- Baby and dog photography backstage videos.
- How I started taking photos of newborns and dogs
- Should you add a dog into your newborn baby photos?
- Set expectations for your baby and dog photo session
- Preparation is key for a newborn and dog session
- What to bring and what to do
- Use dog treats and bribery to get great photos
- Safety in baby and dog photography sessions
- Composite dog and baby photographs
- Be positive and keep the environment calm
- Photographing other pets and babies
Today I will share with you tips on how to do newborn baby photos with dogs.
Watch the video where you will see many backstage footage of how I do it.
Hello everyone. My name is Armands and I’m an Edinburgh-based baby and dog photographer. I’ve been doing newborn photography since 2010 and I added dogs into my newborn photoshoots in 2018.
This guide is designed for parents who are thinking about bringing a dog to their photoshoot and photographers who are planning to add dogs to their photo sessions. I will update this page as I discover any new tricks and ideas.
How I started taking photos of newborns and dogs
When I was starting out on my newborn photography journey, I did a couple of sessions with a newborn baby and dog. This was not part of my main portfolio, but over the years I have begun to get more requests for furbabies in the baby photoshoots. I love dogs; I always had a dog around as I was growing up, but having a stranger’s dog around that you’ve never met, alongside a newborn baby in a photoshoot, it can all get a bit complicated.
I began slowly with dogs and mainly did composites at the start. My big breakthrough with newborn baby and dog photography was when I started to film my shoots to show the process. Now pretty much every third newborn photo session I do involves dogs or some kind of pet.
Should you add a dog into your newborn baby photos?
This is a very personal decision for parents and photographers. Ultimately, it all comes down to confidence. Remember you are working with an animal. It may be a cute furbaby, but it can also be unpredictable.
For parents, it’s mainly a case of knowing your dog and seeing how the introduction to the baby goes. Sometimes parents overthink this, perhaps deciding that if their dog is super energetic, they should not bring it for the photoshoot. But all this requires is a good walk just before the shoot, or introducing the dog a bit later into the session once it has wandered around for a while and has calmed down a bit.
Know your stuff. You have to be very confident with dogs and I don’t mean this lightly. We’re not only talking about baby safety, but also your own.
Remember that some dogs are very protective, so you have to be able to read them. I’ve had a few situations when the dog has given clear signs that it doesn’t want to be touched. Read this and adjust. If you are not comfortable around dogs, I would suggest you don’t do dog and baby photo sessions. You could possibly do composites, but you’d still need to know how to work with a dog and then how to make a realistic composite.
Set expectations for your baby and dog photo session
Both parents and photographers should lay out their expectations. Parents should outline exactly what they are expecting as the final result. Normally parents just say ‘do whatever you can’. This gives the photographer a bit freedom. But if you are looking for a specific pose, be clear early on.
Look at the photographer’s body of work to find if it is possible for them to achieve the results you’re expecting. Make sure the photos you see in the portfolio are their own work and not someone else’s. – Yes, sometimes photographers pinch work from other photographers. – This is not the time to take chances. Remember safety!
Photographers should be clear about any concerns. Be upfront with the dog owner with ideas, concerns and anything that could affect the photography side of things. You should definitely not have any nagging doubts at the back of your mind. Just tell the family, talk about it.
For example, if someone were bringing a large dog, like a Rottweiler, to the shoot, I would definitely want to make sure that this dog is very well trained. You might not be able to control it yourself. Parents might think it is a big softy, but in the studio and in protective mode, problems could arise. So make sure to find out as much as possible about the dog.
Preparation is key for a newborn and dog session
Ask questions about the dog: breed, age, size, colour, listening or not listening, how it responds to treats and commands, professionally trained or just home trained. Find out about its energy levels. If it’s a breed I don’t know, I always look this up online. Read about the characteristics of these dogs. Know what to expect.
Once you have the information you can plan your session. Think about what colour backgrounds you might be using. Light or dark tone photos. Ask the parents what their preferences are. You will also need to think about the use of props for the photo session.
If the dog is large, don’t use a low prop; instead, pick your highest just in case the dog doesn’t lie down but wants to sit only. The same goes for small dogs: you don’t want the prop to be too high unless you have a specific idea in mind.
I sometimes recommend wrapping the baby for the photo. This adds an extra layer of safety and you don’t need to worry if the baby accidentally startles and scares the dog a bit.
It is also much easier to do all in one photos if you’re not confident doing composites (see the section below on composites). I usually do composites as I want to find the perfect position for the baby and dog photograph. I very often still photograph both of them in one photo, but then I’m looking for that perfect expression.
What to bring and what to do
It may be that you have new parents coming to the studio and they are too tired to think of photo session preparation. Apart from giving them clear guidance on what to prepare for the newborn and dog session, perhaps also guide them on how to prepare the dog.
I always advise taking the dog for a good long morning walk, especially if the dog is young and energetic. Let some steam off. I ask parents to bring a water bowl (those collapsible dog bowls are awesome, saves space) , sleeping blanket and sometimes even a dog bed. The blanket usually works fine. Typical newborn photography sessions last around three hours and if the dog is around all the time, they might want their own corner.
If we are doing portraits at the start of the session, I sometimes suggest that an extra member of the family could take the dog away for a walk, or home. However, if the dog is around, I might have a last-minute idea that includes the dog. By this point, the dog is pretty placid as the room is super warm and the dog gets much more manageable.
I have read that most photographers ask for the dog to be kept on a leash, but I disagree. Upon arrival in my studio, I always ask the parents to take off any leash or harness. For the photos, we also remove the collar. The dog needs to sniff out the studio and have a general look around.
Also, make sure to ask if the dog likes to chew on things. On a couple of occasions, the dogs have stolen my teddies to play with. So, I have learned a lesson.
Use dog treats and bribery to get great photos
Parents will know their dogs the best, how they respond to commands and if treats are needed. Sometimes dogs respond very well to commands and no treats are needed. Sometimes treats don’t work. Like babies, every dog is different. I have seen super shy dogs and some that are too energetic and clumsy to be near a baby.
Always ask parents for permission to use treats. I like to play with the dog first as well. Like a little test run. You may find that the dog doesn’t like specific props, or the carpet or floor. I’ve had all of this happen. It is worthwhile checking before you pose the baby perfectly only to find that the dog doesn’t want to join in. By that point, there is no point forcing the dog.
If the treats are quite big in size, I like to break them into smaller pieces so there is not so much chewing. Dogs are like toddlers: if you want them to do something, you achieve this through play or snacks.
Safety in baby and dog photography sessions
I can’t stress this enough. Not only do you have to take care of newborn baby safety and be safety trained, but also make sure you can spot any signs that the dog might cause danger. This refers to your own safety too.
For example, a dog might be very jumpy and every time it hears its name, it may move sharply. If someone is holding a treat, the dog may get very excited and instead of listening to commands, it will move around a lot, jump up, lift its paws etc. In these cases, I would take a photo with the baby first, move the baby out of the photo and then work with the dog alone.
Be very careful physically moving the dog closer to the baby. This can be dangerous. If the dog doesn’t feel 100% happy around the baby, DO NOT FORCE THE DOG. I would only try to move the dog closer to the prop or baby if I felt the dog was letting me. I always ask the parents to try to move the dog closer or use a treat to walk the dog closer to the baby.
I find it that if the dog is not close enough, you can start again by taking the dog around the prop and trying to stop in the spot where you want it to sit. Sometimes this is easier than trying to push the dog around, especially if it is a large dog.
If I’m working on my own, I always ask both parents to spot. One looks after the baby and the other takes care of the dog.
Usually, the dog responds better to one parent. I give very strict and clear instructions. They should keep their eyes on the baby/dog only. If I need the dog to do something specific, I will get it to do it myself. Clear instructions are essential.
Both parents should be very close to the baby and dog – roughly arms length. If I work with an assistant, they look after the baby and the other person manages the dog. Usually, I don’t need to explain to an assistant as they have worked with me for a long time and know what I’m doing.
Composite dog and baby photographs
Normally parents don’t know about this possibility. Very often they don’t bring the dog thinking that the dog may be too active and hard to control. This can all be resolved with composite images – you take the baby photo individually and the dog photo individually and merge the two together in photoshop. This avoids any danger to baby or dog.
Tips for photographers on creating baby and dog photograph composites
Try to fix the camera on the tripod, especially if you have a background with lines, such as wooden backgrounds etc. It will be much easier to do composite later as lines will match up.
Set up the prop you’re planning to use and take a scene shot. I normally take this shot a bit wider. This gives me the opportunity to edit it better later. Then I zoom in and take another scene shot. Introduce the baby into the scene, and take the photos while mum or dad is next to the baby acting as a spotter.
Then I normally introduce the dog into the scene. The baby is still on the prop and at this point the spotter comes in really close. I ask them to make sure the dog is not licking or accidentally bumping into the prop. Get the dog into position. If the dog is unsure or jumpy, I remove the baby and work with the dog alone.
Your camera is still sitting on the tripod so you roughly know where the baby’s head will be. You can direct the dog to look towards the baby. Take a photo of the dog looking at the baby and looking at the camera. It will be good to have options later when you are selecting the perfect shot.
Don’t forget to take a family photo with the dog. These are great and families love them. They don’t tend to think of this, but I always recommend it and they love the results.
Be positive and keep the environment calm
Just like babies, dogs can read your energy. I always stay calm and positive. If you’re just starting out with baby and dog photography, perhaps focus on one set-up only. Don’t overwhelm yourself with multiple set-ups as this can lead to stress.
Praise the dog and be friends with it. Do not allow the parents to tell the dog off. You want to make sure the dog stays calm and happy throughout the process. If the dog is unsure, then you might need to take things slowly and see how it goes. I did have one session where it was virtually impossible; the dog was too worried. I took a few shots, but I didn’t force anything.
Both photographers and parents should walk into this with very few expectations and if you manage to nail an awesome portrait, it’s a bonus.
Photographing other pets and babies
From time to time I get enquiries about other kinds of baby and pet photography. Most often this is cats or rabbits, although I did have a pony request once too. Cat and newborn photography in the studio can be quite tricky. I have never succeeded with that as cats tend to hide away. I usually suggest doing cat and baby photography at home. So far I have done three photoshoots with cats and newborn babies. Not easy, but doable.
You can see here an example of a rabbit and baby photo session. This was pretty easy and the rabbit followed the treat very well. I was quite pleased with the results.
I hope this gives you a good idea of how newborn and dog photo sessions might go. Do a couple of tester sessions to find out if this is something for you. I would never experiment with paying clients.
I will update this post with any new ideas or challenges I come across. Feel free to ask any questions and I can address them here.