SPOT THE WONDERDOG: Ah mom, these sunglasses are way uncool.

As we get close to the Holiday season, you may be tempted to photograph your pet for your annual greeting cards.

EX-BOYFRIEND: Come on Spot the WonderDog, hold up your ears.

Photographing one’s pet can be a challenging and sometimes exasperating event. But by following a few steps you can avoid most of the exasperation and just have fun. Your pet will pick up on your emotions so if you are stressed out by the whole event then forget it until another day.

Two kinds of photographs come to mind when I think about photographing my former pets. The very natural, in-their-habitat kinds of photos or the completely staged-for-effect types.

MouseGirl, my dearly departed hamster, wasn’t too keen on dressing up so I photographed her in her natural environment or just out sitting on the ottoman. She was just so cute and funny doing the normal, every-day hamster behavior that photographing her was a fairly easy task.

The last dog I had, the very well-trained Spot the Wonder-Dog, was a challenge. Probably because I dressed up and put him in a photographic setting when I was testing some new studio lighting equipment. I wanted to make a greeting card out of the final product.

Spot was not a happy camper, but being the special dog he was, he tolerated my photographic endeavors. Rather like a spouse or partner does when you are practicing a new technique or trying out a new piece of gear.

The key to working with a pet in an artificial setting is to have an animal you can count on to do what you want — without stressing you both out.

Here, then, are some steps to help you get started in photographing your cat or dog.

SPOT: Ok guys, how about just one ear? How is this?

• Know your animal: Study their moods and behavior so you can express their personalities in a photograph. Does your cat do a cute dance when she is waiting for her food? Then prepare everything in advance to get that moment in pixels or film.

  • Be playful: Have your pooch’s favorite toy and treats nearby so you can reward them for their efforts. If they are particularly cute when playing with a toy or their food, that would be a good time to take some pictures.
  • Tell a story with your photo: In the pics of Spot the WonderDog there is a story — an imaginary story to be sure, but still a story. The dog is on a beach, enjoying the day with treats, tunes and a pair of sun glasses to avoid the glare.
  • Control the clutter on the set: When you have decided on the location for your portrait, clean up the space around your pet. No stray legs from your kid sister showing while she watches; no dirty socks in the background. These will detract from the story telling and the nice shiny coat your dog has from his recent bath.
  • Speaking of bath time, this is a perfect opportunity to make fun photos. Just like any other location, choose your spot carefully so that the background is clean and non-distracting.
  • Be prepared for your pet to move quickly so you are ready to follow his actions: If the dog is being bathed, be sure to watch him carefully in case he tries to escape out of the tub!
  • Camera angle: Get down close to their level so you can shoot them straight on. If you have a little dog and you are shooting from above, you don’t see much other than his back.

Just like in people, the eyes are the most expressive part of the face. If you have a dog that laughs, be sure to get a shot of that! Fill the frame with the animal without a lot of dead space around it. A dog’s eyes need to sparkle, just like people’s, so make sure there is some sort of catch-light reflecting in the eyes. Without that light, the eyes will look deadish.

Most of all, have fun!