Photographer Shares Tips for Pup Portraits

by | Apr 2023

Pawsh Photography Dog Photo

Photos: Pawsh Photography

Pawsh Photography focuses on pups’ personalities.

Phoenix the pit bull had been in a terrible fight. The unprovoked battle on a South Dakota reservation would cost the dog both ear flaps, the use of an eye and leave deep bite wounds to his neck and throat.

Photographer Lisa Peterson of Pawsh Photography listened to Phoenix’s story from his Plymouth-based foster mom while setting up for a Minneapolis Pet Market event this past fall. The story touched her. “I’ve worked with a lot of foster dogs,” Peterson says. “Their stories are what make them so beautiful.”

While Phoenix was up for adoption, he wasn’t garnering much interest. His breed can be challenging to place. Dogs previously involved in fights can be even more challenging to place.

Peterson knew all this and offered to take photos of Phoenix as a way of helping her foster friend. She didn’t hide the dog’s physical faults; Phoenix’s tattered ears and old wounds were on full display.

“They say a photo can be worth 1,000 words,” Peterson says. “In this case, that’s 100 percent accurate.” The photos led to a connection with a dog lover. An adoption followed. “Phoenix has this spirit you can’t forget,” she says. “I couldn’t be happier.”

Phoenix the Dog



Peterson started her photography career photographing people, but an industry presentation on pet photography changed all that. “I know with absolute clarity that taking photos of pets is my calling,” she says. “It’s soul-filling work.”

Peterson’s favorite subjects are outdoor dogs. They’re seldom purebreds, and they tend to be older. “Their eyes are so soulful, and the bonds they have with their owners are so strong,” she says.


“I like regular dogs, ones with selective hearing, unreliable stays,” Peterson says.

The hardest clients to capture tend to ironically be the “best behaved,” aka well-trained show dogs. “No matter what I do, they’re all about their owners,” Peterson says. “Distractibility has been trained out.”

Do’s and Don’ts

Peterson shares some quick recommendations for preparing for an outdoor dog-focused photo shoot. Even more information can be found on her website’s blog section, PupTown Girl.

  • Bring water, treats and high-value toys.
  • Outfit changes for the human are also important, which is why Peterson brings a changing tent for outdoor sessions.
  • Peterson recommends fitted clothes in neutral tones and appropriate shoes for walking. (You can always change into your fancy shoes later.)
  • If you want your pet groomed before the photoshoot, Peterson recommends scheduling an appointment about a week before the session. This way, the fresh haircut has time to look a bit more natural.
  • The dogs should be exercised but not fed. (Treats can lose their appeal on a full stomach.)
  • Expect to have your pup leashed the entire shoot. Aside from leash laws, Peterson notes this is for safety and control. (Don’t worry; Peterson can edit out the leash after the shoot.)


Peterson remembers a client with tempered expectations. “He said he had hundreds of photos of his dog on his phone but nothing good,” Peterson says. “I could tell that he was wondering how I could do any better. His response to the photos was, ‘Oh, my god. You captured my dog.’”

“I know what I’m looking for,” Peterson says. “Dogs talk to me. They always do.”

Pawsh Photography, LLC
Facebook: Pawsh Photography LLC
Instagram: @pawshphoto


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