“Real Pets — Not Actors.” This is the slogan printed on the back of the Whole Foods Whole Paws products, emphasizing the fact that they utilize real talent, as opposed to trained animal talent.
However, it did take a special talent to bring Whole Foods the candid shots they were looking for in their recent ad campaign. They found it in Austin-based brand narrative photographer Nicole Mlakar, who has been photographing animals for years. Nicole tries to incorporate candid, real, and lighthearted moments into her work, so she was excited about this challenging opportunity. A lot of patience and an army of dog treats later, she had a number of adorable images.
Nicole was brought in early to consult on the animals and the outdoor location chosen. All of the dogs were photographed at a park in downtown Austin, while the cats were shot in owner’s homes to keep give the images a very natural feel. The crew worked over the course of two weeks, alternating between dog and cat days. Aside from the sometimes cold and wet conditions, Nicole elaborated on the challenge of shooting animals that are not used to being in front of a camera:
“Animal talent will always be highly trained and used to working with cameras and multiple people on a set. Trained dogs can hold a sit/stay in pretty much any environment and cats know how to work for a camera. It’s a completely different ball game when working with untrained animals. You have to bring every bit of patience you have and a whole army of high-reward treats, toys and sounds. I had a great animal wrangler helping out with the shoot and we did out best to pre-screen all of the pets to ensure they wouldn’t be totally freaked by the experience.”
The feedback from the campaign has been fantastic, as Nicole has received compliments on how “fun and fresh” the images look. Of course, with any job, and especially when working with animals, Nicole has learned to be flexible:
“Ideas, pets, weather, etc. can all change at a moment’s notice and you have to be ready with a fresh approach and new ideas. My team and I were faced with many new challenges each day and I truly feel we handled them all quite successfully.”