Working with pets can be a tough gig. They may not stay exactly where you want or look in your general direction, so how can you make sure you capture those expressions that sell portraits? I’ve been doing this a while both for clients and as an educator, and after a lot of shoots (some trial and error!) I want to share my top tips for capturing those killer expressions.
Do your homework:
Have a planning session. Call it what you want: planning session, consultation, etc but make sure you have one. This is the best opportunity for you to actually meet your subject before the photography session to get a better idea of what you’re working with. I can now tell when a dog walks in my studio what I can expect day of the session, which is invaluable.
This appointment also gives you the opportunity to ask questions and learn about what the pet best responds to, what they’re afraid of, do they have any interesting quirks, and so on. Trust me when I say that you will uncover a nugget that will be priceless for your session. It could be a key phrase to use to get those ears perked or something to avoid that may hurt your session. The point is, if you don’t ask, you don’t know!
When it come down to the photography session make sure you’re prepared. Research the breed prior to the session to get more knowledgeable about temperament, personality, etc. Have your noisemakers, treats, and anything/everything you plan to use for noisemakers within arms reach or on a lanyard around your neck.
One of the biggest mistakes I see when teaching pet photographers it that they wait too long to take their image. They have everything ready, the pet is in place, they make their noise (adorable expression ensues), but they don’t take the image in time! You have to be quick! Make your noise and take your image immediately!
When working with pets you have to give them breaks. They need to be able to take a minute, go sniff, go out for a potty break, or just hang out. If you push them to do too much back-to-back they will be finished with the session a lot quicker than you, which means you won’t get much variety for your client. Breaks allow them a little bit of time to reset and get ready for the next set of images.
One of my most requested images is one with the pet laying their head on the floor/sofa/paw. It is such a sweet image, but it is tough to get. I also advise that we can try for it at the end of the session when their pet is tired, but I can’t guarantee that they will do it.
This one is for a sure a waiting game, so patience is key. Also make sure you just kind of ignore the pet so they can relax and take a quick nap. If you focus on them and continue to stare in their direction it won’t help you to get this highly requested image.
These tips are things I do in my own studio with every pet photography session that comes my way. They help me to understand how to work with the pet, how to get exactly what the client wants from the shoot, and also to make sure everyone has a great time! If you invest time prior to the session to do your homework, be prepared with noises during the session along with some patience, I guarantee you will see the difference in the final product.
I have a list of resources below including some great noisemakers, lanyards to hold them, show leads to keep pets in place, and other great little odds and ends that can help you with your next pet photography session.
P.S. – I would love your advice on what you need when it comes to working on your pet photography. Please click HERE to share you insight with me, and you’ll also be the first to know about new tips/tricks for pet photographers!
Dog Photography Boot Camp 2018 – For those of you who prefer in person learning in a small group class this is for you!
Working with dogs: Dog Photography: How to Capture the Love, Fun, and Whimsy of Man’s Best Friend by Margaret Bryant
Catnip Spray for Cats – this is amazing for keeping cats in place. Spray it on furniture and watch them play!
Dog Sounds App – try out the whine noise under the dog tab. It’s great for head tilts!
Empty water bottle – a super low cost and easy noisemaker
Charlie Bear – these are great because they are small and low calorie too!
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