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Directing Subjects

Lesson 23 from: Integrating Animal Photography into your Business

Norah Levine

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Lesson Info

23. Directing Subjects

Lesson Info

Directing Subjects

Next I really want to dive into the direction part. I know it's a big question for people and it's actually something that, I think, took me the longest time to really get. And so there's lots of meat to it. I talked a little bit earlier about the importance of putting yourself in the position of your subjects, getting in front of the lens yourself. And that goes for during the shoot, as well as any opportunity that you really have to get in front of the lens as, having a friend photograph you and your pets and really experience what that process is like. I think that's true of any portrait photography in general. I think it can make you a better photographer. It makes you more empathetic. And with pets, it makes you even that much more empathetic, because you understand what the person is thinking about, the expectations there, how it might, the physical involvement to working with your animals, as well as, I know when I've gone through it, it's like I have these expectations of what ...

I kind of have in my head of what I want and how I want my animals to behave and then they just act a little bit differently. And so that's just part of it and it's interesting to note that. Even like, "How do I look? "Is my wardrobe okay? "I mean, what do I choose to wear? "And where are they gonna photograph?" Kind of all those things that go through my head. So it's important to be on the other side of the lens when you can. Animals and people need direction. They need to be told what to do, and it doesn't have to be in a bossy way, but they need to be told what to do in order for you to get the images that you want. Now there are other ways of working, and I want to point that out, is that, you can choose to be more of an observer and shoot more in a photojournalistic style and that can be great, that can be really, that can be your business, that can be your approach. Maybe a day in the life, for example. It's a totally different way of working. I don't typically have that as my kind of go-to place, but throughout shoots I have moments of non-direct, complete non-direction of saying, "Let's just see what happens here," and letting it play out as it will and see what I can get in those moments. So there is that, there are kind of different ways to approach things. You cannot, however, decide you're gonna be a fly on the wall and expect to get images that look like, that have more controlled decisions involved. You just can't do it. You might get lucky, but I think it's just really important to be aware of your approach and how you're, your involvement in what you're directing, how you're directing. So I often pay attention to what people do naturally, what animals are doing naturally, and try to feed off of that. So as I, and I'll notice those things as I'm walking around during the shoot. I kind of keep my eyes and my peripheral vision open, because even if I'm in a break, I might notice the dog settle into a corner and maybe that's gonna generate an idea for something or maybe I'll see a little, a child interacting with their pet in a certain way and that can help me with the posing and the directing ideas. So I can say, "Oh, you were just doing this. "Let's do that." Some things are hard to replicate, but a lot of times I'll get ideas from that. So I'm paying attention to that. So it can be really confusing for pets. It's kind of the not normal thing for them. It's not their day to day experience for you to be requesting them to, "Go over here and go over here. "I want you to look here." So consider that when you're doing direction, when you're giving direction. It's really important to communicate with whomever is there, whether that's an assistant helping you out or if you're using the pet parent as your assistant, which I often will do, is to communicate with them about who's giving the treats and who's trying to get their attention. You know? It does not work when three people are trying to get the dog's attention. One person's over here and that person's over there. It is already a confusing situation, so try to give the pets a break and make sure that they're only responding to one person at a time. And just understand that it can be confusing and acknowledge that to the pet parent and try to just pay attention to their behavior as you're going through your session. And reward them. You'll see me in the shoot here and you saw me a little bit in the previous shoot section. Rewarding, I gave treats throughout. You can't expect them to hold a position for five minutes and be interested in doing it for you again. You want to keep rewarding and let them know that what you're getting is what you want and that they're doing a good job. It just keeps them engaged, so reward. So this is the next video here with the Gaiman family. And so what you're gonna see here is, so we've already done the window location and the stairs and I'm gonna move locations to outside to shift the energy a little bit. That particular location, if I had had more time, I would probably have maybe gone outside to a park or something, just to really shift the energy dramatically, but I had the option of going outside, so that was just in their little front, their little back area. So you'll see me changing that location. You'll also see me delegating jobs to people. So we talked a little bit earlier about, what do you do when you have all these faces? And there's so much activity going on in my frame, who do I look at? Who's doing what? And I got a lot of missed shots because of that. There were a lot of faces to consider. I'm trying to get Sal's attention and yet, Grant, the two-year-old, is doing his own thing and the parents are looking at them. It's like, "Who's looking where?" And so that was my job. And I think, you'll see that there were moments where I wasn't calling it out and so I missed, there was kind of a disconnect with the gazes of everybody and, but you'll see me kind of direct. So I directly, I give a direction to John to be, "You're in charge of this." And I kind of, you'll see that in the video, is I'm delegating. I'm also stressing, and here you'll see me giving breaks where needed and that it's okay to stop and start as you need to. And at the end of the video, you'll see the concept of sticking with it and then returning to the set, and returning when things kind of go awry a little bit, and then returning to the session after that. So keep your questions as you watch this. So we've moved outside. I noticed this adorable art setup here with chalk drawings. So I thought that would be a good space to get the whole family together, do some interacting shots, change the energy for Grant, and I can tell it already has a little bit. So we'll give that a try. My initial goal, try to be, to get everybody looking at camera for a couple of frames. There's a little bit more light out, but it's still pretty overcast. So my ISO is up pretty high and I want to keep my shutter speed high enough that I don't have to worry about movement. So I'm at 1/250th of second and I think I'm at about a four or a five. So I'll have to get everybody kind of clumped together as much as possible. So we'll give that a go and see what happens. So I'm gonna try to do that, get you guys all together. And maybe we could have Dad pick him up. Yeah. And then have, so it'll be like a standing shot. Okay. And then if he wants to pick him up. I don't know how he deals with being thrown in the air or that kind of interaction. Some activity to get him laughy or giggly would be ideal. Okay. But no worries if not. And then we'll get Sal kind of near your feet and just some kind of physical connection to her would be really helpful, so touching her. Mm-hmm. If you need to, if we need to use treats we will, but probably not so focused on the treats this time. Okay? Yep. Cool. Alright. Grant, put your hands up. Okay, Dad's gonna pick you up. Okay, why don't you get Sal in place while we're doing that. Whoa! Oh, no! Oh, no. It's okay that it broke. That's good, 'cause now we have two pieces. (child cooing) So then Meg, I'll have you get Sal kind of sitting next to you guys. You ready? Yeah, and sitting might be better. Sit. And get him as kind of, I want you guys all on similar planes, if possible. Okay. So, yeah. So? Oh, you can sit down. No, I was just gonna have her back up a little bit. Oh, I see. Sorry, yeah. And you can squat down. Let's pull Sal back into you guys a little bit. Are you gonna make a drawing? Aw. Oh! Can you say ruff, ruff? Do you want to hold a chalk? What do you want to do? Do you want to hold this other one? Yeah, let's try this. Hey, do you want to throw this? Do you want to throw it? This is the one opportunity. Oh, do you want to throw it to me? (child cooing) Oh. What's wrong? What is this, what is this? Oh, whoa. What is that? Wow! What do you think that is? Oh! It's neat, huh? My goodness. Yeah. (child cooing) Can you sit? Why don't we have Sal come back over here? Sally, get back up here. Come here, Sally. (child giggling) That's pretty fun, huh? So I'll need Sal to back up a little bit more if possible. In between your legs maybe would be ideal. She's being such a good sport. Do you want to throw it? Okay. Throw! So I'll have you guys all look at me for this one. Okay? Ready? One, two, three! Let's love on Sal. Let's love on Sal. Oh, Sally. Where's your puppy? Where's Sally? Where's your puppy? Do you want to give Sally that? Can you show Sally? Where's Grant? Has anybody seen Grant? Where's Grant? Oh, hi! There you are. Can you give the puppy a kiss? Can you give your puppy a kiss? Let's see if we can get him, go around the other side. Come around over here? In between you and Sal. Okay, come here, look over here. I have it, I have it. Do you want to hold it again? Do you want to hold it, hold it? (laughing) Stand over here. Stand right next to Mom. Oh, sorry about that. Oh, good job! There we go. Okay, good. Here, I'm gonna get it and I'll see. Oh, where'd it go? Where'd it go? Where'd it go? Oh, where'd it go? Where'd it go? I don't know. Look at Sal. Where'd it go? Does Sal have it? Maybe drop your left arm for me. Awesome, John, thanks. Where is it? I think if you sit on your momma's lap we'll be able to find it. Ready? Oh! Ready? Where is it? Oh, do you hear it? Oh, I heard it, Grant. I heard it. Do you think it's in Sal's ear? Maybe it's in Sal's ear. I think it's in Sal's ear. Can you check Sally's ear? Is it in there? Does she have soft ears? Oh, yeah. I think it's under her ear. It's making so much noise. Let's look in this one. Nope, back to this one. Do you want to come back over on this side? Over here. Right over here. Oh, I think we have to be really quiet. We'll have to be really quiet and listen for it. (child giggling) Can you take her for a walk? I know. I'm gonna take her for a walk, watch. Norah's gonna take her. I'm doing it, oh. Look how fun it is. I'm having so much fun. Look! Oh, what a good girl, what a good girl. Well, how about the other one? This one, look at this one. Come here, silly. (child screaming) Oh, this might be the picture. I know. That we'll show you in college. Exactly. (child crying) Here, you hold it. (child crying) I was like-- Why are you doing this? So first of all, lay back. Second of all-- Oh, goodness. (child crying) What's wrong? (child crying) Okay, I think we'll take another break. Do you think Sal is pretty? Do you think she's pretty? I think she's pretty. Yeah? She's pretty, isn't she? Yeah, she's soft. She's soft. Let's take her on a walk over here. Let's walk here. Come on. Let's walk this way. Say, "Come on, Sal. "Sal, come on, let's go. "Come on, Sal." Say, "Let's go. "Let's go this way." Good job! You're good at that. Come here, Sal. Come on, Sally. Oh, you're good at that. Stay, you sit. Sal, sit. Yes, okay, that's good. Good job, buddy. Hello. What does Sal say? Does Sal say ruff, ruff? Does she say ruff, ruff? Come here, Sal. Come here. Sal, come. That's good. Come here, come here. Sit, sit. Can you sit? Oh, good. You're sitting just like Sal, stay. Oh, that's perfect! Oh, look at this. Look at you. I'm gonna come get you. (child cooing) Peace out. Mic drop. (laughing) That was good. I might finish up with a couple of solos of Sal and wrap it up. Give her some solo time. Yeah. Where's the treat? Where's the treat? Want to go for a walk? Want to go for a walk? Okay, so I think she's done a great job. I'm really impressed with her patience and so I'm really happy with what I got. I'm gonna review what I've got a little bit later and make sure that I'm supportive to the family and encouraging to them, in terms of what we got today. So it's all good. Yeah, so I think going outside, these are some of the pics, it shifted the energy dramatically and we really-- (audience awing) Yeah, and we stuck with it. We gave it a break and you could really see the energy shift after he, after Grant had a break. There was kind of more of a quiet energy. It was a little bit calmer and I was very glad that we continued with that. You know? So I didn't feel at that point that his parents were stressed out about it. If they were up for doing a little bit more, I was gonna be up for it. So I kind of leave that to the parent's decision, if I'm working with young kiddos, to say, "Hey, do you think he has five more minutes?" And I'm really glad we did, because we ended up getting those sweet shots at the end. So, go ahead. Do you have some questions? Well, I just think it's awesome to see you, like you said, there's so many uncomfortable moments in this type of work, but you don't show it, and we've seen that throughout the photo shoots that you've been doing here. And so it's that importance of patience and perseverance. And that sometimes, right, you get some of your best shots after you work your way through it. Do you have any mental tips for yourself when you're in that, again, that moment of like, "Is this gonna happen," to not try to force the child or kind of not try to console them, not try to get too involved, but kind of act like it's all normal? Yes, I think that me, just in my own head thinking, just remembering that this happens all the time in different ways and it's going to happen and that my goal is to just stick with it as far as I can. I'm only gonna be able to do, in any given situation, what I'm able to do in that specific moment. I will be able to do the best I can in that scenario. I'm not a magician. If I'm working with a child that's having a bad day or didn't get a nap, and it's not on me, that moment. All I know is I can be there and be present to give everything that I have and that's all that I'm really responsible for. So that helps me. There's no judgment on what I'm doing wrong and just remembering that is really helpful in that regard. But I think having, just kind of staying focused on what's next and trying not to overanalyze what happened before. "Okay, he had a meltdown, check. "Okay, that happened, let's see what's next. "Can we get a little bit more? "How's it going forward? "How can we move forward with it? "Is it gonna be possible?" So just kind of staying in the moment as much as possible really helps me, really helps me keep it together. Absolutely. Any questions in the studio audience? Yeah. I had a shoot that I was (clearing throat) it was an older dog and a puppy, which was not unlike having a dog and a toddler, and so I wanted to know if you had any ideas with that. Because the energy was very different, having the puppy and the older dog that was really trying to ignore the puppy that was jumping in its face all the time and I was trying to get shots with the older dog that was really trying to ignore the puppy in its face. And they wanted shots of them together and that was becoming impossible. But it was the same kind of, it was the same kind of energy. So I just wanted to know if you had that kind of shoot with that kind of dynamic, the older dog and getting the new dog and putting them together and-- Yeah, I mean, I think in those situations, you'll try to highlight the differences. So you could have ideas about, "Hey, wouldn't it be great "if we could get these dogs together?" When people call me and they say, "Hey, I've got this 12-year-old lab and a puppy." I don't make promises. I say, "We can do the best we can "and I will definitely do everything I can "to try to get something awesome for you." And they'll see you working and if it's not happening, if they're not sitting together, looking at you at the same time, and you're doing everything within your power and considering everything, your clients see what you're doing and that you're making that effort and they're gonna see that it's either working or it's not working. So, like I said, you're not a magician. And dealing with dramatically different ages, just like you see here. I had Grant who was a two-year-old that wasn't overly engaging with Sal, but I did the best I could. And for me, I was figuring out ways to, how could I do that? Maybe I didn't get that hugging image and if that, if Meg had said, "Hey, I really want an image of Grant hugging Sal," I would say, "Okay, we can try for that." And she can see that it's not happening and there's nothing within my power that I can do. I can't control that. So just remember that. But there are ways to show, "Okay, maybe." We had the leash, so that was a way that they could kind of be connected through a leash. That was a connection for them and I found that worked, but maybe it wasn't what I had initially envisioned at the bottom of the stairs, but it was just someway to make it work. And maybe sometimes you can highlight differences. The fact, I think there was funny images, and you'll see. I think it's kind of funny, there are some pictures where Sal looks a little bit like over it. She's kind of like, she's just like, but it tells a story. It's like, she's this older dog, she was there first, and now she's dealing with this two-year-old who's full of energy and really just this little guy that's now running around her life and so there's a story element to that. So I try to play on that and really talk to the client about that. Like, "Hey, this isn't working, "but you know what I think is interesting?" And kind of direct them into maybe another idea that you could have and direct them into something that could actually work. So I hope that answers your question. Great. So a couple of things I noticed in there was as I'm, if I had somebody videotaping every one of my shoots, I would really learn a lot, so. (laughing) But I did know in the moment I was missing shots and things I could do better. One of the things I'm critiquing myself on is, when the whole group got down there, what I could have done better was stated what, made a decision about what my goals were, in terms of, are we trying to get everybody to look at the camera? Are we looking at Sal? Are we engaging with Grant? Make a decision and then stick with it. So I could have done that a little bit better. I did it here and there, but I didn't kind of call it out in the beginning. And so that was something that I think would have helped me. I kind of missed some shots, where you saw, that where one of them was looking, the dad was maybe looking at Grant. There was just kind of a disconnect with the gazes that made it not work. So that was something that I learned from that. So it's good stuff. So we're moving on to talking about, we're gonna see another video from a different location. We've moved on to another location with a cat. So this is a video and what you're gonna see in this video is me identifying the location, kind of doing that scout with my phone and taking some pictures and talking through what I'm seeing, as well as communicating my ideas clearly with the client as I'm walking through and starting to get them excited about the plan. And in here, I haven't talked too much about wardrobe, but I also talk about, a little bit about wardrobe decisions and I love doing that stuff. You know, I'm not a stylist, but it's fun to be included in that process. It helps me with the final product and I get to, if I have a choice in the matter, I get to impact my images based on, with wardrobe and those kind of styling decisions. So I'm gonna be considering, you'll see me talk about the animal's coloring and different client characteristics, like the color of her hair and how that works with the wardrobe and space as well. We did photograph her, you'll see me refer to a green dress, we did some pictures of that scene, but we didn't include that in the video. But just so you know, we just decided there were better teaching points in the other ones that we do show. Okay, so I'm at a new space with a new client. We're working with Libby and Willow, her cat. So working with cats is very different than working with dogs, especially because the location with, when we're working on location, we just have to have a different energy. So I've taken my bags in here. I've just only briefly met Willow and I've taken a look around the space. I have two spaces in mind that I'm thinking about photographing. So in terms of kind of my approach and how it's different than working with dogs, it's just gonna be a little bit more patient and quiet and subdued. We've got the crew here still, so we're gonna be working with that. It's a little bit different than a normal situation, but we'll do our best and see what happens. Okay, so normally I would prefer to scout before the day of the photo shoot, but since we weren't able to do that, I'm gonna do the scouting now and take a look around. I'm looking for light and where Willow's gonna be comfortable. I'm looking at this space here. We're kind of in the main entry space. I want to take some picture with my phone, just to kind of wrap my head around the framing. Hi, Libby. Hi. She's here. So there are two big windows here with some bounced light from the house next to us, just bouncing really nice soft light back in here, which I'm liking. I like this cute setup with the color and a lot of lines. I might see about kind of simplifying a little bit. If there's some stuff I have to move, I'll do that. So I'm thinking in my head, "Where can I put, "where might Willow want to go by herself? "Where might we be able to put Willow and Libby together?" So just kind of in my mind thinking about good spots for her. So the kitchen over here kind of caught my eye. It's, I love all the textures of the wood and just a lot of the detail here. So I'm gonna take a picture of that space. Now obviously, my phone and my camera camera are gonna kind of pick up things, in terms of lighting, just a little bit differently, but there's some nice bounced light. I might need to probably, probably will need to bring some light in here. So I'll bring a big softbox and see if I like the way that looks. So I'll set some light up in here. I checked out downstairs. I'm not as interested in the downstairs. There's a nice couch, but there's some clutter in the background that I don't feel like is a priority spot for me to take the time to move all of that around. And also, shuffling a lot of stuff around when the animals are here is just kind of added stress to them. So I'm gonna choose not to do that and I'll focus on these two focus areas here, the kitchen and then the main entryway. So we'll do that. So Libby's got some beautiful colored hair and I love working with wardrobe and the color of the pet. So I need to consider dark animals, light animals and what would look good against their coloring. So I asked her if she had a couple of dresses, because I thought that would be kind of fun. So I'm gonna look at the dresses in comparison with the location and see what I think. We've a dark outfit and that wouldn't have as much contrast against Willow's fur, because she is kind of, she's got mostly black, some brown, orangish color, which kind of highlights off of your color, which is really cute. So that would be less, kind of a less contrasty option and then I've got a green, which looks really nice against your hair and would probably allow her to pop a little bit more. So I think I might go for the green. Sure. Yeah, okay. So I'll have you change. Sure. And we'll regroup in here and start in this room. Yeah, so that was a really good opportunity to just check out the space, connect with her, and sometimes I think looking at wardrobe can get people more engaged and it's just a fun way to start to get to know each other. So I want to talk a little bit, oh, go ahead. Yeah, I have a question coming in about, now that we're seeing cats on location, are there different ways that you're looking for location with the scouting for cats than dogs, in terms of looking high, looking low? Anything to be concerned about as you're doing that? I think the biggest thing for cats, and you saw this a little bit earlier in the studio, was that I'm thinking about containment and that consideration is, how can I, not lock them up in a space, but kind of lock them up in a space, in the sense of you don't want them running around the whole house, you don't want it to be this mission where you're running after them with your camera, because that just is kind of a manic experience. So I'm looking at how I can close off areas if it's possible. This location did not have, I did not have the ability to close off. One of the doors was off the hinge and the other, there was no door to the kitchen. So there was no way for me to section that off. I mean, you could put baby gates up, but cats can jump pretty high, so there's that consideration. So I think, in terms of cats, if they have that, if they tend to be a little bit more nervous, then I would prioritize a contained environment over anything else, really, at that point. Even over light. I would probably choose to bring lighting into the situation if I could over a better spot with better light that was not contained. So that was definitely a major consideration with cats that's different than dogs. Great. I love the, seeing you choose those outfits as well. Just even that, "Oh, the green color will contrast "with the color of the animal versus just fading in." So that's awesome. Yeah, that's an important consideration. When people ask me about wardrobe with pets, I know what color their pets are. Are they light, are they dark? I don't want the animal to blend in too much. So if they have a black dog, I'll tell them not to wear black clothing. I'm not as concerned about the hair coming off on them, but that can be a consideration. Sometimes it happens and you bring a lint roller and you try to use it throughout the session. But I've retouched probably a million dog hairs over my years of photographing, or cat hairs. But, so yeah, that part's really fun. And if I have the opportunity to bring wardrobe into the actual location where I'm gonna be photographing, I'll hold it up and look at it. How does this feel to my eye? Does it, is there enough contrast? Is there some way I can play off the environment to really add in an extra layer of interest? So I enjoy doing that too.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Norah Levine Book Coupon Code
Norah Levine Resource Guide
Pet Packing List
Pre Shoot Questionnaire

Ratings and Reviews


Norah is really great and I learned a lot watching her. Even non-pet related things, like how she's continually trying to better herself were really inspiring to me. Since watching this, I've learned to take every shoot as a learning opportunity by evaluating what went right and what didn't, and thinking of what I can do next time to do better. I liked the way she showed interacting with animals in a way that doesn't stress them (well, depending on the animal there may be some level of stress anyway I guess...) too. Great class.

Chelsea Beauchamp

So inspiring! Great information on both family pet photography as a craft as well as the business side. Norah obviously knows what she's doing and has tons of experience, so it's a good chance to hear/see what it's really like to take this on as a specialty whether it's the focus of your work or one of many parts of your work. She focuses not just on the mechanics, but on the personal side of working with people and animals. You can tell she's passionate about what she does, too. It's only been one day of class and I already feel totally inspired!

Student Work