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How to keep pets comfortable and stress-free during a photoshoot

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Small hedgehog is held in his pet parents hands, beside a yellow sunflower, with mountains in the background

Image source: @littlehedgiebiglife on Instagram

Pets are members of our family.  So naturally, we want family photos — or solo shoots — that feature our adorable cats, dogs, birds, or small animals. Considering how photogenic they are, our pets might be used to having their photos taken regularly, but as pet parents it’s our job to make sure that these photo or video shoots are centred on the comfort and security of our pets.  “With humans we can say ‘I don't feel comfortable’ or ‘I don't want to do this today’” explains hedgehog pet parent and Pet Valu Casting Call contest winner Michael Diel. “Pets can’t really do that. And so it's up to us to listen to them.” To get the best photos of pets, we need to make sure they’re feeling their best. When Michael and his partner Bailey take photos of Henry for his Instagram page, @littlehedgiebiglife, they like to have his favourite item on hand.  For Henry, that’s his treasured fleece sock. “He loves it so much because this is the piece of fabric that he's been in since he was born,” says Michael. “This is how we got him and this is his little safety bubble. We’ve kept it and made sure that it's always a safe space for him.” Each pet’s needs will vary according to their unique personality and preferences. Some pets will pose happily just about anywhere if they know there’s a treat involved, while others don’t want to be perched atop unfamiliar objects or asked to sit still in a loud or stressful setting just to get the ‘perfect shot.’ Here are a few things Michael says to consider when you’re taking photos of your four-legged BFF:

Know your pet’s limits and keep them feeling comfortable

Pet parents know the things that can trigger a fear response in their pets — from other animals to thunderstorms to a break in their routine to… kids on skateboards! Whether or not their fears seem logical to us, they’re real and they have an impact on our animals.  When Michael and Bailey are taking photos of Henry, they don’t want to create a situation where he feels stressed or scared.  “We know what stresses him out. If there's bright light, if there's loud sounds, these are very stressful. Depending on the time of day, that can also be stressful. Because we've lived with him for four years, we're very in tune to how he feels. Even though he doesn't really make a lot of noise, we can see based on his spines, whether they're up or down, how he feels.” Every pet parent learns to pick up on their animal’s own unique way of communicating their discomfort. When you’re taking their photo, make sure they’re communicating that they’re happy and enjoying the memorable moment just as much as you are.

Don’t “make” your pet do something for a photo

Instead of coercing your cat into their new cat condo for a photo before they’re ready or pushing your pup into a selfie, in a setting where they feel insecure, Michael recommends allowing your pets to just be themselves on camera.  Catching them in a candid shot or during a memorable moment will capture their true personality.  “When we take videos it’s usually when he's out anyway,” Michael says of Henry. “When he's doing his thing. We film him as he's doing stuff. We're not making him do stuff in order to film him. We want to capture memories with him, so we do that in a way that works with his nature.”

Let go of the idea of the “perfect” shot

“When we do photo shoots,” says Michael, “it's really important that he is not exposed to stressors for a long time. That means we may not have hours to get the perfect shot. We’re okay getting an 80% good shot if that means he can be in his sock and be warm, as opposed to just trying really hard to get the perfect picture. That's just not worth it. We listen to his needs first.” Michael and Bailey take photos of Henry and their other pets because they’re trying to capture the special moments they share together — the goal isn’t to become social media stars but to document Henry’s personality and his life.  “I think the most important part about starting your own account is it has to be about you sharing your life with your pet because you love your pet,” Michael says. “Otherwise, I think you run the risk of ignoring your pets' needs.”

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