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Patrick Heagney

Pets are lucky. They don’t need to book hair appointments, get their makeup done or clean up around the house before a photo shoot. Whether your pup or snake is getting ready for their close-ups, all they have to do is show up and be 100% authentic. All of the prep work falls on their humans. We tapped a couple of professional photographers for their advice on what to do in advance and on picture day so your pet portrait turns out picture perfect.

Keep Calm


The best way to assist the photographer in capturing your animal is to stay relaxed and be patient. “Pet owners often arrive for their animal’s session in an [anxious] state about whether they will behave or not. Your pet doesn’t know how to smile on command,” says Theresa van Staden, photographer and owner of J3lly B3ans Photography in Dunwoody. “It’s my job to get the animal to look at the camera and ‘smile.’ The best thing a pet owner can do is be calm and hold the leash when needed.”

Know Your Pet

Some animals just don’t have the right temperament for a photo shoot. “Whether it’s the flashing lights or the strange people, if an animal is freaked out, you won’t get good photos, and you’ll just be torturing the pet. In those cases, I think it’s best not to put them through a traumatic experience,” says Patrick Heagney of Patrick Heagney Photography. Likewise, if your pet is aggressive toward human strangers, stick to your smartphone for photos.

Clean Home

Tidy up your spaces prior to the photographer’s arrival if the photo session is happening at home. “This saves time and makes the photos turn out nicer,” Heagney says.


Your pet will put its best paw forward if it gets groomed a day or so before the shoot, especially if it has long hair, van Staden says. Also, keep a brush on hand the day-of. “They’ll be running around during the shoot and will likely need a touchup,” Heagney says.

Outfit Selection

Putting your furbabies in outfits or accessories can look adorable but is only appropriate if they’re familiar with dressing up. “A photo shoot is a bad time to introduce it,” Heagney says. Otherwise, an attractive, clean collar is simple and looks great.

Tricks with Treats

Have your pet’s favorite treat and toy on hand to get its attention. Van Staden says, “I normally bribe dogs with high-value treats like Stella and Chewy’s freeze-dried meal toppers or chicken or turkey pieces. For cats, a wand toy can get them to look in the photographer’s direction.” Heagney adds, “Sometimes dogs get so excited they leap up and run for the treats, but eventually this approach usually works.”


For the majority of pets, photographers agree that the best photo shoot location is where they are the most comfortable: at home. That is, except for dogs. “Parks are always a good option with dogs as they get to run around, and the natural light is nice to shoot in. You can get fun shots chasing them around, and once they tire themselves out a bit, they’ll be easier to convince to sit still and pose in areas with good backgrounds,” Heagney says.

One of van Staden’s favorite outdoor locations is Brook Run Park in Dunwoody, which has various backdrops including a community garden and a 2-mile, multi-use loop trail. “I prefer to shoot dogs in any wooded area. I look for a quiet location where they can’t get so distracted by people and other dogs walking by,” she says.

At home, van Staden says the best area for photos is outside in the shade, facing the direction of the sun so the animal will be illuminated from the front. “Find a spot that is uncluttered and has nothing distracting in the background.” On the other hand, Heagney, who always brings extra lighting just in case, prefers a well-lit space such as a room with a lot of windows. “It helps if it’s a place where the animal likes to hang out. They’ll be more comfortable and may cooperate more.”

J3lly B3an Photography

Patrick Heagney Photography

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