Pets and Their People

Including Pets in the Family Photos

By Becca George

Our pets are part of our family. They are there to greet us when we get home after a long day, they wake us up in the morning (sometimes too early) and they are our constant companions. Many people are now choosing to include their pets in family outings, vacations and even photos.

Mandy Whitley, Pet Photographer helps to make sure even the four-legged friends can be part of the family memories. She has been a full-time photographer for eight years, specializing in pets and their people — but she didn’t start out that way.

Whitley started photographing anything from families to weddings and noticed more and more that people were including their pets in these events. She has always harbored a love for pets and realized that she could still photograph all the things she loved, and do it with a focus on pets.

Pets can be included in everything from headshots, senior photos and family sessions to engagement photos and weddings.

“The focus is on the interaction between people and their pets,” said Whitley.
Many people can have a hard time taking photos of their own pets, they won’t look right at the camera or they get too close to the camera. This is where Mandy comes in.

“I don’t mean to brag,” laughs Mandy, “but I am a little bit of a dog whisperer.”
As a professional Mandy can focus on having a pet “smile” for the camera while the person in being photographed focuses on simply being with their pet.

“It is like dealing with babies, if you go into a session and are anxious, they are going to feel that energy. If you are cool, they are usually cool,” explains Mandy, “I also have a secret weapon, a squeaky toy, that can usually get their attention pretty quickly.”

When scheduling a photo session that includes pets it can be helpful to discuss the demeanor and behavior of the pets first to determine where might be a good place for the photographs. Some things to consider are how the pet reacts in social situations; can they handle a busy park with a lot of activity or would they do better at home in a quiet setting?

Think about how they behave with other animals and people and take that into consideration when choosing a location. For the two-legged creatures in the photos it is helpful to bring a blanket because many of the photos might be down on fido’s level. Also, she suggests wearing something comfortable that allows for movement.

A concern for many is whether their pets will be well-behaved during the session. Pets, along with kids, can be complete wild cards and Whitley prepares each family for what to expect and how to prepare.  

“The biggest thing is to exercise your dog a couple of hours before so they are not exhausted but some of the energy is out,” she said. “You want them in that sweet spot where they have energy but are not to the point of tongue lolling exhaustion.”

Whitley also suggests arriving at the location a few minutes early so the dog has time to do some sniffing around and become comfortable with the area.

Whitley has photographed everything from well-trained canines to animals that have been out of the shelter for one day with no training. When it comes to pet photography, patience is a big factor.

“You just have to be patient,” she said. “If you have a heart for animals you are going to be patient with them anyway.” Whitley has seen every type of behavior.

“I don’t worry about it and I encourage the owners not to worry either,” she said.
A session can be tailored specifically to the animal being photographed. When photographing dogs some can be off a leash and some have to stay on (the leash can always be photoshopped out). Some animals will be more comfortable at home and some are content to be at a park surrounded by activity.

Pet photography is a great way to capture and remember those furry members of the family.
“I do find I get a lot of older dogs,” she said. “People are realizing they aren’t going to be around forever.”

Older dogs are not the only ones that are fun to include in family portraits. Photos can be a fun way to capture stages or your fur family.

“I laugh because sometimes the dog age coincides with how kids act at that age,” she said. “A one year old puppy is sort of the same as a one year old human, they just sort of run around and you have to capture them the best you can.”

Weddings can be another life activity to include pets in but there are some things to consider when appointing your pup as ring bearer or flower girl. Think about its personality. If they are a nervous dog it may stress them out too much to be included in a wedding ceremony.
Whitley suggests having a handler on wedding day who is not in the wedding party or immediate family. This person can make the pet their main focus and take them home at the appropriate time.

It is important to check with the venue to see what their restrictions on pets might be. Pets don’t have to be included in the ceremony but can also be brought by for a few minutes simply for photos.

Whitley grew up on a farm and currently houses a menagerie of three dogs and two cats. They have also been active with fostering and are currently fostering kittens. She said many times kittens are dropped off at a shelter with their mother and she and her husband take the mom and babies until they are old enough to be adopted.

“We always have people want to come over and play with them,” she laughed.
“You know you are doing the right thing in life when you come home more energized than when you left,” explained Whitley. “That is how I feel when I come home from a fun photo shoot with animals.”