Archive for December, 2010

Ten Tips for Taking Great Holiday Portraits of Your Dog By Kim Levin

December 9, 2010

I decided to blog about a subject that has been published in a variety of publications in the past. The following column has been printed on, the Australian magazine, Urban Animal, the SC Johnson Wax monthly column, and various other animal magazines. But since it is that special time of year where people are trying to take holiday portraits of their pets, it seemed to make sense to give some tips.

One of the questions I am asked most often is how do you take such animated portraits of dogs. I have always felt strongly that being a good photographer comes from instinct and experience. I do not believe that you can teach someone to “have a good eye”. However, you can learn tips and techniques that are very helpful in taking good portraits of your pets.

Below are ten tips that I have created to help you take great holiday pet portraits. As the saying goes “practice makes perfect”.

1. Indoors with Natural Lighting – dogs move around a lot, so it helps to be able to move around with them. I like to photographs dogs in their environment where they are most at home and comfortable. If you are looking for a traditional holiday portrait, place your dog in front of the tree or on the stairs with tinsel in the background. Using natural lighting is ideal because I find lighting sometimes scares pets, and they don’t stay in one place too long.

2. Photograph Outdoors In the Snow – photographing outdoors is ideal because it gives rooms for dogs, in particular, to be playful and happy! Shooting outdoors also eliminates the need for extensive lighting. This way you can move with your dog to where they decide to take you. This allows for more personable, personality-driven photographs. Utilize natural backgrounds such as a first snowfall in the woods or a pile of autumn leaves. Let your dog romp around and start shooting.

3. On the Porch – If you don’t want the traditional holiday portrait in front of the tree but still want your picture to look festive, consider photographing your dog on a porch with the front doors decorated behind him.

4. Get down on the same level – This is key to taking great pet portraits and showing the pet’s unique personality. Roll around and lay down on the floor so that you are eye-level with your dog. This unique positioning shows you the world from the pet’s perspective.

5. Dressing Up – grab a stash of Santa hats for dogs. Winter accessorizing like scarfs and fun hats also work great. Dogs have difficulty keeping hats and scarfs on their heads so shoot fast!

6. Cookies, Cookies, Cookies – Use food and treats to your advantage. Treats help pets stay in one place so you can take several shots at a time. Call their name to get their attention away from the treat. Or take the photo while they are waiting for their treat.

7. The “Shrill” Noise – My best shots come when I use a high pitched “shrill” sound. Some dogs tilt their head to these sounds.

8. The Harmonica – A personal favorite. Has same effect as “shrill” sound, but sometimes with an even bigger effect.

9. Develop a rapport with your pet – before you take any photographs, spend some time getting your dog to relax, and pay attention to you. Talk to them and let them know that you love them. This creates a more relaxed atmosphere.

10. Always have the camera around – Taking a great holiday photo takes time so have patience and keep your camera close by. Some of my best pet portraits have been truly spontaneous. As they say, timing is everything. You can’t make your pet do your favorite expression exactly on cue so keep the camera out and ready. When your pet smiles or rolls around on the ground in a funny manner, pull out the camera and begin photographing. Take as many shots as possible because it usually takes many to get a really great one.

Happy Holiday Shooting. To commission Kim to take your holiday portraits, contact