There are several ways to get great pictures of puppies, both your own or if you need to grab pictures for a rescue.
I always recommend having a helping hand for every 2-3 puppies. So if you have a litter of 8 puppies ideally have 3 other people to handle puppies while you take pictures. When doing the group shot you’ll need all hands on deck. When doing individual pictures of the puppies it’s nice to have 1-2 puppy cuddlers in their area snuggling the puppies and tiring them out. Having 1-2 handlers for the photos one bringing the puppy to “the set” and keeping track of which puppies have had their pictures done is helpful. You should have one handler on “the set” helping settle puppy and continually putting them in back in place.
Having a zoom lens is helpful so you can be a good distance from the puppies while still being able to get full body and close up shots without having to move. The less you move the better, one less distraction for the pups.
Puppies have a short attention span, this we all know, so being quick is great. Make sure you are ready before they even get on set. Know where you plan to sit/stand, what lighting or background you’ll need all before making the puppies stand still. Once they are on set I’ve found that the best attention grabber is unique, short noises. I always ask that no one else try and get their attention. The more distractions they have the harder to get them looking where you want. If noises don’t work for a particular pup then I try movement. If I have a ball or toy I hold it in my hand and move it towards the puppies and then back towards my camera. Or I through it just a little. If you have a handler that can help I have them get the puppies attention with the object, moving it around their face and then immediately bringing it back to my lens. I typically don’t use treats with puppies, only adult dogs, because I find the food to be more of a distraction than an attention grabbing tool.
When doing individually pictures of foster puppies I like to get some variety, such as sitting, standing, and a close up shot. If i have time and resources I try to do some pictures in/on a prop like a small chair or basket and some without. If Im doing several puppies in the same litter I try to keep their images similar. Start with prop them pictures without. That way if the next pup looks so similar to their sibling you know that the pictures with the prop are the next pup when looking back at images.
The full litter picture is always the most challenging so having everyone on the same page and ready is very important. Talk through where their puppies should be place, where they should stand, if they need to move out of frame. Have all those things answered before you start taking pictures, also warn the handlers that this is a try and repeat photo so they don’t think its a one and done situation, often times they are catching and placing the pups back into the scene 4-5 times maybe more to get a good shot of them all. I have everyone hold their puppies in place and then I count down when I get to one I have them move out of frame as quickly as possible (this might only be a few inches for some and a few feet for others) the second they are out of frame I try to use a loud noise the puppies haven’t heard before to get them all looking at the same time. I wait until after all the one on one photos are done before I do the group shot because often times the puppies are a little less hyper by that point.
As far as noises go I have a plethora of ones I make with my mouth, I also have my noisemaker necklace equipped with whistles, squeakers and other fun noise makers I can find that are small and easy to attach to a necklace. If you don’t have access to a lot of noise makers, there are several apps you can download to get a similar effect.
I highly recommend elevating the puppies for pictures. They are more likely to stay in place if there are obvious parameters. A couch, bench anything can work. I don’t recommend putting them too high because they will jump and their safety is first priority. If I have them higher than a foot or two I have handlers next to and underneath to stop or catch any lone jumpers.
Sometimes you won’t have the handlers you need, or an easy way to elevate puppies, or maybe this particular litter is just not wanting to cooperate. That is when I will do a composite, but about 90% of my litter pictures are all captured as is. If i’m going to do a composite, I keep my camera is one spot and place each puppy individually in the scene where they would be if their whole group was in the shot. That way they are easier to layer into one picture
I’ve been doing puppy pictures from several years now and have been lucky that one of the rescues I volunteer at has had many litters, giving me lots of practice. Getting 7-12 puppies all looking in one shot did not happen overnight. If you are taking pictures of your first litter and its not going great, don’t fret. Practice makes perfect, plus i’m always here to help give you ideas on what to try next. If you ever have questions please feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org
The images below are some of my favorite puppy litter pictures to date. One is a composite and the rest are all captured in camera.
K Schulz Photography is a Minnesota based pet photographer. Kelly volunteers her services with local rescues to capture these puppy litters.