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Integrating Animal Photography into your Business

Lesson 25 of 31

The Studio vs. Non-Studio Experience

Norah Levine

Integrating Animal Photography into your Business

Norah Levine

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Lesson Info

25. The Studio vs. Non-Studio Experience

Lesson Info

The Studio vs. Non-Studio Experience

I wanted to talk a little bit about the studio versus the non-studio experience. We talked about the logistics of what working in a studio is like from a photographer's standpoint but I wanted to kind of dive in a little bit deeper with the studio versus the non-studio and how that impacts your direction and the experience for the people and animals that you're working with. So, obviously, a studio is a little bit more controlled. You know what the lighting is like. You have more control over turning on and off your equipment if you're using lights. I think the experience feels a little bit more formal. People walk into a room and it's like, okay, this is happening and it just feels like a bigger, it feels like an event in a different way than it would if somebody comes to your home which is also, it feels important as well but it's just something different about going to a place that's not your own. You're required to make it different from one subject to the next so in terms of direc...

tion, there is, you know, you have to generate a way to do that and working with your clients within that same space. For me, we can talk more about the location but I get ideas about things when I'm on location and studio's just kind of building the photograph from the ground up and people walk in and they need direction right away. There's not really like an environment to play off of there so it can be challenging in that regard but also beautiful. It's not the normal environment for the animals so as you saw earlier in the studio shoots, they were sniffing around and there's that time that's needed to get them adjusted to the new space so it's really not normal for them and we need to give them time to acclimate. I think there's more, there's a little bit less and you saw this when I was working with Grant and Meg and Saul, was there was a little bit less opportunity for me to choose to have those spontaneous moments where I was like let's just see what happens. I had to be very proactive the entire time. There was less room for hey, let's see what he, if, you know, maybe Grant maybe you run around on the playground or you're climbing a tree, there's less of that activity opportunity and more of requirement for me to be proactive. So, in studios, you're choosing backgrounds and that can be paper backgrounds or colors but you can also create sets and the pet has to be comfortable in that environment. I know I've used a seamless background a fair amount in studio work that I've done and you know, some dogs are okay with it and some just really get nervous with it so that can be a consideration in terms of their behavior and how it impacts my ability to give them direction and how cooperative they are. The pet also needs to be where the light is so if you're setting up lights in a very specific area so you're constantly having to bring them back, it's a little bit less of a broad opportunity unless you have a really big studio where they can roam around and your light is consistent throughout, so in a natural light studio like we were photographing in earlier I had a little bit more freedom when I was shooting in natural available light to just let things flow in terms of the direction and my adjustments there. So in the studio, I feel like you're committing to a frame or a set and your variety is kind of dependent upon your studio sets. So you might have one studio, you might have seamless background, it might be really plain and simple or you might choose to create different environments and sets there and so your variety is gonna depend on that. And that may or may not be important. It might not affect your direction-giving as much. But you also have a lot of freedom to create what you want, so it's a canvas, you get to make your own backgrounds, your own sets so that can be really fun too. The non-studio experience in terms of directing your subjects, it's like what are your goals for that, are you telling a story, is your client looking to create an album, for example, or are they looking for a wall portrait? What is it that's important to them? And your level of direction's gonna be dictated upon that. So, maybe it's a day-to-day kind of moment or more of a pose type image. I feel like the location experience in terms of direction allows the energy to be shaken up a bit and that goes for two year-olds and it goes for 32 year-olds. You know, so asking people, having the opportunity to say, hey, let's go outside, let's change the energy a little bit and get your blood flowing and walk around with the dogs, you have that kind of opportunity when you're on location. You can find interesting backgrounds, things that are important to places where they live or you can choose to photograph in the home studio environment. That was a shoot that I did where we did both. Any questions? [Wedding Photographer] I have a question on that one so. Sure. So this is like borderline engagements so I do wedding photography, I get a lot of couples that always ask to bring their fur babies. And, for instance, let's say you did something like this but how do you tell them to put their animal away 'cause you still need to focus on them as the main couple but you don't want to be rude but you still want to integrate as much as you can of the pets with them? Mmhm, great question, so what I would do in those situations is, I mean, for engagement, it's about the couple, right, and so this shoot was we want to photograph us with our pets and that was kind of the focus but what I would do is set them up for that and say, hey, for this shoot, I'm gonna get a lot of pictures of you with your pet but I'm also gonna need some shots of you by yourself. So if you set that, you know, just the two of you, just to give you lots of variety so you have things to choose from and it's gonna give you a lot of dynamic range when it comes to what you're looking at afterwards and if you set that up initially, they're just gonna expect it and just say, oh, okay, now we're gonna have to have somebody there. You'll probably have to have somebody there to take the dogs for a walk or something or maybe it's a situation where you would drop them off back at home, whatever it is that best works for your work flow but I think setting them up for that would be really helpful so you're not feeling awkward in the middle. I think that's what you're getting at, is that there's kind of this, well, not every image is gonna be with your dogs because what they really want are images too of themselves together individually, right? [Wedding Photographer] Yeah. Does that answer your question a little bit? [Wedding Photographer] Yeah, it does. Yeah, so I think some of it really comes down to communication and what you're talking about initially. So the more you can kind of set them up ahead of time, the easier it will be during the shoot, yeah? Do you talk with your clients about what products they might want so you can shoot for that like a portrait for a particular place on their wall like you mentioned earlier, do you kind of shoot for what you think they want to buy? So that's part of it and I think we're gonna get to more of that a little bit later but yes, absolutely. I'll keep that in mind, it's not something that I'm constantly reminding them of but it's something I have in my mind throughout the shoot is what are their goals here and during the scouting session, I talk to them about their goals and what they're looking to get out of it. They may or may not know, a lot of people don't know until they see the images and that's okay and if they do have a very specific idea in mind, I'm gonna keep that in mind. So if they had specific wall that they're thinking about putting a wall print on, I'll keep that in mind in terms of orientation. For example, if they're looking for a horizontal, I have to be pretty specific about that kind of thing. If they have a very specific idea in mind, so, yeah. I have another on-location question. This is from Maria Davidson who says, "when photographing dogs outside the house in a park, at the beach, do you have to have them be on the leash all the time? How do you manage good photos slash security? So, what are the considerations that people, especially who are new, should be thinking about with regard to that?" Yes, I think that part of the reason I hesitate to go to parks is because yes, dogs need to be on leash most of the time unless it's an off-leash park or place where it's just permitted. In addition to that, I don't want anybody's dog getting lost on my watch in my photo shoot, that feels like a lot of pressure to me so when I do location work outside of the home in a park for example, I will bring a leash. If they have a leash, I'll make sure it's clean and it's a nice color and maybe we go with it. So maybe if you can't take it out, maybe just roll with it and make it part of the image so I'll try to do that and incorporate them being on leash as part of the image. Sometimes, I will retouch leashes out if it's necessary. I have these leads that I use that are dog trainer leads where you just, they're slip-ons and if we're in a comfortable enough situation where the dogs' temperament allows for it where they're not too active, over-active and I'll use the lead which is a very thin cord and you can get those at dog supply places where I have a beige one, a white one and a black one and I can use that and that's a lot easier to retouch than a thick leash is. So it's a consideration and when I talk to clients when they'd say, oh, I'd love to go to this park or a big field, it's like, well, tell me about your dog. What's the situation and I really give it, it's up to them if they want to take the dog off the leash. It just can't be on me but parks and everything, there is so, talk about a big, open space for them to run around and less, you know, no containment there so when you're at a park, the dogs can go anywhere they want and that becomes an additional challenge when you're photographing there. So I love parks, I love the look of them but they can be, there can be a lot of distractions at parks including other dogs and their freedom to roam around and safety is absolutely a concern. Thank you, oh, great. Any questions? [Woman With Earrings] What are your thoughts on tripod usage? Tripods, they hold me back, they hold me down. I mean, I'm not against them but you saw me use it in the studio earlier and you know, when I need them, I'll use them for creative purposes but when I work with pets, it's just not in my flow. It's not my work flow but I've seen people in studio spaces. If I had an all-day shoot, for example, maybe a photo booth, maybe you decide you're gonna set up a photo booth as a promotion and you have dogs coming in and out, you have 30 dogs in a day, yes, you should get a tripod. I mean, save yourself, save your back and get a tripod because you're gonna be in one, constant situation but when you're working, you have to go up and down and it's just like you're holding yourself back, I think, with the tripod but you've got to find what works for you but for me, no go. So why did you choose to use it yesterday, for example? So, good question, so yesterday, during the time there was just one little sequence that I used it when Grant and Meg were running around the couch and the pup was sitting on the couch. So what I wanted to do was capture their movement and blur it so I had a low shutter speed and I had a thirtieth of a second and they were running around the couch and it was just a risk, it was a risky shot. No guarantees that was gonna work because Saul, if she moved too much, 'cause there's a slow shutter speed. If she moved too much, there would have been blur on her and there was, there were some images with blur but I wanted to capture her frozen and them running around so I needed, I chose to use a tripod for that 30 second exposure. And, if I shoot a bunch of those images and I want to do, for example, like a triptych which I'll show you a little bit later which, or a diptych or something, those images are all in the same frame, they're all in the same perspective and they're all lined up so that's kind of nice sometimes when you're putting images together. So that was the only reason that I used the tripod in that situation, we good, okay, sure. So family connections. On-location here, we're with the family and I think there's probably a two year-old too. So letting some things fall into place, you know, here, here's where I'm gonna be. I'm gonna set this light up and kind of let go of some of the direction but give a little bit of guidance, so saying hey, my goals are for everybody to be looking here or let's have, you know, I'm gonna try to get the dog's attention. So I need to tell them that that's what's going on so there's a lot of communication there going on but in this environment where they spend time. And you know what I like too about working on-location with little ones and you saw the opposite, ironically of that happen with Grant, was he had a little bit better energy in here than he did at home and that could be because he's two, it could be because maybe he didn't, I know he didn't get a nap one day. There's lots of variables but when you're in the home, everybody can kind of take a break in their own space. So older children kind of do their own thing for a minute and will allow me, for example, to work with mom and dad and the dogs separately while the kiddo's playing or the kids are playing in the backyard or something like that. That will get me more longevity in the shoot and ultimately more images that people are gonna want to buy because there's more variety and you know, there's just different types of images in different situations. So I feel like the home environment in terms of directing has a lot more freedom. When you're in a studio or a park, it's like go sit by the tree, you know, unless they're really engaged on a playground or something, you're a little bit, you're there. It's like this is happening and there's really no getting out of that at that point, so. I love capturing some imperfect moments of connection and play, outside too. So this is an on-location experience and outside working with trying to get pets on the same level here. I did this shoot by myself and I was really wishing I had a helper at the time and I'm sure if I got videotaped doing this shoot, you would have laughed because, you know, I was like, I was trying, the light was just too harsh. I was there at seven in the morning or something but by then, the sun was really high in the sky and he wanted pictures outside. So I wanted to diffuse the light so I had a big, four-by-six foot, I do a pop-up reflector and diffuser, set up and lean it up on a ladder. So I was on the ladder and holding this there. It's location, you know, this is where we were and I had to get the shot so it was an interesting experience with the direction giving and doing all of the lights while I was doing the direction, dealing with the light while I was dealing with the direction, anymore questions? Let's check in back with our studio audience. One question that's come in that we didn't, you mentioned so I'm just gonna bring it now 'cause maybe people might have the inclination to do this when they're out in the field. This is from Nick who says, "with regards to missed shots, is there a reason that you don't use continuous shooting?" You mentioned that you don't. Well, I do use continuous shooting, I just don't sit there with a shutter and hold it on like a machine gun. It's like that to me, there are no creative decisions in that process and anyone can do that and that's not developing my eye as a photographer. I'm not choosing any of that so I am a huge supporter of rapid fire, whatever continuous shooting mode you have. I'm kind of delicate with it though so I use it where it's needed so in the example of working with a younger, maybe a family with a young child and the dog and there's a lot of subjects going on or maybe some action, I'm definitely gonna use the continuous shooting mode in that situation as opposed to something that's a little bit more low key. So I will use that, it's a great tool, I just don't overuse it, yeah. Thank you for clarifying, if you have a family whose pets do not get along or you're just not getting the shot with everyone together, do you ever do composites? Yes, I do occasionally, I mean, I'll be honest, I don't love sitting on my computer all day so it's not something that I let myself get overly involved in but there are occasions when there are larger groups where I've got four out of the five looking at the camera and one was looking off. Maybe it's the dog or the mom and I will swap, I will swap heads out or faces out if it lends itself to that, so yeah. I'm not against doing that because I feel like ultimately, it's about the moment and the experience of the shoot. It's not something I have to, sometimes I'll do the swapping before I share it with the client so if I feel like I need that image, then I'll definitely do that before. I don't tell my clients, oh, we could do this and that 'cause it can get kind of crazy but yeah, absolutely. Alright, great, thank you, so lots of people like to dress up their animals and this user, this person personally doesn't care for this but if it's what the clients want, this person photographs it every time. Is that, are you okay with that, do you have the same scenario, does that happen much? Yeah, I mean, I've photographed, I used to be really into props and stuff. So I've done doggie daycare calendars and I did one every month, I did a different look and we had outfits and hats and all these accessories and stuff and it was fun and cute but ultimately, it didn't feel like it was a line for me and so, and that's okay, there's nothing wrong with it, I don't think, as long as the animals are okay with it so, I think, as long as the animals respond in a way that they don't feel like they're being tortured then I'm okay doing it for a client, as far as the work that I put out there that I want to get, I don't promote that I put hats on dogs and I don't have any problem with it. It's just not something that I want to get. So I want to put work out that I want more of but if a client asks me to, yes, absolutely, I'll do it and I'll try it but it won't be the whole session. I will make sure that I'll say, okay, I'll do this for a couple minutes. Let's try something else 'cause I want these images to have longevity, I want them to last. I want them to kind of sustain the test of time for them and you know, it might be a trendy thing at the moment and I kind of want to make sure that I'm aware of that and so, it's up to me to direct that ultimately for their best interest in the long run. Thank you, another question, so and this kind of, I think, leads into what we're gonna talk about in our next segment, going into break after this, so are there particular poses that sell and what do you do to get those poses versus just hoping that things come out well? I don't think that there are poses that sell but I think that there are moments that sell. So I'm not caught up in, oh, this one always sells. Sometimes, it could be close-up versus full body, you know, those kinds of considerations. You know, detail shots aren't gonna be typically purchased for a wall, those kinds of considerations are in my head. Poses themselves, no, I don't think there are particular poses and there might be if I could plug it into some kind of analytics but I'm more interested, the things that sell are the moments, the emotion that comes out in the images, that speak to the people that are buying them, they're those moments where they're forgetting that the camera's there, where they're present with their animal, where the animal is engaging with the camera or looking off sweetly, there's just something that speaks to their heart so it's more about emotion than it is about a specific pose.

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!