Minneapolis + St Paul Pet Photography Blog

Is a studio session or an outdoor session best for your pet?

At Sarah Beth Photography, you have two options for where to hold your pet portrait session: in our beautiful NE Minneapolis Arts District studio, or at your home or other outdoor location of your choosing. Well, actually *three* options, because you could also have the best of both worlds with a Combo Session :)

Studio Sessions

Studio sessions are great when you want a modern, minimalist approach to your images. Your pet will be the star on our solid colored backdrops which can be customized to match or compliment your home’s decor, your clothing, or even your pet’s fur or eye color! I have a couple of nice furniture pieces they can pose on, or you can bring your own beds or blankets.

If you’d like to be in the images with your pet (and I highly encourage you to be in at least a few!), they can feel a little more “formal” in the studio setting, and we can still capture special moments between you and your pet as well.

I use high quality “studio strobes” as my lights, meaning the camera triggers the lights to flash when I take a picture. This bright burst of light allows me to capture split-second moments like jumping to catch a ball, or a cute lip-lick after eating a treat.

I love shooting in the studio, and creating images that showcase your pet’s personality with absolutely no distractions. However, the studio may not be the best choice for every pet.

The studio is not always the right choice

While most do really well, not every pet is cut out for the studio environment. After 17+ years, I’ve only had a small handful of dogs and cats that couldn’t complete a studio session, and the culprit is almost always the strobe lights I mentioned. When they flash, there’s a slight “popping” sound, and of course the flashing light can seem like lightning.

About 1/3 of the animals that come in are a little wary of the lights at first, but if they’re still willing to do commands and take treats, we can generally get them past any initial fears and they’ll soon be posing like a champ. However, if they’re very nervous, they might become hyper-aware of their surroundings and suddenly everything different is super scary. For those rare dogs and cats, I don’t want to stress them out or push them beyond what they’re comfortable with, and we’ll simply stop the session. It’s nobody’s fault, they’re just simply better-suited for a session in an environment they’re more comfortable with.

Gus (pictured below) was one of those rare cases that couldn’t complete a studio session. He’s a rescue dog with a largely unknown past, and gets very scared of lightning and thunderstorms. When he first came in it was clear he was a little weirded-out by the new space, then once we started testing the lights to see how he’d react, he all but shut down. Note the body language in this image: his tail is tucked under, his eyes are wide with furrowed brows, and his mouth is tightly closed and turned downward.

Poor kid 🥺

But just look at the happy, confident guy that showed up at his outdoor session! He was running around, playing with toys and overall had a MUCH better experience. They brought his dog sister along to help him feel comfortable, which was a great idea! Note the body language in this picture: a more relaxed sit with his tail out, softer eyes and eyebrows, and an easy smile.

I want everyone to have a great time at their session, and I’ll never push it if they’re not comfortable. If your pet isn’t digging the studio, let’s just reschedule for an outdoor session!

Outdoor sessions

The great outdoors aren’t just for the studio-averse! I love shooting outside just as much as in the studio. My perfect scenario is a beautiful evening with golden sunshine sparkling through the trees. A lot of photographers say they like overcast days best, but give me “golden hour” sunshine any day!

Outdoor sessions are great when you want a little more color, depth, and texture in your images, and to give your dog more space to run, jump, and play. Depending on your goals and your dog’s needs, we can use your yard or a favorite park, or area that’s meaningful for you. If you don’t have a space you’d like to use, I’m happy to recommend something that’s worked well in the past.

A lot of dogs need to stay on leash, (and most public spaces require it) and that’s totally ok! It can easily be removed (*most of the time) in photoshop on any images you order. Or, if you really want your dog off-leash but he’s a flight risk and you don’t have a fenced in yard, sniffspot.com is a great resource for renting a private, secure space to have your session. The outdoor photo of Gus above was taken at my favorite sniffspot!

When you want to be in the photos with your pet, outdoor sessions are great for a more casual, candid feel. We can still take regular portraits and snuggling photos, but you can also throw a ball, give belly rubs, or anything you typically do together outside.

Consider what’s best for your dog

If your dog is very easily distracted, or reactive toward other dogs or people, he might be better suited for a studio session.

If your dog is very nervous in new spaces, or scared of storms and flashing lights, he might be better suited for an outdoor session.

If he’s dog or people reactive, or unable to be off leash anywhere else, a securely fenced-in sniffspot might be the best choice.

If you really want a studio session but he’s just not able to handle it, you might need to get excited about an outdoor session instead!

What about cats?

Very confident, social cats can do great in the studio! They tend to explore the perimeter first, then quickly settle in and play with toys or take treats easily.

If your cat hates going in a crate, riding in a car, and anything new or different, they’re not going to enjoy the studio, and we’ll never get photos that look happy or relaxed. Those cats will do better staying at home in their own environment.

You don’t need a big, fancy house to have a cat session in your home. We can get some lovely images as long as you have some window light to work with.

Most cats are strictly indoor, and that’s totally ok. But I do love photographing cats outside, so if yours are safely able to do so (and enjoy it) definitely let me know!

If you really want the studio look but your cats aren’t suited for coming to me, I have a mini studio option just for you! It’s a smaller version of the studio backdrop and light that I can set up in your home. Some cats start out a little suspicious of the equipment, but most are able to settle in and be themselves.

Cats that are very scared of strangers and immediately hide under the bed if anyone comes over are likely not going to have a successful session, unfortunately. My recommendation for that situation is to ask a friend or family member that the cat already knows and trusts to come take a few photos with you in them. Set up close to a window or patio door, and do the best you can with natural light.

Pocket pets

If you have smaller “pocket pets” you’d like photographed, we can do that too! Rabbits and guinea pigs usually do well in the studio, and slow moving turtles, lizards you can hold, or well-trained birds, but do consider photographing your pocket pets at home. Safety is a top priority, and there are opportunities to hide in or under things or possibly even slip under the door at my rented studio. If you don’t want to take any chances or if they’re not super tame, let’s keep them in their own environment. We can use window light or add the mini studio in your home for those guys, or if they’re able to go outside that’s great too!

Bottom line: know your pets

You know your pets best; what they like and don’t like, what their strengths and weaknesses are. Set them up for success by selecting the best type of photo session for their personality.

I really believe we can get great images of nearly any pet, as long as we work around what they need. (the one exception is if they’re terrified under the bed) If we try something and it’s not working, I’ll absolutely switch gears and try something else. Again, I’ll never push your pets beyond what they’re comfortable with, and I’ll always ask you what’s going to be best.

Do you have any questions about your pet’s specific needs? Are you unsure what session might work best for them? Just reach out and let’s talk about it!

I’d love the opportunity to photograph your pet anywhere they’re able to relax, be themselves, and have a great time 💜


Hi! I'm Sarah, but feel free to call me Sarah Beth. I've been a professional photographer for over 17 years, and I've been an animal lover and an artist my entire life. Read More . . .


Sarah Ernhart
Sarah Beth Photography

2205 California St. NE, Suite 101
Minneapolis, MN 55418