5 Tips for Perfect Holiday Card Pet Snapshots

Cowbelly Pet Photography
Pflughoeft posed this Papillon in front of a festive red door.

Santa has Rudolph. Charlie Brown has Snoopy. Even the Grinch has Max. It's only natural to want to include our furry, feathered and maybe even finned family members in holiday celebrations. That's easy when it comes to sharing turkey with your kitty, but posing a petulant pet for a greeting card photo, well, that may take a bit more planning.

Sharpshooter Jamie Pflughoeft, owner of Cowbelly Pet Photography in Seattle, believes the results are well worth the effort. “If you can send a card that makes people smile and adds a bright spot to their day, then that's a gift in and of itself," says Pflughoeft, who has been photographing cats and dogs professionally since 2003. We asked Pflughoeft to share her top five tips for making your own four-legged photo session as easy as pumpkin pie.

1. Pamper Your Pet Star

“Ideally, you want to get your pets in a great mood first, so they look happy and relaxed when it's time to pull out the camera," Pflughoeft says. "So let them play with their favorite toys, offer them treats or just give them lots of love and pets if that's what they love most.”

2. Grab Your Pet's Attention — Audibly

“To get your pet to look at you, don't call his name, because that could make him come to you," she says. "Instead, make some noises, like imitating a dog bark, a bird chirp or even a sharp 'eee eee eee!' " You can also use a squeak toy, but Pflughoeft says that you should squeeze it only once or twice — or you risk losing your pet's interest.

Cowbelly Pet Photography

3. Think Outside the Box

When it comes to props, less is definitely more, like a simple red bow tied around your pup's neck. “If you own a small dog, place him in the center of a classy pine wreath," Pflughoeft suggests. "Have a big, smiley guy? Wrap him up in ribbons and wrapping paper to create a humorous picture.”

Another tact is to play with classic holiday colors. “Last year, I posed a Papillon in front of the door to his house, which happened to be red," Pflughoeft says. "Then I dropped the image into a holiday card design. So it doesn't have to be a dog or a cat sitting in front of a Christmas tree to look holidaylike.”

4. Forgo the Flash

“Flash-produced pet photos look terrible," Pflughoeft says. "If you don't have manual controls on your camera, take the photos in natural light outside during the day, so you avoid the dreaded yellow-green glare in your pet's eyes.”

For manual camera owners, Pflughoeft recommends using the aperture priority setting. "Change the aperture to a low setting (f/2.8 or f/3.5) and increase the ISO to between 400 and 600," she says. "This setting lets in the most light, which you'll need in order to freeze motion and prevent blur.”

5. Join in on the Fun

“Self-portraits taken with a simple point-and-shoot camera produce some of the cutest people-pets photos," Pflughoeft says. "The key is to hold the camera above your head by about a foot and aim it down toward you, then try to fill the frame with both you and your pet's faces. And be sure to hold the camera close to you, so you don't have that 'long arm' look that's common with self-portraits.”

Don't Forget the Final Touches

Once you've captured that perfect shot, you can tame stray whiskers using Photoshop Express Editor. The program is available online for free and it allows you to crop, adjust exposure and sharpen images.

Several companies offer photo card templates for animal lovers, including minted.com and simplytoimpress.com. And, yes, there's also an app for that: Sincerely Ink holiday cards are available via iTunes for the iPhone and iPad. The app is free, and each card sent is $1.99 with postage.

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