My pets are truly a part of my family, therefore, I completely understand when couples want to incorporate them into their wedding and/or engagement portraits. While they’re always cute, animals don’t always behave, so here are some tips for making the most of a couple’s pet portrait.
Preparing for the shoot:
The more planning a couple does on their own and in collaboration with me before the day of the wedding or engagement shoot, the less stress on their big day. I recommend a trip to the groomer for their animals at least five days before being photographed to help eliminate the possibility of shedding. This also helps the animal’s coat appear shinier in the pictures.
Delegate a family member or friend to take a dog on a long walk or run the morning of the shoot to help burn off some excess energy and keep things calmer in front of the camera.
Stunning wedding attire isn’t just for the couple. There is no forgetting the fashion for your pet as well. I collaborate with my couples and suggest getting a matching leash and collar or bow tie that will pop in the photos. What is more adorable than a dog in bowtie or a fresh floral collar?
Because close to half my clients hold destination weddings, I help them find a trusted and reliable local dog sitter for the day of the wedding. This helps alleviate the worry of who is taking care of their beloved pet.
How do you typically plan on the ideal time for the pet to be brought into the process?
The first thing you should find out is whether pets will be staying for the entire wedding or if they will simply be making an appearance for the photos.
When a dog is part of the entire wedding, this allows me to include his or her unique perspective of the wedding day. He or she can literally be treated like a member of the wedding party.
If the animal will only share part of the special day, you will likely really only need about 15 minutes. It is important to coordinate a time of arrival and departure with the sitter, which will help alleviate the stress of having animals impatiently wait for their time to shine.
Treats are a fantastic way to keep animals’ attention when you need them looking into the camera. I prefer soft treats since hard, crunchy biscuits tend to crumble and make a mess. I always bring backup treats as well, but double check with the couple in case the animal has allergies.
Get the animal’s attention
Don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself. I have been known to bark, whine, howl, or make any other dog noise you could imagine to grab a dog’s attention! My dog impressions not only coax an inquisitive and expressive and adorable look, they also sometimes coax some good smiles and laughs out of the couple as well. [NOTE FROM MIRIAM: I bet the cats go nuts, too.]
For horse lovers
If you are fortunate enough to photograph a horse at a wedding, be prepared. Most horses love peppermint candy. Therefore, I always suggest a family friend or bridesmaid crinkle peppermint wrappers behind me, which provokes the horse to put their ears forward and give its full attention to the camera. There is also a horse sounds app that is helpful. But ask the client first, as some of the horse sounds may spook the horse. Communication is key, as the owner knows their horse extremely well.
Don’t stop shooting just because the pet isn’t cooperating
From the moment the animal is within camera range, I start photographing. It typically takes some time for a dog to acclimate and calm down, but if you wait for this to happen, you may end up missing your opportunity altogether.
The unpredictability of animals makes for the best pictures. Those offbeat moments tend to be the most memorable. A serious couple with a barking dog can look great. A laughing couple with a barking dog can look even better.
Even the most uncooperative pet can produce incredible images, and those moments become the couple’s wedding-day story. When all else fails, more treats, moving locations, or taking a walk break usually seems do the trick.
Don’t get hung up on posing
Since animals aren’t often keen to sit still, posing can be a challenge. Your best bet is to make suggestions, but to keep shooting as things naturally unfold. Ask the couple to plant a big kiss on their furry friend—it may actually distract the pet long enough to get a good expression. This helps the couple and the animal to relax and it creates sweet and funny reactions.
It’s not always logistically possible for a pet to attend the wedding itself, so you might consider including the pet in the engagement portrait session. Not only is this simpler, but it allows you to capture the couple and their pet in a much more natural setting. When you photograph a couple and their animal engaging in activities they love, it will provoke natural images that are lighthearted and meaningful.
For example, the couple probably has a favorite park where they always walk their dog, or a couple with a horse may enjoy riding on their favorite trail. You can create thoughtful, emotional images when the couple feels at ease.
A wardrobe change is another important planning tip to suggest to the couple for the engagement shoot. I usually start with the couple by themselves in an outfit that is dressy. When we switch gears to include the pet, I’ll have them change into something more casual and conducive to rolling around on the ground. Really playing with your animal is the best way to show that close and everlasting connection.
The 35mm lens is always my first choice to use for storytelling. This focal length allows me to get very close to a dog and capture the scene from his or her perspective. Getting right down in front of dogs is an option, as well as mirroring their points of view.
For tighter shots of the couple and their pet, a 50mm lens works well, while an 85mm and 70–200mm are both great for portraits. They give you some extra space to work with and may make you less noticeable to the animal.
I always shoot with two cameras, one with a long lens and one with a short lens. This way I’m prepared whether something happens right in front of me or far away. Try different perspectives; shoot high or get down really low. Use negative space or layering to tell the story.
**About Tracey Buyce Photography
Tracey Buyce is an award-winning photographer and owner of Tracey Buyce Photography in Saratoga Springs, NY. Her work has been featured in numerous high profile local and national publications and local television networks. She is an active member of the Wedding Photojournalist Association, Equine Photographers Network, Fearless Photographers, WPPI and Professional Photographers of America. In addition to her wedding photography, Buyce volunteers with Photographers Without Borders, ACTT Naturally, and CANDi International.**