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Integrating Animal Photography into your Business

Lesson 5 of 31

Studio vs. Environment: Lighting and Gear Choices

Norah Levine

Integrating Animal Photography into your Business

Norah Levine

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Lesson Info

5. Studio vs. Environment: Lighting and Gear Choices

Lesson Info

Studio vs. Environment: Lighting and Gear Choices

Let's talk about studio versus natural environment, and the considerations for those. So, working in the studio we've got it's more of a controlled environment. There, you have the opportunity to have consistent lighting. The weather is not an issue so if it rains outside, it doesn't necessarily matter to you. You can leave your gear in the studio which is kind of nice so that's, that's one thing about working in a studio. I think in general you, if you have a studio, you can have more, the opportunity to work with more clients in less time because you can leave your setup there, so your equipments kind of out and ready, so it gives opportunity to have a little bit more volume. It's nice perception for clients so it's nice to have a space where people can come to you, and kind of a built-in sales room, so where you can have in-person sales in studio spaces. And you can also host events and promotions, so in that regard business wise, having a studio is a great thing. Some of the challe...

nges of it are the overhead costs. I think that's the biggest one for me is considering that that you're you know, you're paying rent on a studio, kind of the operations part of it as well. So there's a for me, there's a challenge you know, the challenge is when you're in a studio you are building the photograph; it's a different, kind of a different way creatively. So challenging in that regard to build a photograph from the ground up, so kind of like a blank canvas. And there's the expense of equipment so when you're in a studio, if it's not a natural light studio, you'll need to invest in some lighting equipment as well. So, you've got set and props to consider. There's not as much of a personal element in a studio environment as there would be with somebody's home because it's your space, it's not theirs right? The animal behavior/stress level can increase by bringing an animal into a studio environment and you'll see that today. It'll be you know, they're not used to that environment, different smells, so that's something to consider. People's behavior also tends to change I think in a studio environment, and I'm not like a studio hater (chuckles) don't get me wrong, it's just some things to think about and how it might affect how you work in your experience. So people's behavior might change a little bit in terms of you know, it feels a little bit more formal to come into a studio and have a portrait session. So there's that kind of challenge to it. The location working with locations and kind of environment, the visuals are always different, there can be personal elements to it. So inside a clients home, you know, it's their space where their animals are/has spent time. There is an opportunity to spend some more time with the client in their home and build relationship with them, and that in turn can kind of residually affect your sales which is helpful. You can take more time with them at their home in general I think (inaudible). Animals and people I think are more comfortable in their home. It's just their routine, their smells, they're just used to it, so that's kind of an advantage I think as far as being a photographer going into a situation with pets. There can be less gear involved in terms of if you wanted to start a pet photography business tomorrow, what would you need to be able to do that? You would need less gear than you would if you had to start, if you were starting up with a studio. And for me, working on location helps me generate ideas. So it's not starting from a blank canvas, you're more like editing, saying you know here's what I have to work with and what do I need to do to make it work for me visually for my clients? The location challenges are the same as there are advantages with the visual aspect is coming into a location and seeing what you have to work with visually. You know, not every situation is ideal whatever that means, but you've got different scenarios and you've got to figure out a way to work with them, and that can be really challenging. So lighting can be unpredictable you know? I worked in really dark, dark houses, some houses are more cluttered than others, some you know, mansions are beautiful but really hard to photograph. So whatever reason, it's dark or there's, just the way it's set up and backgrounds you know, so you can run into some of that lighting unpredictability. Moving your gear. So honestly like it's a thing. You know, you pack your car and then you go to location, you unpack your car, you do the shoot, you pack your car, you take it home, there's a lot of that gear moving around so there's that consideration. And your time commitment. So, going to somebody's house is gonna take you travel time there, you know there and back. If you have meetings with them, you're going to them as well so it can take a little bit more time, and that can also mean that maybe you can fit in fewer shoots in a day than you would if you had a studio. So there's that physical experience I talked about, the physical demands of working on location. The weather can impact it, so if it's rainy and you planned on photographing in somebody's backyard, you might need to reschedule, as opposed to being in a studio. The travel time and in clients home, sometimes it's a little bit of a stipulation. People have this idea of my house has to be perfect for me to come, you know, for it be photographed, and so I think that can be a little bit of a challenge as a business person, is overcoming those hesitancies that clients have. And sometimes pets can be protective of their home. I've had that happen a couple of times where we have to kind of work around it. So which is better and I really think, thinking about all these things is important and just deciding what's better for you, and your environment, what your needs are, what kind of experience are you looking for you know, creatively, physically with your clients? What kind of interactions are you looking to have? What seems appealing to you on a visual level? And creatively, what's speaking to you? Do you have physical limitations? You know I have back issues and so, working on location you know, can be kind of a thing for me and I have to you know, getting help has become important for me to have somebody help me load my car. So consider those things. How do you wanna interact with your clients, you know? I love going to peoples homes, getting to know them and taking that time, seeing kind of their personal story that they might not bring to the studio. So but they, but you know, working in a studio also has its great advantages. What kind of investment do you want to make or can you make starting out in pet photography? So your investment, when I talk about investment I talk about time and money, both so your ideas about what's best for you right now can change overtime. So what's good for you today might not be you know, what's good for you in five years from now. So once you make that decision about which avenue you wanna go into, we can talk about what gear you need for moving forward in that direction. So, studio gear versus being on environment. So in the studio, we've got backgrounds, paper, materials, other types, you're kind of creating a set, so there's that consideration. We've got light-stands, studio lighting, unless you have a brilliantly lit, naturally lit studio, you're gonna have to have some kind of lighting. We've got modifiers so soft-boxes, umbrellas, different ways to shift the light to what you want. Sandbags, props, computer if you're shooting tethered. Location gear is really basically, it can be more basic. So you can have a camera and accessories so you can start with just a flash, just an off-camera flash, that would probably be the most basic level, or you don't even have to do flash at all. You can just say I'm a natural you know, a natural light shooter, and start with that. Minimal level I think having reflectors on some, some kind of reflector, diffusion material is really helpful to have on location, and like I said small flash units. You can always bring backgrounds and props, and everything if you want to, but it's not necessarily a requirement for starting up. You can bring studio lighting. I mentioned earlier that I bring everything with me. I've acquired that overtime, so you don't have to get everything all at once. I've acquired studio lights and I bring those with me, and I don't always use them but I have them in case I need them, and props are optional as well. Bring sandbags for the lights and modifiers too so, you can have the lights, but you also wanna have a way to modify that light. Do you have any questions on any of that? We do have a question in the studio. Do you find a time of day is better like, a certain time of day is better than others to do shoots at peoples homes? I mean, I know when lighting is better in all of that but you know, early morning shoots may be more difficult for people or dogs, or whatever. So is there, your preference for a time of day. I'm not a huge morning person (audience chuckles) so my preference is that the light aligns really well in the evening, but I'll do it... Light is a huge part of it. If it's just an animal shoot and there's no children involved, I'll prioritize the light after seeing the location, and learning about the location, I'll prioritize the light. In terms of energy of people if that's, is that what you're asking in terms of like just the experience of it? I don't really notice a difference between time of day. I would just prioritize lighting. Sometimes it's schedule, you know when people can do it, but most of the time I would prioritize the light. So, I feel like I have more time at the end of the day with nicer light than in the morning, the sun just keeps like kind of goes up really quickly. But if the house is a dark, you know I wanna be where I'm gonna be for the shoot at the time of day. Like if I'm scouting and then I see what the lights doing, and that's when I wanna be there is when there's the most light in the ideal location.

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!