As we quickly wind down for the end of the year, two things invariably happen — Christmas mini sessions for kids and for pets. I have been running my pet portrait mini sessions for a few years now and I love them … so do the pets! So I thought I’d share a few tips and tricks for getting the best out of creating mini-sessions for Christmas “Pet Pawtraits.”

Creating a scene

I had two scenes set up this year; thanks to Kate Backdrop (UKDE) for both my gorgeous drops. I could easily spin my lights around and capture my subjects on both. Some dogs I had to have mostly floor work or a stool to help get them on chairs (due to age and health conditions), but others were happy on a table. I lifted them up, which put them at a better height for photographing them, especially the smaller ones.

It always pays to take some blank shots, without the animals in case you need to fix something in a shot. You could easily use a plain white background and a few ornaments like I have done in past years, but the printed backdrops really do make it something quite special.

Keep things simple

If the dog is a handful, leave it on the lead, leads can always be removed in Photoshop. Otherwise, as long as the dog is contained in the studio (no open doors, etc.), let them check it out. They are often more confident and curious off the lead.

Nothing (apart from light stands, which were sandbagged) was breakable. Dogs could check out all the smells … and there were lots!

Have a few shots in mind, but don’t go overboard. Some animals are happy to ham it up, while others can only manage a simple sit. Santa hats, bow ties and other such accessories are OK on some pets, but stress others out. Don’t push it. I used pretty much the same setup with lights and camera settings as I mentioned for this family Christmas shoot.

Keep your Christmas session short

Regardless of the animal, keep it short, keep it fun. If the animal is getting stressed, immediately stop. I keep all my sessions to no longer than 15 minutes. I have everything set up, lights tested and cameras set before the animal arrives.

Once they leave, I give a quick vacuum and spray with Adaptil. It does not remove the smells, but can help calm the animals.

Always offer praise

Always tell them they are doing a great job. It’s YOUR job to keep them interested. I have a squeaker in my pocket and some treats on hand.

Always check with the owner if the treat is suitable. I usually go with kibble, yogurt drops or peanut butter cookies.

I always introduce myself to the animal when it first arrives. But I have a chat with owners about their behavior in advance, along with their likes and needs. Some of my repeat customers are getting older and not quite so nimble, including my own girl Chloe.

Keep a sense of humor

Most animals — especially dogs — can pick up your stress levels. So if you are calm and having fun, let the animals relax and enjoy it too. Less stress on animals and owners makes for less stress for you. It also makes for happy smiley faces. Check out this happy boy below in his Santa hat.

Want to check out some of the other cool Pet Pawtraits I captured? Check out this link. So as long as it is short and sweet and fun I am sure you can create a mini-session for Christmas Pet Pawtraits magic, even if it’s just with your own pets.

Merlin (Black Labrador) and Harvey (Australian Red Cattle Dog) images were used with permission of owners.