While Christmas was a bit different this year — no client parties, no large gatherings — I did have the chance to head up north and visit my immediate family. And new to the family this year was a 9-week-old golden retriever puppy, Maverick.

My sister’s new canine friend was certainly the center of attention over the trip. And that meant a few pictures Christmas morning, along with some posed shots in front of the tree the next night.

I’ve never really photographed dogs by themselves; they’ve always been with people. So this was somewhat of a new challenge for me.

Avoid the zoomies

Those of you who have had puppies know about the “zoomies” — that time of day where the puppy goes absolutely nuts. Running back and forth down the hallway, sometimes falling over their own tails.

Try to have the dog at least somewhat worn out. You don’t want them falling asleep when they’re being photographed, but you don’t want them fully energized, either. Time it right.

Make sure your camera is ready to go

Before your furry model enters the scene, make sure you’re prepared. Dial in your camera settings and make sure enough light is present. Practice on a stuffed animal if you have one laying around, ideally one that’s a similar fur color.

While using something like a strobe or continuous light is certainly something that would help, taking casual photos while visiting family often doesn’t allow you the chance for a full in-studio setup. Seeing that Maverick was going to be posed, I was able to use a slower shutter speed, at 1/100s. Paired with an f/1.8 aperture, I was able to keep my ISO a bit lower than I would’ve otherwise had to do with a faster shutter speed.

If you’re able to turn up the lights, do so. Even with our living room lights fully up, I had to use ISO 4000 — much higher than I prefer for portraits. But this was one of those scenarios where the subject was much more important than technical perfection.

Be ready with treats

This is a given. Have a bag of treats next to you, or better yet, have the dog’s owner hold the treats just slightly above your head. Too high and the dog will look too high up.

Have the owner praise the dog with treats regularly, and don’t be afraid to take a few short breaks. The dog will be more comfortable with the owner instead of you, making it more likely that he’ll be obedient while you snap away.

Treat the dog … like a human

This might sound weird, but you should photograph the dog like you would a regular person. Separate them from the background to get that creamy bokeh, pose them slightly at an angle (if possible) and try a few different looks with them.

Be sure to capture some candid moments, too, like biting at the Christmas tree or rug, or even looking over at another person in the room. You might be surprised with what you end up with.