Racing around the green grass he sniffed excitedly at every new spot. Every new branch, bench and tree was a wonder to behold. A secret garden full of tantalising scents and smells that told the stories of everyone who had come here before him.
This was his first visit to this place and he couldn't contain his excitement. It was whippet sharp and undeniable. He needed to be free, he needed to explore, he needed to sniff...
This is the typical beginning of a pet photography session. You're dog's excitement and joy are where it all begins.
You've changed his routine. You've taken him to a new place, with new sights, new sounds and best of all... new smells.
The world is his oyster and he wants to roam!
Then… How do I control him? How do I get him to behave? How do I get any photos if he's constantly moving?
These are all the questions I typically get asked when I tell people I'm a pet photographer.
And do you want to know the secret answer...
I don't! Pets are normal, living breathing entities. Which usually means they have a mind of their own and the will to do what they want.
My job as a pet photographer isn't to make them behave in an unrealistic depiction of who they are but rather to embrace all their quirks and foibles and to capture them 'just as they are'.
When you're looking at photos of your pets later on down the road, the images that speak to you the most will be the images that capture their personality, their love of life and their joy as they experience it.
Those are the memories I try to capture for you, by letting them be themselves.
If they have a great sit and have perfected the stay command - even better. You can bet your booty, I'll take advantage of that! But, that doesn't always have to be the case.
In fact, I find that most of my clients have, what I think of, as typical pets.
They have some of the basics down - sit, stay, down but they aren't uber trained. Which means that even though they know these commands - they don't always follow direction - especially in a new place. And that's completely normal.
It's what I expect during a session and what I plan for.
Do I have tricks and ways to get them to work for me? Of course.
And the following are just a few of the ways I'll work with your pets during their session:
Most times I have either shot at a our chosen session location before or I've scouted the area in advance of our session.
The reason that I do this is so that I can see the area, check out how the sun lights certain areas and plan in advance where I want to capture some images of your pet.
By knowing an area in advance, I go into your session with a plan of attack. While your dog's nature may be random and excited, mine most definitely is not.
By planning in advance I'm able to see and plan where the best light is, positions or places where your pet will really stand out in an image and take note of any gorgeous background imagery or pretty flowers so that I can create some colour and life behind the main subject, during their session.
I like to go into each session with not only an idea of the types of photos I would like to capture but an idea of where and how to get them for you.
Then once I have a plan in place, I'm able to put your pet in the best possible positions during their photo session to get the best outcome for you.
I’m able to place them in the areas that I know will look great in a photo and both direct them to give me the look I want and/or wait for them to give me the look naturally.
I utilise both of these factors together. Sometimes I'll get a dog to pose, if he's happy to cooperate but other times I'm happy for him to do his own thing while I patiently wait for the shot I’ve planned.
2. Highlighting Natural Behaviour
Often times the first time I meet your pet is at their appointed session time. I then use the first part of our session to introduce myself to your dog and build a bit of trust with them so that they are happy to have me in their space during the session.
You can read more about that in this blog post "Why I May Ignore Your Pet When We First Meet".
It's also during this time that I take note of their common behaviours and idiosyncrasies and ways that I may be able to incorporate them into the session later on.
For example, if a dog likes to sit in their human's lap every time their human sits on the ground - that's a natural behaviour that I'll try to capture later on.
If they are curious and don't mind climbing on top of tree limbs or small walls then I know that that's another behaviour that I can use later on during their session to get a great image of them peering out over the top of a wall or climbing through a giant tree's root system.
If they are happy to go off exploring on their own and only come back when called but don't have a great stay then I know that for parts of the session it will probably go better if they remain on lead. But when it's time for their action shots they'll be fine off lead and I can get some great images if I have their human stand behind me and call them back.
Or if they are especially close with their human and get a bit nervous when they are out of sight and prefer to remain close by their side, I know that I'll have to work on building their trust a little bit so that their human can step out of frame when I take a photo. Or I’ll work with this and keep their human close to me and their dog for the majority of their session.
3. Using Incentives
When I meet each pet, I try to make a connection with them so that they are comfortable not only with me but with my camera as well.
Then, throughout their session I use my voice, body language, noises and treats to help direct them to do the behaviour that I desire.
Whether that's a sit, stay, a head tilt or simply looking back at me and the camera.
Each situation and each dog requires something different and throughout the session you'll be sure to see me try all three of these to varying degrees to get the result that I want for your photos.
Those are just a few examples to highlight how I respond and utilise each pet's own personality to direct the flow of the session. And also use their behaviour in a way that makes it comfortable for them while getting the photos that the client wants.
So you can see - it’s not so much that I control your pet, as I try to create an environment where they can be themselves and document them as they really are.
ARE YOU STALKING ME ON INSTAGRAM YET?