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Step 2: How to make the most of your dog photography session

    rescue dog at Post Falls Idaho

    This is when the magic happens.

    Your dog photography session is going to be filled with smiles, snuggles and fun times. You, your dog and I are going to work together to come up with a gallery that screams “That’s so us!” and it’s going to happen at an epic location somewhere in Spokane or North Idaho.

    We might go hiking at Mt. Spokane. We might head to Hauser Lake for a gorgeous sunrise. Or we can hit Saltese Uplands in Liberty Lake for a stunning sunset.

    Or we might just take a light and easy walk at Mirabeau Park in Spokane Valley.

    We’ve already decided your location in Step 1 of the process. This is the second in a four-part series, filling you in how to create a unique portrait of you and your dogs in Spokane and North Idaho.

    Here’s how it all works:

    woman and dog on adventure dog photography session
    Jolene and Eena at Green Bay, Idaho

    Getting ready for your dog photography session

    Once we’ve gotten to know each other and you’ve paid your retainer fee, I sent you a Session Guide. It’s filled with tips on how to prepare for your dog photography session, including:

    • What you should wear
    • What your dog should wear
    • What to bring, like treats and toys and a blanket

    Now don’t forget, one of my mottos is “A.C.T.” or “always carry treats.” I always have a selection of super stinky treats with me but if you know your pup’s favorite snacks, you are welcome to bring them with you to your session.

    The rules

    I have a few non-negotiables for your dog photography session.

    Don’t worry. They’re easy.

    1. Stay relaxed.
    2. Be kind to your dog.
    3. Have some patience.

    And above all else:

    1. Have fun.

    Come on now. We’re having a portrait session with your dog. This has to be fun.

    dock diving dog in Sandpoint, Idaho
    Dock diving in Sandpoint

    Only once thus far have I had to pack up and walk away from a session. The client was being incredibly unkind to his dog who really didn’t want to cooperate.

    And if we’re impatient and stressed out, our dogs feel that. That’s when we get tails tucked, ears pinned back, whale eyes and other features that don’t translate well into a timeless piece of art for your home.

    From start to finish

    You might think I run up to your dog and lavish him with love. Typically, i don’t.

    This comes from 18 years of being a Maremma mama and knowing my soul breed is suspicious of strangers. Bella must be taught that I trust you in our sphere before she can ever allow you to approach her.

    Of course, the time this step takes varies from dog to dog. Your goofy Labradors and gregarious golden retrievers need less time and space to welcome strangers, especially ones with a big clicky black box in front of their face!

    I might take a few minutes to familiarize your dog with the sounds of my camera and see how he reacts to the flash of light from my strobe.

    The next steps then depend on the location. If we’re at a park, we’ll grab a spot in the field and do some posed portraits, taking some time to get some sweet moments with you and your dog. We might venture into the woods nearby (a certainty if we’re at Mirabeau or Manito!) and then let your boo run around a bit and burn off that energy we all know they get at the park.

    Border collie at Corbin Park in Post Falls, Idaho
    Basil posing on a log in the woods

    Then it’s down to the water if we have a great source nearby, like a lake or the Spokane River. (Please note: All water play sessions are on hold until our rivers and lakes are free of cyanobacteria, an algae-like organism that is deadly to dogs and is suspected to have killed four locally this summer.)

    Water is often last on the list because it can make your dog look a bit raggedy but don’t tell that to Elissa and Roby whose Ollie decided to reverse the order of our dog photography session at Plantes Ferry a few months ago.

    Ollie the boxer in Spokane River near Plantes Ferry
    Ollie cools off in Spokane River

    Keeping safety in mind

    I suppose I should put “safety” in the non-negotiables. I wanted to call it out separately, though.

    I don’t ever want to attempt anything that puts you or your dog at risk of hurt or injury. If I fall down a hill or step in a hornet’s nest, that’s on me. (Neither has happened during a client’s dog photography session but there’s always a first time, isn’t there?)

    Our dogs are often safest, too, when they are kept on leash. A leash allows us to maintain near 100% control over our pups and that isn’t just a safety matter.

    It also helps us keep your dog in place for the images we want. You are an active participant in a dog photography session and I will show you how to properly hold the leash to make it easiest to remove in post-processing.

    I also keep slip leads and a 25-foot lead in my car at all times, so we are never without the right equipment.

    Of course, it isn’t just a safety matter. In all city- and county-owned parks, leashes are required by law. I would be horrified for us to get busted by a park ranger or other official and fined for having a dog off leash.

    The best-laid plans

    The unpredictability is one of my favorite things about working with dogs.

    Every dog has her own personality, her own quirks, her own adorable expressions.

    We can do our damnedest to prepare for your dog photography session but if your dog decides she wants to go there or run about here or just sit when we want her to run, we’re going to work with that.

    Sometimes the shot list has to get crumbled up in a ball and tossed into the bag and we fly by the seat of our pants.

    That’s OK. Preparation is one thing but being prepared for anything is the key to making sure we get that unique portrait from your dog photography session.

    Besides, what’s life without a little chaos?

    Ready yet?

    I go home dirty at the end of a dog photography session. I roll around on the ground, climb rocks and perch on the side of hills to get the absolute best angle of your dog.

    I go home tired, a bit physically beaten up (hey, I do hit 50 next week!) and a little mentally drained.

    And I go home with a big stupid grin on my face because I can’t wait to plug my memory cards into my computer and see what we’ve created.

    These times with our dogs are so incredibly precious and every time I’m given the privilege to tell a dog’s story with my camera, I’m reminded of these thoughtful words written by Paige McGowan in the foreword of Paws of the Panhandle:

    Just weeks after his session, (Duke) passed away – loved and in my arms – at the end of his journey with an aggressive form of cancer. The photographs captured during his session bring me so much joy and through them, I feel close to him again. This is the timeless gift of a photograph.

    Don’t let these moments slip away.

    All around the circle

    Oh man, that ended heavy.

    On a happier note, 60 copies of Paws of the Panhandle are due to land on my doorstep next Wednesday, Aug. 18 … my birthday!

    I cannot wait to get one in my hands, and then I start thinking about planning the next edition.

    In the meantime, my friends in the worldwide pet photography circle are writing about how to get most out of a dog photography session with them. Let’s head to Tampa, Florida, to start with Linda Perdue of VP Shoots Photography, who shares her steps for a pet photography session.

    When you finish enjoying her post, click the next link in the circle and keep doing that until you get back here to the Big White Dog experience.

    That’s when you know you’re home. Right where you belong.


    Dogs. Adventure. Outdoors. These words set Angela's heart afire. Angela Schneider, an award-winning writer and dog photographer, documents the story of you and your dog and the adventures you take together. Your portraits will be a statement piece in your home, art that will make your friends and family beg to hear its story.

    6 thoughts on “Step 2: How to make the most of your dog photography session”

    1. Oh Angela! My heart is heavy for the loss of your dog. ❤️ Also, thank you for bringing up the algae. I didn’t realize the dogs were local to you.
      Very informative post! Thank you for sharing!

      1. Bella is fine, love. My friend Paige lost her baby to a very aggressive form of cancer right after their session. There are so many people in my sphere losing their dogs lately. I give Bella big bear hugs and lots of snuggles all the time because I don’t want to miss the chance.

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