Pets a focus in holiday photos

Portraits featuring families and their beloved pets abound on holiday greeting cards. The time is now to plan for the perfect family photo, the one starring Fido, Frisky, Mom, Dad and the kids – or Fido and Frisky all by themselves.

Local photographers offer some photography guidelines sure to elicit smiles from recipients. The delivery of photo greeting cards may take time. It isn’t too early to think about the perfect pet portrait or family photo.

Bedford’s Jeff Dachowski, a certified master photographer who, with his wife, Carolle, owns Dachowski Photography at 15 North Amherst Road, said the background and lighting are important factors.

“Backgrounds should generally have a color harmony with your pet,” Dachowski said. “The background should be close in color, but not so close that the animal gets lost in the background.”

Dachowski said people who take pet or family photos with digital cameras or smartphones needn’t worry much about an old problem: red eye, which is caused by the reflection of a camera’s flash in the eyes.

“Red eye is not as much of a concern with animals,” Dachowski said. “Turn off your camera’s flash to eliminate red eye. And try to choose an area where your pet feels comfortable. Turn their heads into the light with a treat.”

Dachowski suggests the perfect photo comes more easily to a professional whose equipment includes lighting devices, reflectors and a wide variety of camera lenses. He urges novices taking the photos to be mindful of the pet’s expression. Dachowski said the aim is to capture a sense of alertness, especially in dogs.

“I am mostly concerned about getting the dog to look into the light at the correct angle so he appears very alert,” Dachowski said. “The position of the ears is super important and changes with each breed.”

He and Carolle have taken hundreds of photos of brides and grooms, children, graduates, corporate personnel and others. His photos of pets, however, rate a full page on the Dachowski Photography website at www.dachowskiphotography.com. The couple welcomes inquiries at 488-1850.

Merrimack’s Michael and Heather Sutton, owners of Frozen Prosperity at 416 Daniel Webster Highway, are experts when it comes to pet photography. The couple frequently support events aimed at the adoption of homeless animals.

The pair hosted a photo shoot in July that was a fundraiser for the Manchester Animal Shelter at 490 Dunbarton Road. The shelter is a no-kill facility in chronic need of funds and of families, couples or compassionate individuals willing to adopt the sheltered animals.

Four dogs and one cat were the subjects of a pet photo session held in July at Frozen Prosperity. The quintet of formerly homeless animals was a group adopted by sisters Katie and Rachel Potter, both of Bedford. The sisters are volunteers at the Manchester shelter.

The subjects of the photo shoot included Sasha, 3, a big white great Pyrenees rescued from the rural South after she was found wandering in a heat wave. Titan, 2, is an English bulldog who was brought to the shelter to be euthanized because of a medical condition requiring major surgery. The Potter sisters secured the surgery.

Lulu, a black Labrador retriever, 13, was there, too. She was found as a stray suffering with chronic ear infections and partial deafness. The sisters remain impressed with Lulu’s gentleness and loyalty. Katie Potter added that Lulu, enduring cancer, is extremely food motivated.

“I’m pretty sure she’d sell all the other dogs for a snack in a hot second,” Katie said. “We love her dearly.”

Marley, 3, an Anatolian shepherd mix, also starred in the portrait, along with Endo, 6, a long-haired cat who had been hit by a car and suffered a fractured pelvis. The sisters nurtured the return of Endo’s health. Marley, they added, was rescued from a high-kill shelter in Tennessee when he was just 4 months old.

The Suttons accomplished the photo shoot with patience, a sense of humor and a supply of treats.

Michael Sutton said the key to successful pet photography hinges on using adequate light. He advises use of a camera setting called “raw” if the camera’s menu offers it as an option. The word indicates that all of the image’s raw information remains untouched by in-camera software. He said a raw image is easily manipulated with user-friendly photo-editing programs such as PhotoShop, Aperture and Lightroom.

“If your camera has the option to record raw images and you have time to edit your photos, do it,” Sutton said. “This allows you to rescue photos that might have blown-out headlights – bright areas – and pull out details in shadows that would not be as easy to recover otherwise.”

Heather Sutton said ample light helps the camera focus more quickly. She warns, however, that too much light will result in an overexposed picture.

“If you are looking to avoid harsh shadows, avoid taking outdoor photos when the sun is highest in the sky,” seh said. “The wonderful thing about taking a good picture is that generations of family and friends may enjoy it.”

Samples of the Suttons’ pet portraits and others, including some slow-motion images of flying honey bees captured with high-definition video, can be viewed at www.frozenprosperity.com or on Facebook, twitter@frozenpros and Instagram. For more information, call 275-0002.

Hollis photographers Lana and Jack D’Attilio, owners of L&J Photography, 6 Hills Farm Lane, said including a family pet in a photo greeting card or taking a portrait photo of a pet can rate the giver high on the scale of coolest greeting cards.

The couple recently conducted a photo shoot for a couple from Bow. In one photo, Matt and Massiel Reed smooch as their two huge dogs, Fiona and Mango, stand quietly in the foreground.

When the D’Attilios snapped the pictures, the dogs managed to maintain a motionless stance with little prompting. They were momentarily mesmerized by a doggie treat held on high as various photos were taken.

Lana said family photos with pets included are in great demand, especially during greeting card season. Few subjects, she said, provide the measure of cuteness inherent in a puppy or a kitten.

“Pet photography is becoming more popular as our beloved animals take their rightful place in the family portrait,” Lana said.

Tips include introductions, selecting a good location for the photo shoot, the use of equipment, the need for patience and the value of bribery.

“We try to arrive early at an photo session and become acquainted with the family pet,” Lana said. “This helps relax the owner and the pet. Have fun. I often end up on the floor, wrestling around and having a good time myself.”

Lana notes that equipment sniffing isn’t uncommon when a dog or a cat is the focus of the photo session.

“A photographer’s well-traveled camera bag is very interesting to a dog’s nose,” Lana said. “Let the dog or cat investigate the equipment and become comfortable with it. Take a few pictures of the pet to get them familiar with the clicks and flashes to come.”

The location is an important factor.

“Choose a location that’s familiar to the pet,” Lana said. “A location familiar to the pet will help it relax. It’s also wise to consider an area with no distractions. Avoid squirrel farms.”

Professional photographers and casual shooters alike embrace the virtue of patience. A calm demeanor, a soft tone of voice and an air of confidence may generate acceptance by the pet, whether a frisky cat, a puppy or a mature animal set in its ways.

“Know that it may take some time to capture the perfect shot,” Lana said. “Try not to become anxious. Pets don’t get frustrated, just their owners. Relax, laugh and enjoy the process.”

Many cats, dogs and even birds are trained to look for treats as reward for good behavior. And a successful photo session featuring people and their pets surely will make for a memorable greeting card or a cherished entry to the family photo album.

“Treats work wonders,” Lana said. “In a portrait we took that featured a couple and their two dogs, the pets were intently focused on a dog biscuit held above the camera.”

For more information about L&J Photography, call 440-3818.