How To Take A Great Christmas Photo With Your Pet!

Merry Christmas Out There In Photography Land. Here’s a popular post that I rerun every Christmas. Enjoy!

If you want to create a Christmas photo complete with costumes and props, it will take some advanced planning. Start with your idea, get your Christmas clothing ready, set up the location and decorate. But remember not to get carried away unless this is part of the fun for you.

If you are as creative as Hal and Rae Quanbeck from Key Largo, Florida,  then making a really unique custom card is what you are working on now.  Every year Hal and Rae figure out something different and totally imaginative. I thought everyone might enjoy seeing how it’s done. Once you have an idea, (the hard part!) the rest is just a standard photo shoot, but as you will see, there is careful planning each step of the way.

It starts with setting up the location.

Here is the Quanbeck’s idea taking shape. Remember we’re in Key Largo…one has to be inventive down here without snow or fireplaces. The idea is to crop the image just above the boots so it will look as if Santa has just dropped in for a visit.

While the setup is evolving,  my job is to take test shots and view them on my LCD screen so I’ve got the exposure nailed.

It’s important to do this ahead of time before the pet and owners are placed in the scene. Nothing is more frustrating than having everyone ready and waiting while I’m all thumbs with my settings, so I always run exposure tests ahead of time. 

Check. The exposure is set. Now I’m ready and Murphy’s Law (if something can go wrong, it will go wrong) has been considerably reduced.

Once the shoot gets rollin’,  I start by moving everyone around until I’m happy with the composition.

Then it’s time to do a final check of the exposure and composition on the LCD screen. I look again and ask myself if the background is clear? If there is anything that will detract from what I am trying to make?

Ok good. Then I look again. This is one of the biggest problems with poor photographs. The photographer doesn’t see what is right there in front of the lens.

Next I go to work making both vertical and horizontal images. That way the Quanbecks will have more choices for their final pick.

Tucker, the Quanbeck’s  Westie, is an easy dog to photograph so the ears aren’t a problem. But normally, to help things go smoothly, I’ll enlist a “prop person”  to keep the attention of the pet and keep everyone looking right at me. Easier said than done! I start by giving Hal and Rae very specific instructions to stay relaxed, smile, and look directly at me. The main point is to tell them not to look at their pet. That’s my job. Their job is to keep their pose no matter what is going on while I concentrate on Tucker.

With difficult pets, you need more than one prop. Pets have a very short attention span,  so I have my  prop person keep changing props. By introducing new props every few minutes, I’ve got a great chance of getting a good image with the ears up.

I’m still working with the composition and I want to try putting Hal and Rae together on the chair. Nice.  I move  in closer and cut out anything that doesn’t contribute to the final image. I want to give the viewer a sense of being right there.

Voila! We’re finished. Hal and Rae used this photo for their card with a colorful snowflake cover and the caption “Wait’n for Santa in Paradise.”

Can’t wait to see what they come up with this year!

Merry, merry,


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