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March 5, 2012

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Lights, Camera, Action! Behind the Scenes of a Doggy Photo Shoot

By Mandie Sweetnam

Dog modeling might be the only kind where the model actually gets to eat more food based on performance. Our team at Premier just completed another wonderful photo shoot last month and I’m always amazed at how much is involved in capturing a single photo of a dog with a toy. It’s nothing like snapping a picture with your camera or phone in the back yard.

No, this is a photo shoot – the real deal. Lights, camera and a lot of action! If you’ve ever seen one of Premier’s catalogs, packaging, etc. then you’ve seen the results of our wonderful photographer and our dog models. Some of the models belong to employees, but others belong to friends or have actually been scouted by the Training and Behavior department. It’s a fun day at a photo shoot when your own dog is modeling.

Outtakes - Trina behind the camera, Daniel and Jinks

We work with photographer Trina Flannery from Saved Images Photographic Studio of Richmond, VA. Trina has been working with Premier on photo shoots for years and is so wonderful to work with. Some of these dogs move as quickly as a hummingbird and Trina will work any angle to capture just the right pose.

She even comes prepared with her own bag of “attention getters” to perk the dog’s ears and tilt their heads. Before we get to Trina’s studio space, we start the process by recruiting our models, who must meet some initial criteria. They must be healthy and they must be able to at least sit and lie down on cue.

This is the starting point from which we continue to narrow it down based on availability, interests, and appropriate product placement. When I say appropriate product placement, I mean not putting a coat on a Bernese Mt. Dog or modeling the Large Jack with a teacup Yorkie. Some things –whether or not they are able to work in real life - just don’t work out on film.

Our shoots typically take up an entire workday. We usually give each dog 1-2 hours, so we could potentially have 5-8 dogs model in one day. Some of the products photograph well, while some need more positioning. Same goes for the dogs. Some need no coaching, while others need to be positioned.

It’s a favorite of the dog models to point their tails at the camera. In this case, we just put the toy behind them, then they scoot around and keep chewing (facing the camera), then they turn their backs to the camera again eventually.

Photograph courtesy of Saved Images Photographic Studio

Toys, for example, typically take less time than other products. Getting the dogs to play with the toys isn’t the difficult part. Dogs love toys!

The challenge is keeping them focused on one thing at a time, while making sure the toy itself is actually visible to the camera. We try to switch up the toys so they don’t get bored. When a dog gets distracted, the secret weapon is peanut butter and squeeze cheese!

For example, if a dog is trying to lick the camera lens or can’t seem to forget that their mommy is in the room, its squeeze cheese to the rescue! I wonder if that’s what they use on human models? Hm.  

Fun time! - Photograph courtesy of Saved Images Photographic Studio

Some products, like leashes, collars and coats, can be tricky. Every time the dog moves, the product also moves, usually in the opposite direction from where you wanted it to go.

This is why it’s helpful to have a dog that can sit, lie down, and preferably stay, on cue. If you need to position the dog model so that the photographer can get a better shot of the coat or collar, it’s easier to do when you have them sit or lie down.

Angles are also important. Sitting the dog down at an angle, but then having their eyes focused on the opposite side of the room can be challenging.

Keep in mind, these dogs have either never done a photo shoot before, or have maybe been in the studio only once or twice. It can be a challenge to have them focus on the cues you’re giving them or on a specific spot with so much to distract them.

This is where having an arsenal of funny noises in your vocabulary is helpful. If a dog is preoccupied with something on one side of the room, we pull out one of our many funny noises to get their attention.  Whistles, growls, aye aye aye aye’s, they’re all fair game.

Luckily, most of the time, the dogs are more than cooperative, but it’s a funny day in the studio when we need to catch their attention. Oh, to be a fly on the wall. I recently brought my Pomeranian, Murphy, to model toys. I was nervous that I would turn into a stage mom, but luckily, I wasn’t as bad as I thought.

I couldn’t have been more proud of my little guy. He was a natural. I did get laughed at a little bit as I fixed his hair and his tail and used my baby dog voice on him. What can I say, the baby dog voice works! It sounds like a blend of the Chipmunks and Betty Boop.

Michelle snaps an outtake of me giving Murphy a pep talk


Whether or not we're working with our own dog or someone else’s dog, a challenge always presents itself. The photo shoots really have you fine tune your dog handling skills.

The best part is that we always leave the photo shoot having learned something new or reminded of something we already knew but had forgotten. It keeps us on our toes, for sure!

In the final stages of the project, we choose pictures. There are usually so many to pick from that it’s very difficult to narrow them down. Sometimes our favorite pictures are those that we didn’t plan on getting, like Pedro’s adorable winking picture below.

Pedro - Photograph courtesy of Saved Images Photographic Studio.

I always walk away from a photo shoot having learned something valuable. The experience with different dogs in an unusual setting typically proves to be full of lessons and laughs.

The experience can be humbling, encouraging, hilarious and everything in between. One consistency in every photo shoot is that the dogs have a great time, whether or not we got the picture perfect shot. Michelle, Trina and I are all in agreement that all dogs walk out of the photo shoot happy.

In return, that means we all leave happy too! We’ve just finished a recent photo shoot, so stay tuned for new models to enter the scene! We’ve got some great new faces – including my Murphy!    

You can also find Saved Images Photographic Studio and more fun outtakes on facebook!

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