If you have ever lost a pet, you know the sadness and overwhelming grief you have experienced. Unfortunately, we have to say goodbye to our pets, and the time they were in our lives just doesn’t seem long enough. For many dog and cat owners who are beginning to face the end of life of their beloved companions, embracing the opportunity to have professional portraits made is a way of accepting the grief and loss that is to come. Photographing these tender moments are of the utmost importance, as the cherished time will be a few of the lasting memories that are to be so delicately made. Here are some tips on taking end of life photographs of your clients.
THE STORY OF JACK
Jack's owners wanted to celebrate the life they lived together with their loving companion. Jack was an 11 year old Rhodesian Ridgeback when they booked me to do the session,as they knew Jack was getting old and had suffered from cancer before. Jack passed away two months ago.
If there is time, meeting with the pet owners and getting to know the dog or cat can help you prepare for the final shooting. You may want to discuss the needs of the dog or cat, any sensitivities to light or sound, any issues with agitation due to health reasons, or any other thing that is necessary in terms of being the focal point of the session. On a more positive side, you may want to talk about what he loves to do, what makes him the most happy and comfortable during this time, and any ideas for shooting the remembrance pictures.
FOCUS ON THE BOND
It is important to focus on the bond between the pet and the family, especially the primary caregiver. Since love is a very all-encompassing concept, photographing it takes focus. You must focus on the bond between the human and the animal; you must picture in your mind what love “looks” like and capture it. The bond between a person and pet may look like a gaze between the two, a hug with the dog or cat on the chest or shoulder of the owner, the two napping together, all cuddled up, or a sleeping animal with the family member’s eyes resting upon him. Any time during the photo shoot in which the dog and the owner share an emotional moment, take the shot.
TAKE PLENTY OF CLOSE UP SHOTS
To be able to really commemorate the look of the pet, close up shots…really close up shots will reveal the innate details of the loved one. For one, always photograph the pet at eye level by getting on your knees or sitting down to capture the image. If the caregiver of the pet is in the photo, he will also need to sit low as well. For more tips for close up shots can be found here. Extreme close shots can be of the face, paws, ears, eyes, or any part of the pet that the owner wants to keep for his remembrance.
SHOW LOVE THROUGH EYE CONTACT
Eye contact between the individual and the pet is important to show love and emotion, but there are other ways to convey this look as well. Images of the pet curled up next to a child, a family member beside the pet looking through a window, an open-mouthed “smile” coming from the dog or cat, a gentle hand along the pet’s paw or face, or any other moment that shows a connection between the pet and the owners will capture a forever memory.
With end-of-life sessions, commonly known as rainbow sessions, your professionalism and compassion is an integral part of the experience for you, the client, and the beloved pet. While celebrating the loving bonds between the furry family member and the humans, tears will most likely be shed. That’s okay, because that is one way to work through grief, and believe it or not, as hard as it may seem for the owner to be featuring his ailing or aging loved one, just being there and capturing those moments will mean more than you know.
It doesn’t matter if the clients have spent a very short time with their furry family member or a lifetime with him, saying goodbye is so very difficult. Capturing the images of him doing the things he loves, or just resting quietly among family, will be there to let his family know how much he loved them, even when he is gone.