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Integrating Animal Photography into your Business

Lesson 2 of 31

Getting Started: Understanding Animal Psychology & Behavior

Norah Levine

Integrating Animal Photography into your Business

Norah Levine

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Lesson Info

2. Getting Started: Understanding Animal Psychology & Behavior

Lesson Info

Getting Started: Understanding Animal Psychology & Behavior

So I probably don't have to sell you on pet photography, but I think it's important to consider why you might choose pet photography. Pet photography, it gets a little bit of a cutesy wrap to it, but it really involves everything that portrait photography includes: lighting, location considerations, directing subjects. Everything that goes into working with people in portraits, plus fur and the unpredictability of animals, so it's not just about getting cute pictures although that's a fun part of it too. When I talk about clients here and subjects, I'll use that terminology. I might refer to clients, and if you're just doing it as a hobby, not just, if you are doing it as a hobby, I'm hoping that all of this will be applicable to you whether we're talking about clients or subjects, so feel free to consider that as we go along. So, pets are our family. I know they're my family. I have pet children. They play a huge role in many people's lives, and so portraits of animals are important. ...

They're important to me and I've experienced in the last couple of years loss of a pet, and it's become even more solidified for me the importance of being a pet photographer and incorporating animals into the portrait work that I do. Creative fulfillment as well, it's fun. There's lots of ways to get creative with animals, and what your pet photography can look like on a creative level can be very different from the next person's. So there's not a one size fits all in terms of the creative element. It's fun! It's challenging and I find it completely rewarding so I really do love it. There's a need for pet images in commercial work, in editorial work, as well as commission portraits, so there's lots of different ways to get involved with pets and include pets in your work. There is a huge industry of pets. There is a market for it as well. Animal imagery seems to really resonate with people. I know it's a commonality, Not everybody's an animal person but a lot of us really are and animal imagery really does resonate with us. A huge part of what I do is really encouraging volunteer opportunities so I think a big part of being a pet photographer is the opportunity to use your skills and your talents to help animals and volunteer where you can. That'll be kind of a focus for us throughout the course. We'll talk a little bit more about that later. And it just feels good to help animals and I can't adopt them all so that's part of the reason. If I can't have them then we need to get somebody else to. And you can expand your business, like I said, to include pets. So if you're a family shooter, if you're photographing weddings, introducing the element or promoting the element of working with animals can attract new clients, bring new business into your work. It also gives you the opportunity to get variety, so when you are shooting for example, a family, it can add sales for you because you'll be having some variety there, so in addition to the family images, you'll include the pet and it'll give some more reach. What I love most about animal photography and photographing pets is I get to engage with animals. I'm not a 9 to 5, at my desk person. For me I get something different all the time. So I don't have the same day each day, and each project is different, so interacting with all my clients is different. There's just not anything typical for me, so I love that about it. I like the business aspect too. I've learned a lot about the business just from doing it, and I'm sure many of you have experienced that. I didn't go to business school so I've had to learn how to be a business person as I've gone along, and I enjoy that part. It is challenging, but I enjoy it. I like the idea of being able to provide a meaningful experience and a valuable product to my clients. There's something really fulfilling about that, is in addition to the product that I'm giving them, I want them to enjoy their experience, because when they look back at these images years from now they can tune into that experience. It brings them right back to being with their pet in that moment. I think that's really powerful. I also love the aesthetic of it. I just think it's a great way to honor the beauty of animals. They're interesting creatures, and I love creating beautiful photographs of them. Relationships are a priority for me in my life, so I've kind of more recently in my work, as I've gone through the years as a photographer, relationships have become more of an important part for me to capture, something I value very much, so I love documenting them and learning about those relationships, as well as building my relationships with my clients too. Pet photography for me has also given the opportunity for different experiences that I wouldn't have had otherwise, and expand my perspective, so this was a project that I did we'll talk about a little bit later with homeless people and their pets. What do you need to know to be a pet photographer? Basically, these are big picture pet requirements when you're thinking about doing it or you're on the cusp of wondering what it's like, so what do you need? You really just can start at any point in your career. You can have a small interest in it, you can start really anywhere you want. You get to create your own path. I've had people ask me, "What if I don't like cats?" Or, "What if I don't wanna photograph big dogs?" You get to create what that looks like for you. There are many ways to work with pet photography. You can do it as a hobby, as a volunteer, you can do it professionally part-time or full-time, so there's lots of different ways to make pet photography a part of your life. You do need to like animals, (audience laughs) and you also need to like people. I've had people say, "I'm thinking about switching gears, "I'm sick of working with people. "I'd like to photograph animals." And I kind of jokingly say, "Well you know, the dogs and cats, they don't book the sessions." It would be nice if they did, but they don't, so you do have to get along with people as well. You're probably not involved in it if you don't have an affinity for animals already. You need the right attitude and a self-awareness. This is true for any photography. It's especially true for pet photography. It involves a lot of patience, and I think your self-awareness is huge, and that's something I'll talk about throughout the course, is a self-awareness will help you with your experience, it will help you with your clients, it will help you in your interactions with animals, and that's a key element to your success as a pet photographer. I really encourage developing an understanding of animal behavior. You don't need to be an expert with it, but it will help your experience overall. The more you know about typical behavior of animals the better you'll be able to respond, and react, and trouble-shoot during your photo shoots. You'll get better images, you'll stay safe, you'll keep your clients safe, and everybody will have a good time. You really do need a willingness to go with the flow. I did one of those personality tests and I'm not one of those people that goes with flow, I've learned. I like things to very planned out. Pet photography has taught me time and time again that that's not always going to happen, and that's okay. Actually I think part of it is the beauty. Part of that gives you a lot of surprise images and experiences that you couldn't plan, so it's all good. But you need to be able to go with the flow. Animals and Behavior. We're gonna get you set up to think about this on the big picture, and talk about specific animals as well, but what does animal behavior impact for you as a pet photographer? Obviously as a pet parent, your behavior of your dog impacts you a different way if you're just around the house versus actually trying to generate amazing imagery, right? So it affects your creative options, so what kind of posing can you do, what kind of location can you use, the option to photograph pets together? So if you have their behavior, if a pet doesn't get along with another animal, if two dogs can't be photographed together, that behavior is gonna really impact what you can do creatively, and also the option to photograph pets and people together, so it impacts a lot of your creative choices. The overall experience and interaction with the client, something I mentioned a little bit earlier. Their behavior is gonna impact how long you can photograph, it's gonna impact your energy for the shoot, and also your client's energy output, so it's all things to keep in consideration. It's gonna affect your images, so stressed out animals don't photograph so well, and stressed animal pictures don't sell very well, and they're not very effective, so you want the animals to be comfortable. It will also affect the people, so if a pet parent is really stressed because their dog or cat isn't performing well or living up to expectations, that's all gonna impact your images and your final product. Pet behavior impacts your safety for everybody. I don't wanna scare people about the safety issue, but it is something that I have to consider. I've had a pretty good experience overall through the years and years of photographing animals. Happy and relaxed animals, they don't tend to act erratically, so their behavior will definitely impact that safety. Stressed animals can hurt you or your client and you definitely don't want that. Understanding that behavior. So now we know why it's important and how it can impact your images. How can we understand it better? Well, I think the first thing to do, and many of you are probably already doing this, is spend time around these animals, so if you haven't photographed cats for example, spend time around them, observe and interact with any animal that you're thinking about photographing, or that you want to get better at photographing. It can be your friend's, your neighbor's, your own animals. I think probably other people's animals, and observing variety is a huge part of it. Notice the difference between different ages and start to take on an observer role and take notes for yourself. Okay, young animals act this way, or this is what happened in this environment, and just start to build your index, so to speak, of behaviors. A huge thing for me is spending time around experts. Learn from people that you align with. It doesn't mean all experts are the people that you need to learn from, but if they're people that align in general, with your philosophy on how to work with animals and how they train, for example, dog trainers and people that have pet businesses. Really start to understand what they deal with and learn from them. They're a huge resource. You can learn typical behaviors that way, you can learn body language signals as well. Start to build your self-awareness. We talked a little bit about this self-awareness. It's just paying attention to start to build how your presence impacts other animal's behavior.

Class Description

Pets play a large part of every household, be it the best friend or first “child.”  Yet capturing their personalities is often more difficult than just a click of the shutter.  Instructor Norah Levine’s photographs are often defined by her clean compositions and authentic moments shared by people and their pets.  Now you can join Norah as she shows you the basics of pet behavior and how to get animals comfortable with the camera.  After this class, you’ll be able to capture great images of pets AND learn how to incorporate them into your family photography.   

In this class you’ll learn:

  • How to incorporate pets into your family photography.

  • Gain an understanding of animal behavior and key body language cues.

  • Build a business model that allows you to appeal to commercial, private and nonprofit markets.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Norah Levine Book Coupon Code

Norah Levine Resource Guide

Pet Packing List

Pre Shoot Questionnaire

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes



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!