Great photos happen when your vision for a photograph aligns with what your subject has to offer. You both play an equally important role — your pet as the star and you as photographer. Thus, a good portrait session is when you and your subject partner in a way that you both get something out of the experience.
Your pet could probably care less about the photos you want. In my experience once they’ve determined the camera is not a great thing to either eat or play with, they conclude it’s pretty boring. I think they find it even more boring when we hide our faces behind the camera. So challenge is to figure out what’s in it for them. The more fun the photo session is for your subject the better the expressions you’ll capture.
Since we can’t verbally negotiate a plan with our pets like we can with people, you’ll find you create the most powerful photographs when you follow your pet’s lead, and then nudge them in a direction and see if they’ll go there. For instance, if you’re hoping for action photos, try making a few quick, fun and energetic movements to see if your pet is up for it. If they jump up ready to play, then you’re all set. If they stare, signaling they have no interest in playing, then try a Plan B. Just remember, pets speak and understand body language much better than verbal communication.
The key is to find something you’re both excited about. If they aren’t in the mood for action, maybe now is the time for cute “resting in bed” photos. Or maybe they’re in the mood for “I’ll look excited while you give me treats.” You’ll know when you’ve hit on a good plan when things start to flow naturally. You’ll feel like you and your pet are moving smoothly together in the same direction.
Once things are flowing, stay tuned in and engaged with your pet. It’s easy for us photographers to get so interested in what’s happening behind the camera that we disengage from our subjects. Once that happens they often get bored and begin to look for something fun to do. So don’t just be an observer — be a participant with your pet in whatever is happening. Don’t worry if you miss an occasional great photo because you were engaged with your pet and not behind the camera. You’ll more than make up for it by all the other great shots you get from being connected and having fun.
Another benefit of ensuring you both get something out of the photo sessions is that your pet may start to look forward to them. Ideally, your pet will be excited to see your camera, knowing it means fun times.
This month’s assignment is to create a photo of your pet enjoying a photo session. So it can be anything your pet wants to do — play, take a walk, watch the birds out the window, etc. — anything where you followed their lead. I’d love to hear about your experience as well as seeing your photos. Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Spot Photo Class” so we can share them online.
David Childs is a professional photographer, photo journalist, instructor, and animal advocate. You can see his work or contact him at www.DavidChildsPhotography.com.