The Photographer’s Guide to Animal Psychology

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In portrait photography, understanding your subject is the key to capturing their personality. But how do you familiarize yourself with their unique personality if you don’t speak the same language? What if they aren’t even human? What if they are literally animals! According to CreativeLive instructor owner and photographer of Pet’ographique Arica Dorff, animal photography is all about understanding animal psychology. Here’s are a few important tips we picked up from her course:

When entering a new setting, animals will react in one of two ways: they will become extremely excited or terribly nervous. In either scenario, they need to adjust to their surroundings. When an owner brings their animal into your studio or location, you should ignore the animal. Give them time calm down and get bored. One trick here is to not set up until your client arrives. While you take the time to set up, the animals (and their owners) will have a chance to adjust to the new setting.

Never greet the animal before it greets you. Instead of confronting the animal directly, talk with the owner. This will make the animal curious and prompt an investigative spirit that often results in those classic perked ear, wide-eyed images. In any case, the key is to wait for them to make the choice to come to you!

kitten veritcal

Once you have established the calm setting, stay in control of it. This goes for both the animals and the owners. A calm animal will be much more responsive to whatever happens around them. If the animals are being receptive and comfortable, their owners will also be at ease and allow you to do your job.

Only after you have established control of the setting should you start your shoot. When you do, make sure you ask the owner’s permission before you do anything. This will help the owners to feel like they still have a say, as well as give you hints as to whether or not there are any concerns on their part. For example, if the owner hesitates at all when you ask to move a dog’s paws, there may be a history of the dog biting, in which case you don’t want to handle the animal directly.

To get an animal’s attention, it’s best to use noises. Avoid snacks and toys for as long as possible. Noises will get their attention, while toys and treats give them something to obsess over. It’s the difference between getting the curious, perky ear photo and the drooling, don’t-look-at-the-light-I-can’t-help-it-it’s-so-beautiful photo.

Looking for some expert advice for how to include pets in your family photography? Expert, Norah Levine has your covered! Her FREE class goes live on August 24th-25th, 2016. At the very least, watch it for some adorable animals!

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Casey Melnrick

Casey Melnrick is a freelance writer out of Seattle, an admissions counselor for Washington State University, and is always looking for a good story, fact or fiction.