Three tips for a successful family and pet portrait session | Chapel Hill, NC

As I start to write this blog post, a crash of thunder explodes overhead. I am okay with thunderstorms, and it is something I missed when I lived on the West Coast. The dogs, however, feel differently. One dog, Whitby, is okay with loud noises, and might curl up on a dog bed nearby. Sometimes, he keeps an eye on me, and sometimes he falls straight to sleep.  Sometimes, he grabs his pet bear and stays close to my desk as I work.

Black lab and its pet bear with Barbara Bell Photography near Chapel Hill, NC

The other dog, though, is not a fan of storms. She is a rescue, and I don’t know how many nights she’s spent in the rain. I do know that before we took her in, we often found her curled up underneath our front porch or on a back porch. If we’re all outside, and she hears that crack of thunder, she is off like a shot.  I used to try to grab her collar to keep her nearby and let her know that she was safe. What I found, though, was that I preferred my arm in the socket and not pulled by the terror of a dog who fears thunder.  We live and learn.

Which brings me to this month’s topic…the dog days of summer!  July and August in North Carolina *slay* me with its heat and humidity. I hear the same heat warnings in Massachusetts, as well as Northern California, so I know I am in good company. Thank goodness for pools where I can go for a swim to cool.

The dog days of summer were always thought to be because it was too hot to do anything but lay around like a dog (or a dog on a cooling vent, if you’re in my house).  The original phrase refers to Sirius, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, which means “big dog” in Latin and is said to represent one of Orion’s hunting dogs.

Dog stars and dog days of summer

From: The Farmer's Almanac

Becky Little of National Geographic writes, “To the Greeks and Romans, these ‘dog days’ occurred around the time Sirius appears to rise alongside the sun, in late July in the Northern Hemisphere. They believed the heat from the two stars combined is what made these days.”

This year, the dog days span from Sunday, July 3 to Thursday, August 11. We are in the thick of it. We know it’s hot, and I will make a note to look up at the sky for Orion’s hunting dog, Sirius.  In the meantime, let’s chat about dogs.  If you’ve ever googled, “What do I need to know about bringing my dog to a family portrait session?” this article is for you.

People who like dogs really like their dogs…and usually other people’s dogs, too.  Over the years, I have photographed hundreds of dogs (and pets: cats, horses, iguanas, fish, turtles, toads, all the fun things).  So, I wanted to share 3 things that make a portrait session with your pet a success.

This well-dressed dog showed up for our family and pet portrait session near Hillsborough, NC looking ready for fun with Barbara Bell Photography.

The first question I usually get from parents is, “Should we include our dog?”  My answer is always a resounding, “Yes, of course!” They are a member of your family – these four-legged, furry beasts are good to us. They are loyal and sweet and kind.  It’s always a good time to get a portrait of your pet.

First, bring a handler.

Bring someone who knows your dog. That way, we can take some family photos with or without your dog. (They, too, need a break from the paparazzi at times.) The handler can be a friend or a neighbor who knows your dog and wants to help out.  In this family portrait session with dogs near Hillsborough’s Riverwalk, they brought a friend who helped out with dogs. Son-in-law, Adam, went above and beyond with walking the dogs and keeping them entertained as we walked along the Riverwalk, as well.

Family portrait session on Hillsborough's Riverwalk with 2 dogs in their session.

Second, bring treats.

Most dogs are food motivated, and a little treat goes a long way. It’s how many owners have trained their dogs, as well, so it’s familiar to your pup. I used to bring dog treats on my shoots, and over the years, I have found that every dog is different. Owners know what their dogs love the most.

This little munchkin, Annie, the maltipoo, was a  darling to photograph. Her owner phoned me because Annie hadn’t been doing well, and he was worried he didn’t have any photos of his gal. (Annie’s very well to this day!)  Being food motivated, she sat, posed, primped, laughed, collected the mail (seriously!), and showed us how tall she could make herself.  What a hoot she was!


Annie, maltipoo, kept us entertained during her family and pet portrait session near Chapel Hill, NC

Third, give yourselves enough time.

An experienced pet photographer will know this, and I list it here because we all need the gift of more time.  If the setting where you are going is new to your dogs, they’ll want to sniff everything, check the perimeter, mark a few things. It’s how they keep you safe, and it’s a process I have found that can’t be rushed. I like to give dogs about 20 minutes to sniff a new site out. We, the humans, hang out and chat and the dog will check their surroundings before deciding all is well. If it’s a site they know well, less time may be needed. Always, give yourself the gift of more time. It’s a nice feeling of calm.  Also, I have learned that when clients look at the finished artwork, they remember how they felt on that day. Was it rushed? Was it fun? All the emotions from that day will come back to you, and we at Barbara Bell Photography, always want the client experience to be a fun and fabulous memory for all our clients.

A family and pet portrait session includes the four-legged and furry members of the family near Woodside, CA with Barbara Bell Photography.

There are so many more nuances to share about a pet portrait session, and these top three tidbits will get you started. Want to know more?  Follow us online or contact us today.

I’ll share more of our furry friends online as we stay cool through these dog days of summer.


Portrait and Event Photography near Chapel Hill, NC