While most families put photos of their children on holiday cards, Diane Alecci's boasts a portrait of her dogs - and she doesn't see any difference.
"We think our dogs are people," Ms. Alecci, who recently spent more than $1,000 to commission a photo of her four spaniels, said. "We would spend on our dogs what we would spend on our kids. You spend the money because they're your children."
The holidays are a boom time for local pet photographers, who say a growing number of animal lovers are seeking pet portraits for gifts and Christmas cards. The trend is prompting professional photographers to add pets to their list of specialties.
"Pet photography has always been going on but I think it's gained in popularity in recent years," the director of marketing for the trade group Professional Photographers of America, Dana Groves, said. "I think they're adding it because their customers want it. A lot of people treat their pets like part of the family."
Roy Somech, who has been shooting weddings in the New York area for more than five years, stumbled into pet photography about a year ago. A friend asked him to take some stills of her pit bull in front of a Christmas tree. Mr. Somech put the photo in his portfolio, and discovered a new market when clients began asking him to shoot their pets, too.
"It just kind of happened," Mr. Somech said. "People want to do it as a gift or surprise some one with pet portraits."
Rod Goodman, a professional lensman for a decade, created a pet photo business called Pupography earlier this year to bring together two passions: animals and photography.
"If I wasn't a photographer I would love to have a picture of my dog," Mr. Goodman said. "I know I'm not the only person in New York City that's crazy about their dog."
Animals are tough to shoot, he said. New York City pets can be particularly difficult because they tend to be a spoiled and disobedient bunch. It can take three hours or more to get the right image, as photographers use treats, feathers, string, and other items to catch an animal's eye. Guide dogs make the best subjects. Cats are the worst, as they aren't as willing to please as dogs.
Shooting an unpredictable subject can be hazardous, as photographer Brooke Jacobs learned last year. Ms. Jacobs perched a feisty bulldog on a bench along an overpass in Central Park. The dog leaped over the back of the bench and nearly plummeted to its death. "We almost lost the client's dog - he was dangling from his leash and collar," Ms. Jacobs said. "It was close. Anything can happen."
Despite the complications, animal photography can be lucrative. Ms. Jacobs charges $500 a session and Mr. Somech's start at $200.
At the high end of the spectrum is James Dratfield, whose sessions start at $1,000. Mr. Dratfield typically sells 20 to 30 gift sessions around the holidays. He said an expensive portrait of a pet makes "a great gift for the person who has everything."
Mr. Dratfield has developed an A-list clientele since creating Petography Inc. in 1995, with commissions from Elton John, Jennifer Aniston, Billy Joel, and other celebrities.
President Bush could be joining that list, Mr. Dratfield said. A person close to the president recently gave him a gift certificate for a photo session that Mr. Dratfield signed.