Should Your Dog Tag Along on Your Romantic Photo Shoot?

Couples' photographer Jennifer Michelson shares tips and photos from wedding, engagement, and "just because" romantic photo shoots with pups and their people.

Last Updated on June 1, 2015 by

It started, as many things did for me in 2010, when I was younger, less heavily tattooed, and somewhat broker than I am now: with a Groupon.

At the time, I remember being bummed that my partner of many years still hadn’t asked me to marry him. Then I decided I didn’t need a blingy ring on my finger to qualify for a romantic, engagement-style photo shoot. I was browsing the deal sites for kicks when I came across Jennifer Michelson and her one-woman photography biz, A Girl and a Camera, and decided it couldn’t hurt to drop her a line. Two years later, I have some completely amazing photos on display beneath the glass of my coffee table and I couldn’t be happier we did it.

Jeff and I decided upon nearby Lafayette Park for a venue for several reasons — the gorgeous eucalyptus trees and views of the city, for sure, but mainly because it was Mr. Moxie’s favorite park and there was no way he was going to be left out of the shoot.

We showed up half an hour early to let him run his little houndy butt off before Jen showed up, and when she did he was pretty close to being on his best behavior. And let’s just say a small bag of the smelliest treats possible didn’t hurt. Posing with your partner and trying to contribute to a romantic shot was a little awkward at times, but Moxie’s presence brought much-needed comic relief and helped us feel at home.

Jen has had many adorable pooches participate in her couples’ photography over the years, and I recently asked her if she’d be cool with sharing some photos and tips with partners who may want to include their dogs in the wedding or engagement shots. She awesomely agreed, and we hope you enjoy her photos as much as we do.

Dogster: Jen, what have been some of your favorite shoots where pets were involved?

I love animals, so shoots with pets pretty much all end up among my favorites. Having a dog at a shoot adds another level of energy, not to mention another level of cuteness as well.

What tips would you give a couple trying to include the family dog in a photo shoot?

Unless your dog is Lassie (i.e. super-well-trained), the chances are your dog isn’t going to do everything you (or I) say. The dog is in a new environment and is probably excited by the new smells and other things going on. I would avoid trying too hard to get the dog to pay attention. The best thing is to let the dog do his or her thing.

I try to put my subjects in the light I want and then let them interact. I’m able to get some great spontaneous emotions, and I always somehow manage to get the shot where everyone is looking at the camera — even the dog. It just causes too much tension when everyone is telling the dog, “Look over here!” Bringing a squeaky toy and treats is also always helpful. Bottom line, though: What is most important is to have fun!

Do you have any silly/funny/frustrating anecdotes from one of these couples-plus-dog photo sessions to share?

I love when a dog is just being a dog. I will have my couples in this romantic embrace or kissing and the dog does a big yawn with tongue out or starts licking their faces and totally breaks the mood. While the following story might not be silly, funny, or frustrating, I do think it’s important.

I had one couple schedule a photo shoot for themselves and their beloved Australian shepherd, Rocky. Unfortunately, shortly before the date for the shoot arrived, Rocky had to be taken to the hospital. He had been such a part of their lives for so long that they were overjoyed when he was able to be released the morning of the shoot and was well enough to join. With all his years, he wasn’t as energetic as many of the younger dogs that couples will bring to sessions, but as I set up the shots and watched the couple interact with him, I saw the joy in Rocky’s face in being back with his family and it reminded me one of the reasons I love doing what I do.

Rocky wasn’t expected to be with us much longer. Photographs and memories in the hearts of our loved ones are what we leave behind, and remembering that I’m playing a small part in that elevates what might appear to be “just another photo shoot” into something incredibly special — a celebration of a life.

What is the most difficult part of having a pet involved in the shoot, and how did you troubleshoot this in your own shoots?

I think the hardest part is actually when the human subject is so preoccupied with getting the dog to look at the camera that I have to fight to get the human’s attention. Also — paw marks on my pants, but that’s easy to take care of.

What do you think including a pet adds to an engagement or wedding photo session?

When I do an engagement session, I want to tell the couple’s story with the images. What better way than to include something they love so much? I have occasionally had clients who seem pretty closed off or shy. However, once you get them around their dog, it’s amazing how much they soften up and what kind of emotions you can capture.

Do you think it’s advisable to include a dog in the wedding party from your experience? Or did it look like too much work for everybody involved?

I just did a wedding this past season where the couple’s dog, Dexter, was in the wedding. He had a custom-made tux with tails and a top hat! It was a little hard making sure everything stayed on, but in the long run it was well worth it. He is part of the family and he looked amazing in the pictures.

What locations do you think are the most ideal for folks trying to incorporate a pet into the picture?

I think it just depends on the dog. Just like humans, you want your subject to be comfortable. That’s when you get some of the best images. So pick a place that isn’t too distracting.

Dogster readers: What have your experiences been trying to get your dogs to cooperate for a photo shoot?

All photos via A Girl and a Camera Photography.

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