THE HEALTH & SAFETY OF DOG PHOTOGRAPHY
Health & safety… Three words guaranteed to instantly induce snores and groans from any audience. And yet here I am writing an entire blog post on the stuff! Sure, it’s not glamorous or exciting, but it is an essential part of running a business – especially one that involves working with animals. So before you drift off, hear me out…
This dog may look majestic, perched high up on a log, he’s actually less than 2 feet off the ground. A good photographer will use perspective and composition to create the illusion of drama, without ever placing your dog at risk.
Health & safety is for everybody!
Health & safety isn’t just a box-ticking exercise to make life more difficult. In fact, everybody benefits…
For the photographer
Working with dogs takes experience and an understanding of canine behaviour, but accidents can happen and even the most seasoned professional can end up in a dangerous situation. Having a solid health & safety procedure in place prevents us (and our gear!) from coming to any harm, and ensures we have a back-up plan if anything bad should happen.
A photography session is an experience that’s meant to be enjoyed! The last thing you want is to be worrying about things going wrong, or stressing out because the environment is hazardous or your dog is potentially being put at risk. Working with a professional photographer who takes H&S seriously means you can relax, safe in the knowledge that they’ll do everything they can to create a safe experience for everyone, and know what to do if things go wrong.
For your dogs
Well, they are the ones doing all the hard work after all – we need to look after our models! Solid health & safety procedures ensure that your dog is never put at risk, or made to do anything that will cause them physical or psychological harm. Keeping your dog safe and happy will ensure you get the best possible photos of your four-legged friend.
Creative use of colour and light can turn even the simplest of shots into a work of art – no dangerous props or locations required!
So what sort of health & safety measures should you expect from your dog photographer?
Okay, I’m not asking that you demand a risk assessment and health & safety documentation from every photographer you meet (although a good photographer should have these in place). In fact, something as simple as browsing their website should give you a feel for whether or not they take H&S seriously. Do they mention it in their blog, their ‘about’ page, or in their session info? They might even have a wellbeing policy that outlines the specific steps they take to keep you and your dog safe. Here are a few other things to look out for:
All photographers should hold public liability insurance as a bare minimum – it’s a pretty basic requirement, but if you’re in any doubt then you can always ask.
Do they have any training or qualifications, like Pet First Aid or Animal Behaviour/Body Language? They aren’t a legal requirement, but it’s reassuring to know that you’re working with someone who’s taken the time and dedication to learn how to keep your dog/s safe and happy.
When booking a pet photographer, you should immediately feel like they’re taking you (and your dog/s) seriously. Do they take time to get to know you and your dog/s, and find out about any health/mobility issues that you and your dog/s might have? Do they take those factors into account when choosing a location or planning your session? They should also give you plenty of information ahead of time to help you prepare for your session, letting you know what to expect, and how to get the best from your experience.
The very nature of dog photography means that things can get messy (especially in the great outdoors) so don’t expect to be wrapped in cotton wool during your session! There may be lots of walking, plenty of mud, some slobber and even some climbing involved, but your photographer should always show an awareness of the environment, and never put you or your dog/s at risk. If they know their stuff, they’ll have already worked with you to choose a location that’s perfect for you and your dog.
A professional photographer can create beautiful images from the simplest of environments – there’s absolutely no need for you to put your dog at risk for the sake of a photo, especially if your dog isn’t particularly well trained or confident. There should never be any pressure to force your dog into a situation they’re uncomfortable with, whether that’s with a particular location, pose, or prop.
Guidance & Respect
They should also explain what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, so that you always understand what’s going on and what to expect. You know your dog best, and a good photographer will always look to you for your consent before removing a collar/lead or requesting a specific pose. And if your dog starts to show signs of stress, they should know when to take a break.
Capturing your dog’s personality is key, and this ‘puppy dog eyes’ pose is a super simple, super safe shot that every owner can relate to (after all, it is how we see them every day!).
Top tips for a safer session
(Other that choosing the right photographer, that is!)
Choose a familiar environment
A local woodland or your favourite walk can be the perfect setting for a photo shoot, so don’t be afraid to suggest these to your photographer (if they haven’t already asked, that is!). Your dog will be familiar and more comfortable with their surroundings, and you’ll know what to expect e.g. what times are busiest, any local rules or guidelines, or anybody you might bump into.
If in doubt, keep the lead on
Not every dog has mastered a solid sit/stay or perfected a reliable recall, so keeping them on a lead is usually the safest and easiest way to get the best photos. The last thing we want to do is stress them out or confuse them – or even worse, lose them! Check out my “Lead or no lead?” post for some epic examples of how to create beautiful images with your dog on a lead.
Don’t feel pressured to put your dog in precarious situations, such as high up on a log or a wobbly wall, near the edge of a cliff or a busy road. Most dogs aren’t trained or confident enough to handle situations like that, and even the most confident of dogs can slip or fall. You know your dog best, so make their limitations clear. Personally I avoid posing a dog on anything over 2 feet tall, and always make sure the surface is solid and even.
Whether your dog is highly trained, a complete couch potato, or mad as a box of frogs, they can always surprise us! There may be unexpected distractions on the day, or maybe they’re just not in the mood for sit & stay, so it helps to be prepared in case things don’t go as planned. The best thing you can do is stay calm, as your dog will pick up on any stress or negative energy you might be giving off. A good photographer will be patient and flexible, give plenty of breaks when needed, and know when to call it a day if needed.
Instead of balancing precarioualy on logs, a solid tree stump or large rock can provide a steadier, safer surface for your dog to pose on, which is particularly handy for larger dogs.