Showing up to set usually means you’ll be greeted by your assistant and potentially one or two other people to talk shop and iron out the details of that day’s shoot. But what if you were greeted by an exuberant puppy as well? It’s a possibility — and quite likely — when working in animal photography.
Wonderful Machine’s specialty guidelines describe animal photography as a specialty that features, “pets, livestock, or wildlife, with or without people.”
Animal photography intersects with a number of other specialties, from lifestyle and portraiture to wildlife and agriculture. Due to this variety of styles, photographers could be led to animal photography from seemingly unrelated specialties. Take Lauren Pusateri, for example, who says:
“I had a client approach me that really liked my product photography and asked if I ever had experience in [photographing] dogs. I said I did (kind of), but I felt confident in my ability to deliver and jumped at the chance.”
Alternatively, Shaina Fishman switched to animal photography after realizing her original specialty wasn’t what she truly wanted to be doing.
“I wanted to be a fashion photographer at first, but once I was in the industry, I realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I started shooting my dog and others’ dogs after work and going to the dog park. Then I just decided to get into the studio [with dogs] and shoot an editorial.”
While working with animals can bring folks a lot of joy, it can also be frustrating when things don’t go according to plan. The most significant part of working with animals is having patience since, unlike human talent, animals can’t always take direction. Even when working with professionally trained models, there are no guarantees. “Even the best dogs get tired and bored, so you’ve got to change it up and keep it fun for them,” Steve Tague tells us.
“Most people think you can just get any dog to do these poses and hit these marks, but you need to have actually trained dogs to achieve the good stuff. On-set trainers help with that goal and expedite the process. If you have the right on-set trainer then you can do a lot with everyday animals, too.”
Breaking down the number of times she worked with trained image models versus ordinary pets, Lauren estimated that “if it’s not 50/50, then it’s 40/60 [respectively].” Regardless of whether or not they’re trained, Lauren says that working with dogs is one of the best parts of her job.
“I look for agricultural photographers with a good focus, sharpness, and creativity,” says Roger Sipe. As a group editor for EG Media Magazines, Roger oversees the publication of Hobby Farms and Chickens magazines.
Roger and the folks at EG have a stable (ahem) of photographers that they work with regularly but reach out to new photographers when shooting in a location with which they’re not particularly familiar. Whether he already has a rapport with the photographer or not, Roger’s willing to let them take the reins.
“We give them a broad outline of what we want, and they take it from there. I’d say it’s 75% on [the photographer].”
“We provide a really thorough shot list to each photographer for every assignment,” director of photography Michelle Riley explains. “We provide them with assignment details, our expectations, and a bulleted shot list, which includes information on what we expect the captions to be, as well.”
“There’s a lot of flexibility depending on the animal’s temperament. We try not to ask for something that isn’t reasonable, and when we write up these instructions, we do say some of the stuff might not be possible.”
As mentioned previously, it takes a lot of patience to get the right image when working with animals. “The shot will be there; you just don’t know when so you need to be ready,” Steve advised. “My experience is that you don’t always get what you’re looking for, but you always get something even better if you wait for it.”
The patience pays off by highlighting “natural moments” with the animal, to use Michelle’s phrasing. It’s these moments, combining “sweet expressions and powerful compositions” that Michelle seeks when looking through images.
The majority of the Humane Society’s photographer contacts come through the Associated Press, but Michelle told us about a more direct way to get in their peripherals:
“We have our own photographer directory that we launched about five years ago. Photographers can register themselves in our database, and if we find someone we really want to use, then we’ll hire them directly or send them to AP so that they can shoot for us while working for the Associated Press.”
In addition to working with the Humane Society and its affiliated magazines, Lauren recommends photographers also keep an eye on Dogster and Modern Dog magazines, as well as Design Milk Pets for more product-based shoots. To reach that point, a strong web presence is key. “I’ve been surprised by how many people come to me for the content they see on my Instagram,” Lauren says (if you’re looking to build up your web presence on Instagram, check out our expert advice article on the subject).
For more information on animal photography, take a look at some of the links below: