Pet photography: Behind the scenes with Ellen Zangla

The Leesburg-based pet photographer shares some of her work history, experiences and, of course, photos.

halloween dogs
Photo courtesy of Ellen Zangla Photography

Leesburg-based pet photographer Ellen Zangla has always had a strong connection to animals. She can’t walk past a dog without petting it—a personality trait her family has begrudgingly accepted—and says she considers her four-legged children (two dogs and two cats) to be just as much a part of her family as her husband and her son, Tommy.

On Oct. 21, Zangla volunteered at Woofie’s Halloween Pet Costume Party (photos embedded), where she photographed pets in their costumes to raise money for animals displaced by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

Courtesy of Ellen Zangla

Zangla has always been interested in taking photos, and becoming a niche photographer (she only photographs pets and pets with their owners) was part of her dream.

To become a Certified Professional Photographer (a title that less than 2 percent of photographers possess) Zangla had to take a written exam and submit a portfolio that would be reviewed by a panel of judges from the Professional Photographers of America (PPA). Zangla’s portfolio consisted only of pet photos.

An image of a client’s dog, Rosie, won the Top Ten Animal Image award in the 2016 International Print Competition from the PPA. The PPA also named her the 2017 Bronze Medal Photographer of the Year.

“When I take a photo of someone’s pet, it’s not going to look like a prestigious breed photo,” Zangla says. “It’s going to show the pet’s personality. People tell me all the time that my photos of their pets look like the animal they know and love.”

halloween dogs and owner
Photo courtesy of Ellen Zangla Photography

When attempting to capture the perfect photo, Zangla says that patience is crucial and making sure the animal feels safe and comfortable is a top priority. Before a shoot, Zangla talks to the animals’ owners to get a feel for what an animal might be responsive or unresponsive to.

“For some dogs, making a high pitched noise or saying ‘Do you want to go for a ride?’ will make them perk up,” Zangla explains. “But it’s important to know in advance what scares an animal. Some dogs might get nervous in response to high pitched noises, so instead I’d use a ‘shh’ noise to channel their attention toward the camera.”

Zangla also says that most of the animals she photographs are wearing collars and leashes so their owners—who the animals trust—can control them. Once she gets the perfect shot, she edits the leash out of the image.

Besides getting to work with animals all day, Zangla says that she loves creating memories that will last a lifetime.

“It may sound dark, but we all know going in that if all things go according to plan, we’re going to outlive our pets,” Zangla concluded. “Their life spans are just shorter than ours, so it’s important that we have photos of them to treasure forever.”

Sessions can be booked at