Skip to main content

Working on Location

Lesson 19 from: Integrating Animal Photography into your Business

Norah Levine

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2200+ more >

Lesson Info

19. Working on Location

Lesson Info

Working on Location

People and pets and locations. Each scenario is totally different. Earlier you saw me in the studio, which is not my typical situation. Working on location you're gonna deal with small apartments, you're gonna deal with big houses, dark houses, maybe you're going to parks, so all locations are really different and unique. And we need to consider working within those spaces. So why I love working on location, I think the biggest thing for me is as I mentioned a little bit earlier, is that concept of working in a home environment where the pets are very comfortable, and the people are comfortable. There's also a level of personal involvement, ways to involve it on a personal level. So there are elements we can include that are personal to people, and I think people are just comfortable in their own space. As a photographer, I'm the only new element, and my equipment, being introduced into that scenario, as opposed to a studio environment where everything is new to that animal, and potent...

ially, probably that person as well. So that can change the dynamic. And working in their home really gives me a chance to get to know people. And I feel like that absolutely impacts my experience in terms of sales. When I go into a home, I'm able to talk to them about their goals, and say, hey, what are your goals for these sessions? If they're thinking about wall portraits, where could they go? And start to kind of plant those seeds with the sales, and it becomes more natural. So I can say, oh yeah, I can see, something would look really great over here above the couch, and really get them involved in the process and it becomes a collaboration. So it's less about sales and more about working with them on a project together, which I really find to be valuable. So, scouting. It's something that I try to do for every shoot. It's not something that I used to do. And I mentioned that a little bit earlier. I would go on location and make all those decisions at once, so I really found that when I can go on location before, usually like a week before the shoot, or a few days at least, it gives me the opportunity to look around, meet the client, get them excited about the process and start building that relationship. And I can listen to their needs as well. And if I don't have the option of going to scout ahead of time, I will often just have that kind of scouting type conversation over the phone, and maybe even have them take pictures of their space too. So asking them questions like, when is it the brightest in your house? Where, for example, in your living room, when is it the brightest in your living room if I'm gonna be working in natural light, just to get a sense of that. I found that people's idea of what bright is very different than what my camera is, and what I think is bright, so I've learned that being able to see pictures can be very helpful for that, but nothing beats actually going to locations in person and scouting it and walking around in the space. So, I don't know if any of you have had experiences with scouting, but I find it really valuable, And as we have questions, please feel free to pop up with questions. So, like I said it gives the chance to build that rapport, and connect with people. And it's not all about the sales, you know? I feel like it's important to, the sale is part of it, I'm in business, right, so I'm there to make money and that's understood. But I come from a place of starting from the relationship and making sure that I'm fulfilling a need for them. They're hiring me because they're interested in this process, and it's my job to fulfill that for them. And so the sales part, we'll talk a little bit more specifically about that exact process, but for me it starts with that conversation of, what is it you're looking for, what are your goals, where is that emotional space that I can, what emotional requirements are we looking to fulfill? So that really starts when I have the opportunity to meet with them in person, and definitely on the phone during conversations as well. So I'm looking at light, you know? I'm gonna try to consider the time of day. So when I scout, I'm gonna try to go there. If my shoot's gonna be in the morning, I'm gonna try to go there in the morning. Just to give myself that opportunity to see what the light's actually gonna look like at that time. It's not always possible, so people's work schedules sometimes don't permit that, and in those cases I'll use maybe the sun seeker app on my phone, and check out where the sun might be going as well. So that kind of information's really helpful. And I'll keep notes. I'll really write down like, the house is pretty dark, you know, might wanna start in the living room, because that's gonna be the brightest in the morning. So I'll keep a note to myself about that. And during the scouting process, it'll allow me to start to make a game plan over which locations within that one space I will wanna start and how I wanna move throughout that space, based on the light. If it's really dark, I might need to say, okay, I've definitely gotta pack some lights, or we're gonna need to go to a different kind of location, maybe we're gonna be outside in the backyard if there is one, or go to a park if that would be better. Gives me a chance to kind of get in my head the design and the aesthetics of it. So is the house maybe a little bit cluttered, you know, what am I working with? So, I've had a range of experiences when it comes to working on location and the aesthetic that I'm put up against to work with. A lot of times I might move furniture, I might simplify a little bit. And in a tactful way to try to, you know, it's for the purpose of getting great images for them, it's not a judgment on their house or anything, it might be just, I can use words like, we're gonna simplify this and this will keep the focus on the pet, and just less distraction. So it's not a comment on their general clutter or anything like that, or my approval of their style, it's just a comment on what's gonna work best for the photograph and keep the focus on the animals. It also helps my nerves. I feel like it's really great for me to be able to look back at my images and have some kind of a plan. Now granted, that plan might go away a little bit and I'll have to go with the flow, but it helps me to sit with stuff for a little while. You know, earlier in the studio you saw we had to work with different scenarios, and different animals, one back to back, and there's no processing time there, and that can be similar on location. When you go into a home, you're expected to have this flow going in a similar way. And so doing all of this ahead of time absolutely helps my nerves, and helps me prepare for that. So we're gonna be seeing a video next, so we did some on location shoots for you to see. And in this video you're gonna see how I enter the space, so this was with the Gaiman family. You're gonna see the scouting process that I went through. And you're gonna see how I enter the space, you'll see that I greet the clients, the humans, before I greet the pet. And the clients are my clients. And I love pets, I love animals, but walking into somebody's home and only paying attention to the animal feels a little bit disrespectful, disconnected to the people, so usually I kind of ignore the pet, not that I don't love them, but kind of ignore them a little bit and let them settle down, and pay attention to their behavior like we discussed earlier in order to give me cues on how to approach them at that point. Typically I'll leave my gear outside, and I show up with nothing. And it's just kind of that moment of chit chat, which might seem kind of trivial, but that chit chat to me is important. It's continuing to build the connection and set them at ease, and make them comfortable. And that part is very valuable to what's gonna happen next for when we start shooting. So you'll see that. And I start to build a game plan as I walk through the house, and this situation we did the scouting in the same day as the shoot. So we're separating the videos for you to see. But it's me taking some pictures, and going around with the client and saying, okay, I'm thinking about this, and kind of talking through what my thought process is. And I think in doing that, I'm involving them in the process. And they're not thinking, oh, does she like my house? Is it good enough? You know, there's that insecurity that we can go through. And it kind of distills that and gets them on board and collaborating. The other thing I wanted to mention that I didn't really talk too much about before was the importance of being on the other side of the camera. So if you ever have the opportunity to have a friend come over to your place and photograph you, just to be on the other side of that experience. I think it's very valuable because you can really start to experience what people are going through and maybe the thoughts that go through your head, your expectations, and then take that on the other side of the camera when you get back out for your shoot. So, that's a huge part. So you're gonna see this video coming up, and we'll talk about it afterwards, so if you have questions and things come up for you, as we go along through the video, and that's for everybody online as well, I'm happy to answer questions about them. And I'm gonna take my own notes. Watching myself on video is probably not my favorite thing, but we're gonna do it for the love of the learning, right? So here you go. So, we're here at the Gaiman's, I'm here with a crew of people so it's not exactly a typical situation for me. I just met Meg really briefly, so I haven't scouted the location yet. I'm gonna leave my gear outside the door and go in and meet the family, just take a look at the location, see some spots I might wanna photograph, look at light, look at where everybody's comfortable and see what my options are. I'll take some pictures with my iPhone first, and take a look at what we can do. Hi, how are you? Are you gonna say hi? Who's this handsome guy? Yeah, the game, you gotta keep playing the game. Yeah, it's very important. Hi, John, I'm Norah. Hi, I'm John. Nice to meet you. This is Grant. Hi Grant. Can you say hi? That's okay, he can stay distracted as long as he needs to. So, yeah. And this is the movie star? Yeah, this is her. Solitude. Hey! You're not very friendly. Not at all. Oh my goodness. Oh yeah. So when Grant was born, what did-- She's funny, she was confused for sure. And then for the most part she ignored him for awhile, and now they're just kind of getting, like 'cause he's so mobile and interacting with her more. So now they're becoming a little bit better. Like she at one point, he was just all over her and she wasn't having it. And so she would just get up and walk away. But now she's better and she knows that he's a resource for food. So, that helps. He's gained priority status. Exactly. Are you the clean up crew now? Always. That's pretty fun. This is where you guys spend a lot of time? Yeah, this is our main area, so Solitude's there a lot. I mean, she's allowed on the couch, we don't care. Yeah, that's good to know. Sometimes I get some dogs in trouble. Oh no, she's totally-- Well, I'm not normally allowed, but. That's good, that's good to know that she's allowed up there. She always has had the run of the house. She hates crates, so she's always been like, and she's really good. She just doesn't destroy anything. Okay. Are there lots of good places to walk around here? Yeah, I mean that's how we normally, 'cause our space is so small. So we have a nice park just down that way, and another one that way where we take both of them, and she gets to run around in a bigger field and stuff. Get to let loose? Yeah. Awesome. And then John's parents live super close and they take her all the time. So they'll take her to Tiger Mountain and stuff, just local trails, and the dog goes free. So, how many years, she's seven? Seven. So she's been in this house the whole time? No, we originally had her in the apartment when she first came with us, and then she lived in California with me for a little bit, and then she moved back up here, she didn't like it down there. And her temperament, she's really easy going. Oh yeah, she's super easy going. Anything that I would be aware of in terms of dos and don'ts with her, like does she get nervous about things, how does she feel about noises? She doesn't like if like John is doing something too active. Too active? Yeah. Okay, so we'll keep you on the down low. Yeah, like jumping, or like on top of something. Like that seems high to her, she'll get upset. Okay, that's good to know. And what about treat motivation? Oh, she's pretty treat motivated, so we have specific types of bacon and stuff that she likes. Okay, do you have some of those? Mm hmm, and she knows the sound of the cookie jar thing. So that's a big motivator. So if she knows I'm coming then she stays pretty happy. Excellent. Okay, well I'm gonna take a couple of shots of just the location to see, just to get some ideas. Just kinda take a look at the light and get some ideas starting to generate here. Okay, so I'm checking out some spots for potential images with the whole family together. I'm looking here in the living room is probably my most likely spot. I like that there's the most light in here. I like the light coming in by the window to this chair. Also just the fact that they're comfortable in here, and they spend a lot of time in here together as a family, so that matters for everybody's comfort level as well. And there's just more space in here for me to set up. So I'm probably gonna set a light up, there's low ceilings in here so probably bounce some light just to add some light to everybody's faces, and make it so I have enough exposure to be able to shoot and get everybody in focus. So I like the couch as well. So I'll probably bop around between the couch and the chair setting here. That'll be my main goal. I checked out Grant's room, it's pretty small, it's super cute. So I might do some stuff up there but I'm not really sure yet, it's probably not a top priority location. But on my way back down from the level upstairs I noticed a really cute view of Sol when I was walking down the stairs, so I might do that as well and just shoot with natural light down that way. So that's about it, I'm just gonna get some lights set up and we'll get started. Yeah, so that was kind of the scout before, right before the session. So just kind of picture that happening. Now, that could happen right before your session and it has happened for me plenty of times before. And if I were doing a scout right before the session, I would probably say, give me five minutes, and I might go get my gear and take some time in between that moment of walking around with them and then starting. 'Cause I would need to wrap my head around some ideas. So, and you'll see we talked about using lights, we actually didn't end up using lights, and we'll talk about that a little bit later, but we decided not to, so yeah. Any questions? Do we have any questions about that video? Scouting? I think you kind of answered it, but the question that I had come in from True Photos, do you scout a location and mentally prepare a list of poses and compositions to shoot, or do you let things flow freely? Keeping choices open might let more creativity juices flow, but it's much more stressful having to adapt and think on the go. And so you showed us that you take the iPhone photos, but any other tips on that front? Yeah, that's a really good question. I will, for example, even in the studio setup, so I had gone through potential ideas as a starting point, and I will do that on location. I will go through the specific spots, I'll say, maybe start in living room. And go through maybe not specific poses, where I would say, John's holding puppy with right arm, you know, that kind of thing, but at least to give me a direction. So if I do find myself flustered or something goes wrong, or maybe I'm not having any ideas at the moment, I can refer back to that list, and that will be really helpful with me on location. I'll just tuck that in my camera bag, and as I'm switching lenses or something, maybe just review my notes, and it can be really helpful to have that on location.

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