There are some things that may seem extravagant at first, but become more valuable than we can imagine when we look back on the purchase years later. Having professional photos done with your furry family members is one of those things.
This month I had a chance to photograph a friend and her pack of dogs for their holiday cards. She wanted something that showed her family off in a fun way, and something better than the usual point-n-shoots that fill up the storage space on smart-phone cameras. We met at a park where she hung baubles and a banner, and of course brought bows for each of her dogs. We played around for awhile with different poses and different locations and had a wonderful time.
Afterward, we went on a hike and I learned so much more about the history of her dogs, and how they've formed a deeply bonded unit. Listening to her talk about her dogs, about how they've changed over time and their different quirks, got me meditating on the amount of emotional connection a person can have with their companion animals.
To so many of us, pets aren't just animals we live with. Rather, they carry as much influence and importance as our human best friends, siblings, even children. To many people, a companion animal is who centers them in the world, who is a constant, steadying presence in the busy, stressful, often turbulent days we live through.
My friend is someone who has countless photos of her dogs. She snaps photos every single day and so many of the images are absolutely adorable. But there's something different about having a professional portrait session done, particularly when you are included in the shoot. It is an opportunity to capture that intensity of emotion, of the connection that you feel with your pet. Professional portraits are a chance for someone else to reflect back to you the bond you have with your companion. And you get to keep copies of that reflection and hang them on the wall, to look at the visual evidence of that bond and feel it again every time you see at the photo, even when years or decades have passed by.
Years ago I had a black Labrador retriever named Topper. My wife and I adopted him when we were very young, 18- and 19-years-old. It was an impulsive decision, but that's how teenagers are. We went into the local animal shelter and saw him curled in the back of his kennel, his deep brown eyes looking up at us with confusion and kindness. He was nine months old, dropped off by a family who said he'd destroyed too much furniture to be worth keeping. We looked at each other, figured we had nothing valuable anyway so that wasn't a problem, and said he was coming home with us.
We had Topper for 10 years, and we filled that decade with countless adventures and misadventures, hikes and road trips, laughter and stories. Some of the best memories of my life so far include that dog at my side. But what I don't have from those years are quality portraits of him, of us as a family. We had Topper well before I learned to be proficient with a camera. And while we have hundreds of photos with him, photos that I cherish, they don't quite have that intimacy that comes with professional portraits -- the candid affectionate glance, the sudden burst of laughter, the light that flashes in their eyes when the words, "Let's go!" are said. These are things so difficult to catch, and impossible when you are the one behind the camera.
When Topper passed, one of my biggest regrets was not having polished portraits of us as a family. Something beautiful to frame; something that was both our family at our best and a work of art. So, when I adopted my current dog, one of my priorities in the first couple years was scheduling a family portrait session with a pair of pet photographers who are incredibly good at what they do. We set up a session at sunrise and my dog, my wife and I played on the beach as the sun came up, the light all pink and gold, while the two photographers worked their magic.
Needless to say, I was ecstatic when we got the images back. I was positively giddy at the ordering session while looking over the proofs, seeing what they managed to capture. Everything I feel about my little family was there, in those photos. Everything that was in my head and heart was actually printed on pieces of semi-gloss paper. These are photographs that even now I simply could never capture myself because I need to be in them, to be in sync with my family rather than directing where to stand and getting the dog to hold a pose while I trigger the camera's shutter.
I could go on with more stories, but I will just say this: Since having those personal experiences, and since being part of those experiences as the photographer, I couldn't recommend more highly taking advantage of the opportunity to hire a professional for a portrait session with your pet. Especially now, during the holidays when everyone is thinking about family, love, and of course personalized gifts, it seems like a wonderful chance to remember the importance of quality portraits as an experience and indulgence worth having.
Whether it is to celebrate the arrival of the newest family member:
Or honor the years of joy brought by the oldest family member:
Whatever the occasion, or no occasion at all, I promise you will have no regrets about creating beautiful, intimate photos to look back upon, and that help to trigger joyful memories. There are talented photographers all over the place, and I encourage you to look up who is local to you, strike up a conversation, and see about setting up a session with them. You'll be happy you did.
Many thanks go to Pe'ahi, Leilani and Nalu for being such adorable and festive models.