One of My Most Challenging Dog Sessions Ever!
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Monday, July 10, 2017
By Heather L Swaney

Hi Everyone!  Welcome back to my blog!  I thought I would share a personal experience with you today and start the week out on a fun note!  This story is about Fiona, a Newfoundland Pup and her first ever photo shoot!  It is also a story of the patience it takes to be in the pet photography business!


We met Fiona and her mom at a local Pet Supply Chain Store back in 2013 for Howliday portraits. At first, this gorgeous little ball of fuzz seemed very laid back, taking it all in.  However, once we attempted to move her from the pet store floor onto the portrait scene's white vinyl flooring, she quickly became frightened, not wanting any part of what we were asking her to do. Now, if you know me, the last thing I ever want is to scare a sweet and innocent baby!  So to get her acclimated, I sat on the vinyl floor, right where it met the stores floor and placed Fiona onto my lap.   Of coarse, I was telling her what a good girl she was, remaining calm myself and gently rubbing her to try to keep her calm. As you can see from the first two images below, she is on my lap however, she is panting...a sign of being stressed.

I knew at this point that firing off just one good image was going to be challenging.  Challenge accepted!  Just one nice shot, that's all I could hope for. I had my other photographer grab the camera and get down onto the floor with us, ready to capture the shot.  Very, very slowly, I inched myself, with Fiona in my lap, back into the scene.  Each time, assuring her everything was okay and what a good job she was doing! I finally felt she was confident enough, so I explained to everyone my plan.  After a while, Fiona and I were finally far enough back into the scene, so I very slowly slid my right leg partially out from underneath her, allowing part of her body to touch the scene's vinyl floor.  Again, I praised her and loved up on her calmly.  Then slowly continued to slide my leg out from underneath her.  Once Fiona seemed okay with being partially removed from my lap, I repeated what I had just done with my left leg.  Soon enough, she was laying on the vinyl floor by herself!  We were all so very proud of her, however we couldn't celebrate for fear of spooking her!  But now, I am still sitting in the scene, kind of behind and next to her.  I knew if I attempted an exit strategy, she would be done with us.  At this point, my left leg was still directly behind Fiona and in the scene.  Again, I shared my plan with my other photographer...I would lay back, which kind of took my body out of the line of fire, however my left leg would still be in the shot.  Now I don't mind post production photo editing, but the less I have to remove from an image, the more "real" the image is to me.  So here is goes...I slowly laid onto my back, arms stretched as far out of the scene as possible.  One of my legs is still bent the same way it was while Fiona was in my lap, fearing if I move it, that she will bolt.   I slowly lifted my left knee into the air, grabbing my ankle to pull it as close to me as I could and far enough that it was actually out of the shot.  And click!  We did it!  AND she stayed put, so my other photographer kept shooting.  By the time we were all done, he had fired off 21 shots, while I was frozen in said position!!  Fiona's mom pulled out her phone and captured the last image below!

When in the business of photographing pets, we have to take many things into account.  Even if your pet is the most behaved, trained, well manner little angel, please understand that they may not do as well as you had thought and hoped.  When placing a pet into the unknown, please expect the unexpected.  In little Fiona's case, yes, she was a puppy.  Most puppies are happy-go-lucky, tails-a-waggin, kissing everyone, running back and forth between everyone in sight.  But Fiona acted differently from the start.  That was my first clue that maybe she wasn't comfortable with the car ride, or maybe unsure about coming into the pet food store...who REALLY knows!  We placed Fiona in a different environment that she is used to.  And even well seasoned adult dogs who are placed in an unfamiliar environment, such as a photo studio, may do unpredictable things or act in unpredictable ways.  For Fiona, most would have thought that her age would be a bonus because she had not yet learned to fear things as much as adult dogs had.  However, as it came to be, her age was a disadvantage to her.  Many times, the slight noise that the flash bulbs make, may scare a pet.  Sometimes it can be the flooring we are asking them to stand on or walk onto.  I have known dogs not to care for the feel of the backdrop paper I use in the studio, just as Fiona didn't like the vinyl flooring. One dog I photographed didn't like to walk by one of the studio lights, for some reason.  Another was fearful of the bubble gun I use as an attention getter.  We all wish we could read our pets minds and know how to help them when we come across these situations together.  But until that time that technology allows us to do this, we need to remain patient, be understanding and learn how to read our furry little kiddos body language.  In many cases, if you are apprehensive about something, they too become apprehensive.  In my experience, if you, as the person your pet looks to for comfort, can remain calm, cool and collect, your pet will be less stressed, making whatever situation you are placing them into, a happier and more pleasant experience!

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