Photos: Behind the Scenes With a Top Pet Photographer

Bunnies, dogs, and lots of costume changes.

Photograph by Sarah Meashaw.

As Diesel the pit bull bounds off the photo set, pet photographer Sarah Meashaw leans in to let him kiss her mouth. “People think I’m nuts,” she says. “I’m a total crazy dog lady.”

Meashaw has photographed animals full-time for two years. Her Bethesda basement is a custom-designed studio, with a lit stage, an expansive prop room, and floors that are non-absorbent (for obvious reasons).

In a typical week, she does about four shoots. Most of her clients are regulars who consider their pets their children, Meashaw says. Many, like Anna Flis, run Instagram accounts of their animal companions and need new photos every few weeks. Meashaw charges $195 for a two-hour session, and most of her clients end up spending $600 to $1,800 on products such as custom wall art and photo albums.

During the course of one session in early March, Flis’s pit bulls and bunnies underwent a number of costume changes—switching from ribbons to sunglasses to Wonder Woman crowns. The animals seemed excited about it—at one point, the two dogs rooted through a giant bin of animal hats and picked out the ones that they ended up wearing.

Meashaw stresses that she’ll never force an animal to do something that it doesn’t want to do, even if the owners try to insist.

“They have fun because I’m not stressing them,” she explains. “It’s like shooting a toddler that doesn’t speak your language.”

Though she photographs mostly dogs, Meashaw is open to working with all pets—such as this bunny, Melvin. She has also shot cats, turtles, and, once, a pet turkey. Photograph by Evy Mages
She and her assistant, Anna Matthews, deploy a variety of tricks to get pets to pay attention. In this session, Meashaw relied on her stash of squeaky toys, kazoos, and duck calls. Photograph by Evy Mages
Especially in group pictures, it’s hard to get all the animals to stay still at once, so Meashaw photographs rapidly. “I just need one clear shot,” she says. Then she moves on to the next pose. Photograph by Evy Mage.
She says using an indoor studio allows the animals’ personalities to come out: “They’re totally how they’d be at home here. People really notice that.” Photograph by Evy Mages
The prop room is filled with custom items, including bows, hats, flower crowns, and sunglasses. All are included in Meashaw’s studio sessions. Photograph by Evy Mages
Diesel leaps onto the stage before being asked and appears to get anxious and jealous when another pet’s picture is being taken. Photograph by Evy Mages

This article appears in the May 2020 issue of Washingtonian.


Jane Recker
Assistant Editor

Jane is a Chicago transplant who now calls Cleveland Park her home. Before joining Washingtonian, she wrote for Smithsonian Magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times. She is a graduate of Northwestern University, where she studied journalism and opera.