Thursday, April 5, 2012

Getting started in Pet Photography

I wouldn't have believed it until I did the research, but Pet Photography is a booming business.  At least 39% of US households own a dog, and 35% own at least one cat.  That's tens of millions of pet owners, most of whom treat their pet like a member of their own family.  

Our relationship with our pets has changed over the last several decades; it's not uncommon to run into people who refer to their dogs or cats as their "babies." Whether you think these people or crazy or not, that kind of passionate, growth market is an amazing opportunity for photographers.

(Actually, if you think they're crazy, pet photography may not be for you.)

Pet phtoography is a growing market in the US, Europe, and Asia.
(Photo by Robert Szlivka)




Photography pets is a bit like photographing children.  You can't expect them to take direction very well, or sit still for long.  Here are some tips to help you out.

Talk to the owner first


Each pet has its own personality, and you'll need the owner to help you figure that out. Is this dog playful? Is this cat high strung? Knowing this in advance will let you set the scene appropriately.  Also, the owner will most likely have a definite idea of what type of picture they want, and understanding your client is key for any type of photographer.

Choose the Right Setting


The best setting for each pet depends on their personality.  A playful puppy is best shot outdoors, but the owner of a house cat may want the cat photoed on their couch.  

Remember, you're trying to photograph the pet in a way the owner wants.
(Photo by Mr. T in DC)

If you do take the photo in a public place, find out if the pet is able to resist distractions.  It's hard to photograph a dog if they go running after a squirrel.
 

Help the Owner Be Prepared


Pet photographers should give a checklist to any owners they work with, so the owner can prepare the pet ahead of time.  Examples of what to include are:

  • Have the pet groomed in advance.
  • Bring along its favorite toy, especially if the owner wants an action shot.
  • Bring along its favorite snack to help it relax.

A favorite toy may do the trick for getting a dog to enjoy a photography shoot.
(Photo by e3000)

Getting the Shot


When the time finally comes to start taking pictures, you may find the animal just isn't in the mood.  If the owner followed your checklist, you should have some tools available to help cheer the pet up.  But it helps if you also bring along your own grab bag of toys and treats.  

Try playing with the animal before you start taking photos.  Some pets, like some children, don't like strangers and may act shy or aggressive.  You'll need to convince the animal that you're their friend before they'll start acting naturally.

How can anyone not love a great pet photo?
(Photo by Apogee Photography)

Relax, and go with the flow - animals are super sensitive to your mood.  Give your pet some last minute grooming - just touch-ups.  If you are outdoors, how is the wind?  Is it too strong?  Is the sun too bright? Remember, overcast is much better for exposure.  Make sure that your pet is far enough away from your background so as to not cast any shadows.

Align your expectations properly. Don't expect the perfect shot immediately - that will just raise your anxiety level and will stress out the animal.  Be patient and have fun. If you do, so will the animal.