3 cartoon dogs sitting on a Christmas rug under a decorated garland

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How to Have a Productive Pet Holiday Photo Shoot

In our house, our pets are a part of our family which means that we include them every year in our holiday photos. As the number of animals and personalities in our house continues to grow, we have gathered some tips and tricks to make getting a cute pet-friendly holiday photo card not only possible but also less stressful! Whether your pets are perfectly trained or are more free-spirited, you will need more than a little luck to make your holiday cards turn out as special as they are.

3 cartoon dogs sitting on a Christmas rug under a decorated garland

How to Have a Memorable Pet Holiday Photo Card

To have a successful pet-inclusive Holiday Card, you will need four main things; patience, flexibility, a successful holiday photo shoot with your pets, and a photo card template that will let you display all the members of your family. Out of all these things, patience and flexibility will be the key factors in getting that memorable Holiday Card.

Family of two humans, 4 dogs, and a ferret wearing matching Christmas Pajamas in a Snow Globe

Pack Your Patience and Remain Flexible

Patience and flexibility are incredibly important when working with animals in any setting. This is because they can feed off your emotions so the angrier and more frustrated you get, the more on edge they will be. Some animals may act out, appear more nervous or scared (which doesn’t make a good photo or a happy pet), and others may completely shut down.

If you feel yourself starting to get upset because the photos that are being taken aren’t turning out the way you wanted, it is important that you and your animals take a break to reset. This will also give you a moment to decide if and what you may need to do differently.

Silouhette of a woman meditating surrounded by pine with white Christmas lights

Flexibility is key here, because you may need to approach your photo session differently or even reschedule it if possible. Your animals may need to get some excess energy out, or they may need to take a nap if they seem to be moody. A certain pose may be too difficult for them to do, or it may not have translated well on film.

There will be things you can’t control, and you will need to be flexible to come up with a way that will work best for you and your animals. You may get an even better shot when you are open to working WITH your pets instead of being stuck on the original plan.

Choosing Your Pet-friendly Holiday Photo Card Template

Before you start planning the details of your photo shoot, it’s helpful to take the time to look at potential Holiday Card Templates first. When selecting your template, you will be setting the tone for your upcoming photos. The look and colors of the template will help you decide everything from your color scheme, setting, props, etc.

One thing you should keep in mind when picking the right template for your family is whether you will be able to get a good group photo of your entire pack or if it will be best to split your human and animal family members into smaller and more manageable groups.

Large versus Smaller Group for photos

If you have one or two pets it may be easier to get a good shot of the whole family at once, especially if your animals can be held. This only works well if your pets are big enough to be seen in a group photo and if everyone gets along well. To be able to properly show off your smaller pets, you will need to take close-up photos of them.  If you have animals that don’t get along well, are too interested in each other, or just simply have too much energy, you might want to consider breaking the photos down into smaller groups.

When splitting your family and pets into smaller groups, you can separate them by species, sex, demeanor, or by relationships. You can take photos of everyone separately or put them in larger groups. The important most important thing is to sort your family members into groups that will work best for them. If a particular grouping isn’t working out, it’s time to be flexible and try out different combinations.

We’ve created several Pet-friendly Holiday Photo Card Templates that are now available in our Etsy shop. Currently, we have 2 different designs where you can import 3-5 photos of your family after purchasing and downloading the template. Don’t worry, directions are included!

Holiday Photo Card Templates Now on Etsy!

For our Pack Members, we have a free template available in our Freebie Library. If you aren’t a member of our pack yet, you can sign up here to get our weekly newsletter, member discount to our Etsy shop, and access to everything in our Freebie Library.

Free Holiday Card Template Available to Members

How to Have a Successful Pet-friendly Holiday Photo Shoot

As pet parents, you know your animal’s personality best which will go a long way in making the right decisions to have the best possible photo shoot. The most important thing to keep in mind when making decisions is to make sure you are setting your pets up for success. You also need to have realistic expectations concerning what they (and you) will be able to achieve.

It’s equally important to be honest with yourself concerning your pet’s strengths and weaknesses. Are they easily distractible? Can they hold still for a few seconds, several minutes, or are they always on the move? If you have several pets, can they all be in the photo at the same time? Answering these types of questions will help you decide the best place for the photo shoot, what type of props (if any) you will be able to use, and HOW you will be able to get the greatest photos possible.

Silhouette deciding between two arrow directions

Choosing the Location of Your Holiday Photo Shoot with Your Pets

One of the first things to decide is where you will be taking the photos for your holiday card. Choose an area that your pets will be safe, comfortable, and allowed to be in. This may be at your house, or it may be a visit to a local pet-friendly Christmas tree farm or Santa’s workshop at a mall on their pet-friendly night. If your pets are stressed out by their surroundings, it will be near impossible to get a decent photo of them that you can use for your holiday cards.

Couple with 2 dogs posing with santa in Santa's workshop

When selecting your location, you will also need to think about the overarching look or theme you are hoping to achieve in your photos. Do you want photos with Santa, or in an outdoor snowy winter wonderland? If you want an outdoor photo shoot, scout out local parks or even your backyard. Remember to follow the local leash laws if you are not on fenced-in private property.

Even if your animals are trained your focus will be more on the photo shoot, not on any potential dangers or distractions that might be approaching until it’s too late. Luckily there are plenty of ways to make it look like your pets are unleashed by playing with the placement of your props, costumes, camera angles, and Photoshop.

Selecting the Style of Your Pet-Friendly Holiday Photo Shoot

The background and location are just one aspect of obtaining your holiday photos. You will also have to pick the general style or type of photography that will work with your pack and their personalities. Are you hoping for a more formal, artistic, or fun type of photo for your holiday card?

Once you decide what look or feeling you want, you can start figuring out the best way to get it. Some of the basic decisions to help achieve the right look will be if action vs still shots would be best or if you’d like to focus more on close-up shots of your family members. From there you can start considering what costumes or props will be useful and start playing with body positioning in the frame.

Action vs. Still Shots

When deciding between action versus still shots for your holiday card, you will need to think about the skills of your photographer. Admittedly, I am not the best at taking action shots, but I do know several professional photographers that excel in this category.

Husky running in snow next to a photo of a black dog standing and looking up in the snow

Photos of your family mid-movement are a great way to show their personalities and are especially great if you have individuals that don’t stay still for long. On the other hand, you will have more control over the smaller details in the picture with still shots. Either way, be prepared to take a ton of photos to get a few good ones to choose from.

Close-up vs. Full Body

Depending on your group dynamics and energy, you may have better luck with one of these styles than the other. Smaller animals or individuals that don’t hold still are great candidates for close-ups. This can be an easier way to get a good shot because you are focusing on just a face rather than worrying about legs, arms, tails, or wings.

Close up a dog's face and another photo of the full body

Full body shots are great for group photos or if you are hoping to use props or have coordinated outfits for your photo shoot. If you are using a holiday card template that allows you to use more than one photo, you can use both styles to have the best of both worlds.

Selecting Holiday Outfits and Props

When choosing the outfits and props that you want in your holiday picture keep in mind the overall look that you are going for. Not all animals will look comfortable in clothing, so you may have to settle for coordinated bows or leashes.

Make sure the props that you are using are animal friendly. This means that they won’t pose any type of danger to your pets. Check that everything is sturdy with nothing that they can get caught, choke, or hurt themselves on. This is important for any small children you have in your pictures as well.

Body Positioning

Depending on the type of animals, props, people, and costumes in your photo shoot, you will need to be mindful of everyone’s body positions. Depending on the sex, species, or visual health concerns of your animals, you may need to have them sit at a particular angle from the camera to hide certain body parts if you don’t want them seen.

Small dog sitting next to christmas lantern, and christmas lights

You also may need to move individuals or props around to make sure that people and outfits will stand out enough. When you are deciding on everyone’s position, try to look at the big picture. When you focus only on each individual, you can sometimes miss a potentially awkward pose until it’s too late though it makes for a great laugh and story down the road.

General Tips for a Successful Holiday Photo Shoot with Your Pets

There are several behaviors that I consistently use to get good photos of my dogs on vacation and during our family photo shoots.   Brushing up on basic commands like sit, down, and stay can be incredibly helpful in still shots. A recall behavior is a fantastic way to get a running action shot. For more control over the direction of their head, you can train a ‘look’ command. In a pinch, you can also use a treat or toy to help guide them into looking in the desired direction.

Red and white dog standing in woods with new spring growth

To increase your chances of a smooth and stress-free photo shoot, make sure your animals have a chance to rid themselves of any excess energy. Take them for a run, or walk, or give them some play time earlier in the day to help them have a calmer demeanor when it’s game time. Right before the photo shoot begins, make sure everyone has had a chance to go to the bathroom so there are no unfortunate accidents during the picture taking. It’s equally important to provide frequent bathroom breaks during the process as well.

two dogs running in the snow

No one wants miserable family members during family photos. Hand out praise and small rewards to pets and people alike and don’t forget to take a break and breathe if anyone is starting to get too frustrated or upset, remember that it is hard to get good photos of unhappy people and animals. Taking a break can make a world of difference.

Chocolate Chip Cookies and dog treats

If you are worried about trying to get your photos in a limited amount of time, practice makes perfect! You can practice the behaviors and poses that you will be using during the actual shoot. This way you can do a lot of the troubleshooting ahead of time which will speed things up and save a lot of stress and frustration if you are rushing to beat a clock.

Smile and Say “Happy Holidays!”

Personally, I love looking back over our holiday photos of years past because I can look at how my family has grown. From the first pictures of me and my oldest dog Remington posing with Santa at a pet store to my husband and me along with all our pets, I absolutely LOVE having our family photos taken during this time of year.

Now that we’ve gone over the basics to help you get the best holiday photo card this year, it’s time to put it to the test. Whether this is the first year that you are including your pets in your holiday photos or if you’ve been doing it for years there is always room for creativity to make each year unique and memorable. Don’t forget to check out the Pet-friendly Holiday Card Templates in our Etsy store to help you get started. I can’t wait to see what everyone’s photo cards look like this year!

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About Author

Animal and wildlife enthusiast that currently owns four dogs, loves to travel, and try new things while saving as much money as possible!

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