While I love photos of animals, I believe that animal photography is one of the most difficult genres to master. You need a hell lot of patience and focus when working with them, even when they are trained and obedient.
Jay P. Morgan has some awesome animal shots, and he shares some tips that will help all aspiring animal photographers. You’ll find his tips and tricks useful for making the photo shoot more efficient, and getting the shots exactly as you want them.
1. Design your shot around the animal
Leave a place for the trainer to be, and leave the space clear between the trainer and the animal so they can see each other.
2. The look of the animal
Where do you want the animal to look? If you want them to look at the camera, have the trainer or the owner as close to the camera as possible. If you want them to look at the object, have the owner/trainer stand in line with that object on set.
3. Talk to the trainer
A trainer or the owner knows the animal, and they can help you a lot. Talk to them; get to know them and the animal through the conversation. This will help you know what to expect and what you can achieve in photos.
4. Keep the shot as simple as possible
If you’re shooting the video, don’t have the cameras and lights moving all around. Try to keep it simple so you can concentrate on the animals, their look, and their performance. Also, a lot of fuss can make the animal nervous and non-cooperative, so – keep it simple.
5. Use a treat
Animals love treats, and having them around can be really handy. You can use them to reward the animal or lure it to do something you need for the shot (like making a hippo open its mouth).
6. Laser focus!
Always look at the animal and be aware of it. Even with the trained wild animals that wouldn’t attack, you should still stay focused. Don’t turn your back on them, because you will appear vulnerable. Or like in Jay’s case when he photographed a tiger – they might spray you, and it’s far from being pleasant.
7. Be patient
In short – work on the animal’s time frame. They may need rest, food, water, or a break for… other physiological needs. Respect that and be patient with them.
8. Be ready
One of the things I personally find the most difficult with photographing animals is that you can miss the perfect moment in a split second. You should stay focused on them at all times and be ready for the “right moment.” So, pay the closest possible attention, shoot in Burst Mode when photographing and when taking a video – keep the camera rolling.
9. Get rid of the distractions
Animals want to protect themselves, so they are very alert and focused on even the tiniest distractions. Because of this, try keeping the set as quiet and distraction-free as possible. Prevent the people from walking around and talking while you’re shooting, and you’ll see that the animal will get more focused on you and become more cooperative and relaxed.
There’s one thing I’d like to add because I have a blind dog and I take photos of her (when she lets me :) ). If you happen to photograph a blind animal, the owner standing where you want the animal to look won’t help a lot. I mean, the animal can’t see him. So, have the trainer/owner reassure the animal if it’s timid, and get their attention with their voice. Also, it’s essential to keep the set distraction-free, because the blind animals react more to the unknown sounds.
[Working with Animals On Set | The Slanted Lens]