Monday, December 18, 2017

Nola's Christmas Photo Shoot + Small Dog Photography Tips

Hey guys!

I love Christmas time. There's something about all the soft lights, the sharpness of the air, and the cliche-but-also-somehow-true sense of quiet peace that comes with this season that just leaves me feeling inspired and itching to pick up my camera. So that's what I did!

Before I show you Miss Nola's shoot, I want to share a view easy tips for better dog (or any pet, I suppose!) photography, especially if you have a small dog. Let's jump in!

1. Nice and Rosy, Comfy and Cozy

Nola's a pro with any and all kinds of shoots, but she definitely appreciates when things are comfy and cozy. ;) If things are warm and cushy, your pup is more likely to want to cooperate and you'll also get some sweet candid moments. 
Pillows, blankets, even some faux fur will all be greatly appreciate by your dog, especially if it's chilly out! Plus, all of that adds texture and color, making your photos more appealing and natural looking.

This faux fur (pretty cheap and easy to find at fabric stores, or online) is warm and soft, and Nola was more than happy to snuggle in for a photo session.

2. A Basket Case

If you have a little  dog that isn't too keen on holding a stay for an extended period of time (because it takes a 100 pictures to get a few good ones, amiright?), try get them settling into a higher-sided basket with a nice blanket inside of it. This is especially helpful for puppies! Again, it gives some fun texture and is a cool prop in addition to being a helpful hack. 

This was just me testing light and color, but here's the box I used for Nola. It's vintage and wooden, really unique and adds fantastic color and texture. It can also be used for your put to sit on top of, or used later on as a prop on its own. You'll see both later!

3. All is Calm, All is Bright

This may be a no brainer, but don't attempt a photoshoot when your pup is hyped up. I always schedule my shoots for after a nice walk or play session, and for extra calmness, I add in a short training session. A calm dog is much, much easier to work with! Plus, a lot of people prefer to have more serene photos for Christmas, and this helps.

As weird as it sounds, soothing music helps a ton. It puts you and your dog in a relax and happy mood!
Shoutout to Sleeping At Last's Christmas playlist. I love that band and their covers of classic Christmas songs added the perfect touch.

4. I Heard The Bells on Christmas Morning

For those that want super perky, focused head shots, try different kinds of sounds to get your dog's attention. Bells, a different whistle than you normally use, kissy noises, squeaky toys, different animal noises, anything that's out of the ordinary and attention getting. Don't be afraid to look and sound like an idiot. ;) YouTube is full of videos to make your dog perk up, or even give that coveted head tilt. Nola's very found of whining puppies or husky howls. There's also various apps for both Apple and Android you can check out.

5. A White Christmas

White is a great color to use for any time, but especially for photos and ESPECIALLY if it's indoors. White looks clean, professional, and helps bounce and reflect light. Great for those lowlight conditions! Hanging a sheet or blanket up (pinning to a wall, hanging over a balcony railing, even trailing it over a couple of chairs makes a quick and easy backdrop. For a cleaner look, make sure all the wrinkles are smoothed out before you pick up the camera.
White Christmas lights, strung either over or behind your backdrop (depending on the thickness and amount of lights you have), are classic and festive without venturing into tacky. If you like the colored lights or more playful feel, that's totally okay and would work just as well!
I would advise against LED lights, though. They're incredibly harsh and give off a very unnatural and unforgiving glow, especially if you aren't shooting in manual. 

Initial backdrop. It's actually light grey, but since I was using a fixed focal length lens and shooting manual, it wound up looking white. If you don't use a DLSR or don't shoot manual, don't cheat and use a different color. 

Started with three strands of lights. Wound up adding a couple more!

This family heirloom fireplace screen was perfect for weaving lights over. And Miss Nola is just sitting on a couch cushion covered by a lightly textured blanket.

Need some more inspiration? I'll let you in on a little secret: the vast majority of my ideas for Nola's more formal shots are tweaked from newborn photography setups. After all, she's the size of a baby! ;) Pinterest will be your best friend. Child photography setups work well for larger dogs, too!

Nola's Christmas Photoshoot, 2017

Shot with a Nikon D3400, 35mm lens, manual mode. 
Shutter: 150-400
F-stop: 1.8-2.2
ISO: 400
White balance: Shade

These little lights on her are my new favorite prop. Battery operated and pretty cheap at Target!

Don't be afraid to add in some color!
Also feel free to play with trends, but I prefer going off trend just slightly. For example, buffalo plaid is HUGE right now, and that's what this is. However, it's blue and white instead of the traditional black and red. 

Add in fun props! I just cued her to touch the bottom of the cup, but if your pup doesn't know that trick, just drop a treat in there and click away. 

I prefer a more minimalistic look, but these props were so fun. A little beachy, a little farm house, a little boho. 

The obligatory Santa hat shot!

This is the crate she was sitting in early. 

Warm and cozy!

I love the texture this blanket gives!

Play with angle, props, ect. Just have fun with it.

The coveted head tilt, courtesy of YouTube dogs making a ruckus. This is edited a little in Lightroom CC, but the original is below.
Editing: increased exposure, lightly brightened the side of her face, upped the whites and highlights, and the most extensive was cloning some of the bokeh to give it a softer, more plentiful feel. 

Lazy like me? Use your tree!

Our little backyard Christmas tree was the backdrop here.

Tacky tinsel gives a really fun, glittery look!



  1. Such wonderful photo tips(and beautiful captures!)!

  2. Awesome pictures and such good tips! Thanks! Do you like your Nikon - I'm shopping for a new camera.

  3. You do such a great job!! Come take our pics!

  4. You are definitely the queen of bocah! Lovely shots!

  5. So beautiful!

    Monty, Harlow, and Ramble

  6. Great pictures and some great tips.

  7. This is the most helpful post I’ve read recently regarding how to photograph pets. I just got my first DSLR (a hand-me-down from my photographer son) and I’ve been afraid to play with it much. These tips have inspired me!


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