Critters: Pet photography is fun and challenging

Laura (left) and her friend Houdini (right) were some of my first dog photography subjects. Both dogs have reunited somewhere over the rainbow bridge, but their influence on my pet photography remains. This photograph dates back to 2009.
CREDIT: Photo by Debra Bell, Bell’s Furry Friends Photography.

By Debra Bell
Whether it’s with a cell phone, a point and shoot camera or a larger digital camera pet owners delight in capturing the antics, cuteness and beauty of their pets. When I first started on my pet photography journey, there was no greater delight than capturing an image of my own pets that not only was beautiful, but showcased their very distinct personalities.

But photographing animals can be challenging sometimes. I know. I’ve been there. I’ve done that.

I’ve always had a special knack for relating to animals. Of course, I’m no Dr. Doolittle, but I like to think that animals see me as someone they can trust. Or at least as someone that is no threat to them.

When I started my pet photography journey, we had just adopted Laura. We enrolled us and Laura in training classes at Green Acres Kennel Shop. What we learned in that class and from their staff taught us more than just how to get her to pay attention to us or do tricks. We learned about pet behavior and body language — essential skills to understanding what our pets are telling us non-verbally.

I started learning how to read her body language and communicate effectively. Then I started noticing that I could translate that language into photographs. Pet photography is as much about psychology and problem solving as it is about depressing the shutter to capture the moment. The more I learned about how pets communicate, the better I found my images became.

Laura was a great test subject too. She worked for cheap: any — and all — food treats as well as praise and snuggles.

As we became more immersed in the local pet culture, the more I flexed my pet photography skills. I forged relationships with pet businesses, organizations and local shelters and rescues. I volunteered time with Maine Greyhound Placement Service —  we adopted Laura from them — and set out to become the best pet photographer I could.

But it’s more than being a great pet photographer. It’s about being a responsible source for information and pain-free, fear-free photography. When you respect the pet and its people, they return the courtesy. Making sessions fun and not something to fear makes pets more comfortable and happy.

For pet parents, these four tips will help you start your journey of creating meaningful images:

  1. Make it fun. Instead of chasing Fido around the yard, use his favorite toy or a treat to get him to interact with you while you create the images.
  2. Have something the pet wants and use it to your advantage (but don’t tease). Toys and treats can be great motivators, but make sure to let the pet have both regularly as you photograph them. No one likes to be teased and your pet may get frustrated or lose interest if you tease too much.
  3. Be willing to just stop if needed. For some pets, it can be stressful to have a clicking box in their face. Be willing to stop, especially if energy gets too high or they’re showing signs of stress, and just chill out. Then restart if the pet is up to it.
  4. Enlist assistance. Get a friend or other family member to help you out. They can interact with Fido while you concentrate on capturing the images.

Want to learn even more about pet photography? I can help with that too. On April 29 from 10 a.m.-1 p.m., I’ll be offering a Pet Photography 101 workshop at the Green Gem Holistic Healing Oasis at 900 State Street in Bangor. The Green Gem is a beautiful, pet-friendly location full of beautiful backdrops and calming environments — both integral parts of creating super pet portraits. We’ll have fun discussing the common challenges (and rewards) in pet photography, how to plan your own session and even enlist the help of a couple doggie models! The workshop will also feature a discussion about pet body language and behavior featuring Green Acres Kennel Shop co-owner and certified dog behaviorist Don Hanson. Registration is $25. To pre-register or if you have questions, email or call 207-356-2353. The workshop is limited to 20 participants.


Debra Bell is a freelance writer, graphic designer and the owner of Bell’s Furry Friends Photography (a division of Bell Imaging & Design LLC). Bell’s Furry Friends Photography has been named Bangor’s Best Pet Photography Studio in 2014–16. Debra and her husband Bill, are owned by a Maine coon cat named Olivia, a greyhound named Buddy and an angel greyhound named Laura. See her work and learn more about Bell’s Furry Friends Photography at


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