Does your pet model lack formal training? Are they perhaps a little overly energetic, camera shy or fearful? No problem.
When I say I’m a pet photographer, a lot of people tend to think the same thing. “Oh my dog/cat would never sit still long enough for that.” Well you know what….WRONG! No formal training is necessary. Not even a sit. Not even a stay. Nada. Zilch. Nothing.
Once I heard someone say, “You know what it takes to have a beach body? Have a body. Go to the beach.” It’s exactly like that for pets in my studio. Do you have a pet? Do they have a body? Great! They have all it takes to be a model!
Don’t believe me. Ok. Let’s do this.
Case Study #1: The Curious Puppy
Meet Dabby. Super puppy energy. He was a mere WEEKS old when he came into the studio. And guess what? He was still bonding with his human family and “sit” wasn’t even a thought in their heads yet.
If you’ve ever tried to train a puppy to sit, you’ve seen the move where you hold a treat right in front of their nose as you push it back over their head. The hopes that their nose follows it up and that bum hits the ground. Well. That didn’t work at all here. I think I did a better job of teaching him to jaws chomp!
So out came the toys! Dabby was a puppy after all. Lots of play happened on and around the sweet spot on the backdrop. Then, his big sister (human) and I rolled the ball back and forth to each other over the sweet spot. And repeat. The sits eventually followed. And in the meantime: action shots!
Did his lack of formal training stop us? See for yourself:
Trick: Play, then do something funny noises to get attention. Repeat. Patience.
Case Study #2: The Bouncy Love Bug
This is Gadot. She’d recently been adopted by her human family. Her favorite thing to do was pogo bounce in the window and bork her brains out when dog friends walked by the window. When her mom asked me if I thought I could get some nice shots of her, I was all: “Oh! Challenge accepted!”
At this point they were working on Gadot’s “stay.” However, with all the excitement of playing dress-up, funny sound effects from me and the camera clicks, she wasn’t interested.
So again, we had lots of play time, with a few snaps of action shots in between. Finally, I tried putting her up on a chair and she was much more into the idea of posing for a formal portrait.
And look. Omgeeee she’s such a calm, poised model (or is she?)
Trick: Play. Lots of quick snaps followed by a big play break. Then, putting her up on something to give her a boundary.
Case Study #3: Little Unsure about Humans
Gilda’s mom warned me she takes a little warming up to people in general. Luckily, she seems to be less weary of women. And I’m a woman! Phew. Knowing this beforehand, something I always ask of clients before we even meet, I knew to let Gilda have her space.
I ignored her for a bit while I was chatting with Mom and let her have free reign to sniff and explore the studio space. Oh and warm up she did. Quickly! After 15 minutes or so she was giving me power head-tilt realness. Her little tongue made for portraits dripping with cuteness.
LOOK AT THAT TILT!
Trick: Give her space. Delicious treats. Strange noises for the head tilt!
Case Study #4: A Little Mouthy
Remember Hugo from my magical Scotland pet photography retreat? Well, he’s definitely a lot of energy and doesn’t like new people petting him. He didn’t seem to be too into the idea of being photographed by strangers (totally understandable – me too, especially if I’m not “camera ready!”).
In order for us to give him some space to warm up, Mom took him off to the side for some fetch in the water. Umm. Wait. Why didn’t anybody TELL us this was his happy place?! All we had to do was have Mom give a good chuck of a stick from behind the camera and we caught him on the return!
Now, due to his EXTREME LOVE (yes, caps justified here) of sticks, when I went in for the stick myself or did too much taunting, he’d go in for a chomp. Mom warned us! But once we got into the groove of Mom throwing the stick over me, it was the perfect setup for an amazing variety of action shots!
And look at that face:
Trick: Finding his true love: sticks. Then letting him run the show while I stood by and caught the action.
Case Study #5: Cat
Cats are a whole different story. Being out of their house, especially if they don’t do it other than to go to that dreaded thermometer-up-the-butt place, can be scary. Yet, with some distance, play and or treats we can get the shot.
Ozzy, a gorgeous young cat at around a year old, really needed the space at first. While I chit-chatted with Mom and Dad, he did his cat thing. I let him sniff and wander around, again, while ignoring him.
He even found some fun dust bunnies under the couch. I swear I vacuumed! Cats and my mother seem to have an instinctual knack for finding spots I’ve missed…
Before he arrived I put a few spritzes of catnip spray on the paper backdrop around where I wanted to position him. He went right there and gave a few good sniffs. Win.
Once he was coming closer to me, we were ready to start. I brought in a stool with a little more catnip spray on it, for him to sit up on. He definitely jumped off a few times. Mom was right there to set him up on it again just long enough for me to get the shot.
I’d twirl my magical feather stick near him and then float it over to the camera lens to get him to look into the camera.
I even bought these really smelly, chewy tuna treats which seemed to help him get into place by tossing them up on the stool first.
Tricks: Catnip spray on the backdrop. My special feather toy. And patience!
So if this isn’t proof enough then you probably don’t believe in hard science. Unfortunately, I can’t help you there.
What I can say is that no matter the level of obedience or training your dog or cat model has, I’ll make it work. I will get great shots of them in their element that are meant to be art on the walls! Guaranteed!
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This post is part of a blog circle of some of the most uber-talented pet photographers all over the world. Keep reading to hear about how other pet photographers work with all types of animal personalities.
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