The theme for the 2016 Pet Portrait Awards is ‘Man’s Best Friend’ but our relationship with our dogs runs deeper than friendship – they really are part of the family. I see that time and again when clients who visit my studio for family portrait shoots bring their dogs along too.
How it works
As you may already know, to enter this year’s Pet Portrait Awards, you’ll be asked to donate £10 to The Dogs’ Trust. The donation also entitles you to a free portrait session with the photographer of your choice. The package includes a private viewing session at which you can choose an image to enter into the awards. Click here to find out how to book a session with me and to see more of my images of loveable canines!
The various studios taking part up and down the country will judge the photos from these sessions. The winners will go forward into the national contest.
The closing date for entries is 1 October and the winners of the first round will be announced on 15th October. The second round winners will be announced on 22nd October.
But how do you prepare your canine friend for their photoshoot? Here are some tips to make sure your four-legged companion arrives at the studio looking their best and stays relaxed and happy throughout the session.
If you booked a portrait session with me, I bet a visit to your hair stylist would be high on your list of things to do before the shoot. It’s only natural you should want to look your best so why not apply that to your dog? Particularly when there’s a competition place at stake!
Apparently, the dog grooming industry isn’t regulated at the moment so you do need to make sure you find someone with a good reputation. It’s important your dog is comfortable with them too.
If you don’t already use a professional groomer, you could start by asking your vet if they have a list of salons in your area. The British Dog Groomers’ Association (BDGA) is also a good starting point. To gain BDGA accreditation, groomers have to pass written and practical tests. So you can be confident anyone on their list is working to a set of high standards and is skilled, knowledgeable and accountable.
Ask friends and relatives too – there’s nothing quite as strong as personal recommendation.
If you can, visit a few groomers before you decide.
Have a look around the salon – is it safe and secure? Make sure you’d feel comfortable leaving your dog there.
Groomers should have safety procedures as well as health and hygiene practices in place. Obviously they should know about canine anatomy and good handling techniques. They should also be able to monitor behaviour and be capable of administering first aid.
The experience should be as positive as possible for your dog so ask what methods they use to work with their canine clients. Ideally the answer should be ‘rewards-based’ methods i.e giving praise and suitable treats when necessary.
It’s important all dogs visiting salons should have up-to-date vaccinations to stop the spread of contagious diseases, so a reputable groomer should ask you for proof of vaccination.
Ask the groomer how many dogs they work with at any one time. The fewer the better of course because it suggests they won’t rush and will therefore do a good job. And because they won’t be cramming clients in, your dog won’t be stressed by having lots of other strange dogs around.
It goes without saying that you need to make the groomer aware if your dog has sensitive skin or if they don’t like certain parts of their body to be touched. Make sure you’re confident the groomer can accommodate them.
Check they have insurance in place and ask for references too. A good groomer will most likely give you this information without you having to ask.
You’ll find more information about choosing a groomer on the RSPCA’s website.
Getting the best from the session
OK, so your dog is groomed and looking good. The next step is to make sure he or she is happy in the studio.
I’ve photographed lots of dogs so I know how to make your dog feel at ease as well as how to get them to respond well to the camera. I start by giving them time to settle into what is going to be a strange environment, full of new smells. I’ll make sure my lights are already set up so they don’t have to be moved around too much.
But there are a few things you can do to help me.
• Gaining trust is really important so I’ll ask you what your dog likes and what he or she doesn’t. Most dogs I’ve met love to have their ears tickled but yours might not!
• Bring some of your dog’s favourite treats so we can use them as incentives and rewards. You might want to bring a favourite toy too.
• I’ll ask you to position your dog where the light is best while I get myself into the right place for the best angle.
• Then I’ll need you to get your dog to look at you and to hold that position. If I’m getting a nice sparkle in the dog’s eyes and it looks like a good shot, I’ll take it right away.
• I’ll also want to take shots of them looking at me so I’ll ask you for the words and sounds your dog responds best to. Words like ‘cat’ or ‘sausages’ usually do the trick! Faint growling sounds work well too, but you know your dog best.
I’ll work as quickly as possible so your dog is never under any stress, but my goal is to get you a fabulous shot that you’ll love, and that could win you a place in the national 2016 Pet Portrait of the Year awards.