After a long week at WPPI in Las Vegas, I joined fellow Photofocus author Mykii Liu, David Crewe and my new friend, Hair and Makeup artist, Dinah Raphaelle, for Korean Barbecue. I was exhausted from the week, plus we had just finished a 4-hour shoot. I wanted to go back to the hotel and rest; but they insisted I join them. I sat down to a full table of Mykii’s friends. We made our introductions and began to eat. During small talk, I found out the man sitting next to me, Darcy Evans, was a pet photographer. I have to admit, I found it odd a pet photographer came to a Wedding and Portrait event. I asked to see some of his work and I was immediately impressed. After our chat, I asked if I could share his secrets. Being the great photographer he is, he was happy to comply. I am glad Mykii, David and Dinah insisted I join them for dinner. I met new friends and gained great tips on photographing pets!
Darcy’s Approach to Pet Photography
Photography requires a massive amount of study, knowledge and practice. Furthermore, every smaller niche within the photography world requires specific skills and tools. I am often asked for tips on how to shoot pets. My top 3 tips are always energy, patience and dirty knees. I will explain each of these, but I want to drive something home with you first. I am assuming that you a) own a dSLR camera and b) KNOW HOW TO USE IT. Working with pets, there are never any guarantees and you must make snap decisions to not miss the capture. Clients have an expectation of a professional photographer to consistently deliver, which can only be achieved by attaining intimate knowledge of camera operation and photography basics. You must be able to be a human light meter of sorts.
Animals can sense the energy other animals are giving off. We, as animals, too, must be aware of this and we must project a calming, soothing, relaxing state in order for animals to feel at ease. A tense or nervous expression is not a pleasing photograph. I often have clients be amazed at how easily their pet takes to me because I am simply aware and prepared. Preparing yourself and your mood is even more important than preparing the shoot space. Environment will also contribute to this, so choose locations wisely. Avoid distractions and clutter when shooting animals. One additional note here is this applies to the animal’s owner(s) as well. There have been times where I have had to ask the owner to leave the shoot space because their energy is not conducive to the session.
Working with animals can be the ultimate exercise in patience. They can not take direction like a human model. One thing I always tell my clients is that we are on the pet’s time. I do not put time limits on my sessions because I allow the subject to let me know when they are done. I have spent hundreds of hours studying materials on dog behaviour and body language to help myself read my models. Dogs have a myriad of nonverbal communication signals. Learn these! If you get frustrated easily, or simply can not sit and wait for the animal to relax, it may not be the niche for you. With patience I also have developed lightning-fast timing!
Every pair of jeans I own have ripped and torn knees. It is crucial in my work that I connect with my subjects. To truly capture proper pet portraits, you must be level with their eyes – no different than we do with human models. This means I am constantly shooting from my knees and even laying on my stomach. Pet photography is not for clean freaks! I regularly get covered in drool, have to handle slimy tennis balls, half-eaten treats, etc. I have even, fairly regularly, been peed on.
At the end of the day, I LOVE MY WORK and could not imagine my life without it. Seeing the reaction on my clients’ face when they see their wall art for the first time is one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. I secretly really enjoy making my clients cry.
Darcy Evans is a freelance photographer based in Edmonton, Alberta Canada, specializing in candid pet photography. Visit his website to see more of his work.