse (four Danes, one cat, and one horse are no longer walking this earth). Here I'll share stories of my adventures in grief photography for companion animals, my own grief journey, and thoughts on caregiving.