How to Shoot Animals

With a Camera, not a Gun!

Animal or Human: For the photographer, the difference may only be the number of legs.

I do not pretend to be an expert in shooting “wild” animals of the street, but over the years I have learned a few things. The first and definitely most important is that an animal portrait presents many of the same obstacles and challenges that our people portrait presents. Forget the subject is an animal. If you approach the task of shooting this new friend in the same manner that you do for a human model, you are almost there.
Cats rule!

Eye to Eye: For animals, like people, the most striking feature is their eyes.

There is another and perhaps more important reason to look the beast directly in the eye. In photographing people, especially children, the first thing for the photographer to do is hit a knee. Nothing looks worse than the perspective of shooting down on a child. The same is true with a cute little critter, so meet the little guy eye to eye. Treat him as an equal. This is step one.
Dogs are just cool!

Check the Background: For any environmental portrait, the background is key.

This is easily the most difficult part. When shooting a human portrait in the studio, the background is by definition critical. There should be separation and the colors should complement the individual. This is true with environmental portraits of both people as animals. , However, there are obviously restrictions with models of four legs. On the street one can not simple ask the animal to move to the side. Therefore, you must survey the area quickly and make a decision. Will my angle of shooting change the background significantly? Is there an environmental background that is suitable? Is there a way to get the little guy to move left or right? If not, and there may not be, then choose an open background that with control of depth of field, you can hopefully blur it out.
Colorful Feathered Portraits

Depth of Field: This is a little more complicated than with people.

Each studio photographer has his or her favorite f/stop for any of their given lighting setups. With animals in the environment, there are many more factors to consider. One that is obvious, but often forgotten, is how furry, fluffy, and feathery the animal is. Distracting things often grow in all directions, and you definitely do not want a big mass or clump distracting from the eyes and face of this beautiful creature. Sometimes you may need to shoot with a slightly smaller aperture to lengthen the focus area. If this is the case, then try to back up a little and zoom a little more in the hopes of adding more blur to the background.
Sometimes the Top Dog, is not a Dog.

Responsibility: The photographer, as in the studio, is totally responsible for the portrait.

Remember, it is the photographer’s responsibility to capture an insight of the model. A portrait is not simply the image of the subject, but the visualization of some special quality of the model. As Peter Hurley, the New York headshot photographer says, the portrait setting is 10 percent technical and 90 percent psychological Your job is to get this little friend to show some “human” emotion. This is the task.

Animal Portrait: What separates it from a simple animal photo?

Look into the Trees
What does this mean to take an animal portrait? Simply stated, it does not mean one simply points the camera in the direction of the animal and begins shooting. As with people, you have to make contact with the animal, introduce yourself, and get him to pay attention to you rather that the perhaps other ten photographers around you. This is the hard part. How do you accomplish this? Start by talking and moving. If the animal does not respond, begin to make strange noises. It may be a little embarrassing, but the photo is the goal. You are trying to get him to notice you and then respond. When he does, that is when you begin shooting on high continuous mode. You ant to create something beautiful, so swallow your pride and just be silly. Keep the camera to your eye, and begin to entertain.

Possible Payment: The owner is not there by accident.

Some animals have jobs!
Many times when you are on your photo outings and encounter an owner with his pet, realize that the owner is there for a reason also. If you are at a tourist destination in a far away land, and you see someone with a cute pet, realize that the owner is not there by accident. You want a photo, and the owner would like to earn a little money. If you realize this up front, they introduce yourself to the owner. Compliment him of his animal, and then offer him a small payment for the honor of shooting his companion. In pour countries, where we are the top one percent, it is only fare to offer something for your required photo. It is always best to initially give the owner a dollar or two right before you begin shooting. The reason is simple. This establishes rapport between you before the actual shooting begins. Perhaps you decide it wojuld be better if they moved a few feet. If you have already paid the owner, he will be more readily responsive to your photographic needs. This is a simply quid pro quo.

Our Mission: Overcome all obstacles.

Relatives in Search
Realize that as a photographer, there are no excuses. That is the challenge of the craft we love. We may not have all the control, but we must somehow find it. Scott Kelby talks about “working the scene.” As with street photography, a true photographer is always searching and thinking as the walk progresses. They are constantly looking for subjects, and when a cute animal appears, they must be ready. Anybody can walk down a street and point and shoot. Before a single image is taken, the animal photographer must analyzing the light, and survey the backgrounds. The goal is to take a better photo today than we took yesterday. For a photographer, professional or amateur, competition comes from within. The results of each outing or trip should be better than those of the last. That is our quest.
Our Distant Relatives in B&W

Lastly: Photographing recently deceased “pets.”

For those who enjoy their pets as dinner guests, you could have a $450 jug of sake complete with enclosed Habu snake from Okinawa, or a $ 100 crab from Tokyo, or perhaps even some fish, with or without bodies.
Outings with Pets

So stay alert:

You never know what is just around the corner.