Photographing Pets has a lot in common with “regular” portrait photography. Making a successful animal portrait requires not only an equal amount of technical skills necessary for human portraits but also a great understanding of pets behavior. And a lot of love and passion.
If there is a clear channel of communication between humans, trying to communicate with an animal, be it a dog, or any other best-loved for that matter, is more gentle and delicate and more often than not it goes beyond words. Giving a snack to an adult while taking her or his portraits may sound silly, although is proven that sugary snacks makes us humans more prone to be happy. When it comes to dogs, well, receiving a delicious snack (sugar free of course) from time to time makes it easier to catch their little attention, thus making better photographs.
My little canine friend has almost nine years since I have it and our joint history goes long beyond typical pet and owner relationship. Tzitzy has joined my wife and I throughout our life around the globe. Originally from western part of Romania, he has traveled and lived with us in Serbia for two and half years followed by another five years in South Korea. After our 3rd international move to Japan, since 2019th, until today January 21st, 2020th he is a proud Japanese “citizen” (and continues to be so), right now being under my office desk, while I’m typing this article, somewhere in Yokohama. At the moment he has to wear a collar because he has a couple of stitches after removals of some papillomas at Center Kita Animal Clinic. I know, he is aging, that’s why the idea of me doing portraits for my dearie in studio has been born in the first place. My dog is a fluffy friendly Yorkshire Terrier which is longer legged than average and weighs a little more over four kilograms.
As I wrote above desire to make portraits of my dog came out of an idea of how to have other than phone memories of him long after his life…. Of course, you may think this is a little bit creepy, but this is the truth, regardless of how it sounds, whether I like it or not. For the fist time trying to get the lights right was a challenge; I had put Tzitzy on a wooden chair which made it look like he was sat on a chopping board. 😛 Silly I know, but I was so proud of the photos until a friend pointed out that I might want to redo the photos using a more flattering support underneath my dog. Shortly after the feedback, I had repurposed a table which I had covered with a black textile to have the same color as my background.
Tip #1: groom, clean and brush your pet before a organizing a studio photo shoot
If the first try was indeed just a try with a couple of photos as a result of the test, the second try was a full studio photography session with my dog as a full time model. I made sure I gave him a bath, brushed his coat, and teeth. Yes, due to a stomach condition, I have to brush his teeth regularly in order to clean up the residue, bad smell and reduce the amount of plaque that builds lighting fast.
While taking the first few shots of my dog while testing out the intensity of the flashes covered by softboxes I noticed that my dog was really interested where the light is coming from, especially because with each camera actuation the flashes were making a discharge noice. After around ten shots, my little canine friend released his interest to my studio lighting equipment and was more interested on how to jump off of the table. Luckily he truly listens to me and after I told him with a firm voice that he isn’t allowed to jump he just started to look at me, almost like trying to ask: “what do you want from me”. The attention life span of a animal is quite small (I haven’t researched this, but trust me, as a pet owner I know) so as a photographer you need to have everything in place and start shooting right away.
Tip #2: Snacks, your best bet to attract the pet’s attention
Soon I had to start using a whistle, start doing noises I didn’t think it would be possible for me to do. One thing you need to know about noises and favorite ones: they are effective the first and maybe second time; after that is just noise.
Because in part I knew some of these “behind the scene” insights, I was prepared with snacks. After serving the first snack it was clear that my dog was back with me with full attention towards my camera. I may or may not put the snacks bag on top of my head and a dog’s treat….or two on my camera lens. This last resort was gold for the photo shoot I have organized for my pet. I didn’t starve my dog beforehand, don’t worry. On the contrary, I struggle to make it eat his food, because his appetite is very low and sometimes he’s forgetting to eat for an entire day.
After finishing the pet studio shoot, I took the memory card upstairs in my office to download the photos in the computer. You’d think my job was done right after I have finished taking the photos. Well, the process of producing one photograph it’s not completed until after applying corrections in editing programs like Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop. Sometimes the photo post production resumes to only color correction, applying contrast, all basic steps. Other times the edit requires removing stains, hairs, or simply enlarging the table due to “poor” positioning of the dog. Although I use a fairly small table, for small dogs is big enough and they move around freely.
My Tatami Studio is open to any kinds of pets, from dogs to snakes, rabbits, parrots. When is the case, handling may be required to be done by the pet owner. For large animals shoots please add detailed information through the contact section on my website. The location of my Tatami Studio is in Yokohama, for the exact address please ask.
Thank you for reading my blog and for following my story as a professional photographer who covers Yokohama, Tokyo and beyond. My services extend beyond best-loved studio photography, and also include pet and owner in outdoor settings. You can read here the story of a previous photo session I have done for a beautiful Maltese and it’s lovely owner in Yoyogi Park in Tokyo.
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