(Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by photographer Steve Meltzer. You can see his work on his website and Facebook page. Read another Digital Photo story of his on how to stop people from blinking in photos here.)
Mr. Checkers wouldn’t keep off of the bride’s lap. Time and time again I’d pick him up and stand him by the model’s side only to have him drop onto her lap as soon as my back was turned.
I had been hired to shoot the cover for a Florida lifestyle magazine’s Wedding issue. The feature story was about “making your wedding unique” and one way was to dress up your dog as the Best Man or the Maid of Honor. The art director came up with the idea of having a Best Man dog sitting next to the bride waiting for the groom.
The magazine publisher loved the idea because she thought that her dog, Mr. Checkers, would be perfect to play the Best Man. Unfortunately, Mr. Checkers was one of those high-strung dogs that couldn’t sit still. It made a simple shoot a prolonged Sisyphean labor. But the team and I persisted and ultimately, we got the cover shot (see below).
Dogs have been in the photographer’s viewfinder since the birth of the medium. Searching for photos for this article I found a series of images made around 1905 of costumed bulldogs.
The wrinkled faces add a lot of character to the pictures. You can see that especially in the photo of a “sea captain” bulldog smoking a pipe who looks a lot like Winston Churchill.
One of the most successful costumed animal photographers was Harry Whittier Frees (1879-1953) of Pennsylvania who worked between 1902 and 1953. His dressed-up animal photos appeared in magazines, calendars, on postcards and in books. Below are two of his unique images to give you an idea of his over-the-top sense of humor.
If these images spur your interest in dressing up your pet dog or cat here are a few tips to get you started. And remember, if your pet really doesn’t want to participate in a costumed photo shoot (and there are many who absolutely won’t), don’t force the issue. Give him or her a treat or a nice petting instead.
15 Tips for Dressed-Up Dog Photos
#1 A photo shoot can be stressful especially if it’s the animal’s first time. So, you and the owner need to talk to the dog softly from the outset to help keep it calm.
#2 Animal costumes should be made to be simple and easy to put on the animal.
#3 Put on the costume one part at a time and reassure the animal for a minute or two after each.
#4 The shooting space should be open and clear of little distractions. Animals relieve stress by looking away from the source.
#5 Put the animal in place and let it sniff around and get comfortable.
#6 With the dog in place, check and adjust the lighting.
#7 Soft natural light is generally better with animals especially those with dark fur coats.
#8 I avoid using a flash because it can be very startling and throw off the animal’s attention.
#9 Use a tripod and frame the photo before shooting.
#10 Focus on the animal’s eyes.
#11 Make sure the lighting produces catch lights in the animal’s eyes to give them “life.”
#12 Dogs and other animals don’t stand still for very long so shoot multiple frames in burst mode, so you won’t miss the right moment.
#13 If the dog or cat is not cooperating, do not raise your voice, it only adds stress to the situation.
#14 Stay calm and reassuring.
#15 Have some treats on hand as a reward for good behavior.
And remember that the key to great dress up photos is being patient and having fun. If it’s not working, try something else!
To see more unique pet photography, check out this story on a photographer who captures adorable photos of dogs and cats from below. You should also read this interview with a photographer who shot an exhilarating image of a leaping dog covered in colorful powder.