Photographing Pets

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Tame animals or birds are no different than human beings - trapped in ‘wrong bodies’. I have been an animal and a bird lover right from t...

Tame animals or birds are no different than human beings - trapped in ‘wrong bodies’. I have been an animal and a bird lover right from the beginning and have handled a lot of them. Once they get entry in your home, in no time they become family members whom you can never neglect. They require love and attention and they have their own territories, even inside your home, and definitely in your heart. You must have read articles on how to photograph models and model portfolios. So why not think of some innovative ideas on how to photograph pets? But before getting into all this, you must have love for pets and a willingness to learn more and more about them. You have to understand the behaviour of that particular breed, and know their basic instincts.

Let me share some of my strange experiences:
The very first assignment of my career was to photograph a dog and a small girl in the same frame. The art director indicated that the dog had to be a Great Dane. This breed happens to be the second largest in size. The girl selected as the model was not familiar with the dog and had never touched it - so now it was a challenge for me. I had to shoot just one roll of transparency film (of 10 exposures, in 6x7cm size). It took an hour for me to persuade the little girl to get friendly with the dog. I have seen that Great Danes love children and are comfortable with them unlike some other ferocious-looking breeds like Rottweilers, or Mastiffs. Slowly the girl started touching the dog on the back with both her hands and seemed comfortable. This was fine for us, but she also had to smile while doing this. When I was sure that the composition and lighting were good enough, I started photographing them. But the dog was not staying still and a few of my shots went wrong. Then suddenly the dog slept on the floor and became quiet. The girl too bent down and I got two good shots, but the art director yelled saying that the shots I had taken were horizontal and the client needed vertical shots! Hence there was no choice but to make the dog stand to get a vertical composition. But the dog had a mind of his own and wouldn’t budge. Fortunately for us, a crow on the terrace attached to their flat attracted the dog’s attention and it got excited and got up. So now we knew what was exciting him. I requested my assistant to hide behind a window and make such funny noises to excite the dog. The girl started enjoying this exercise and believe me, it worked wonders and I got a very good shot.

In another challenging assignment, this time using 35mm film, a campaign had to be created for a drug used in fighting rabies. The art director informed me that special permission was taken and rabies infected dogs had to be photographed in a government veterinary hospital. The veterinary doctor first briefed me about the symptoms of rabies; I had to follow his instructions closely to get the shots. Couple of dogs were shown to me – all were rabies infected. They were strapped and an expert was handling them. However, due to the overlapping mouth flab, I was unable to capture the shots that showed the symptoms of rabies, especially with dogs like Boxers. Infected dogs generally stick out their canines and a Doberman was perfectly showing these symptoms - it was a full blown case of rabies and we all had to be careful. I positioned my lights and got some very good pictures. But the moment I announced that the shoot was done, the dog handler relaxed a bit and the dog escaped from his strap. This was scary; he was growling and showing his canines. The vet immediately told us not to move or react, even if he comes close and barks, and cautioned us not to look into his eyes at all. We all followed his instructions to the letter. The dog sniffed all of us and went peacefully back to the handler. I learned a lot that day! Such incidences help us to better understand the different pets.

This next incident is from a TV commercial. There were two pillars with different brand names mentioned on them. A dog suddenly entered the frame and circled around the pillars and then urinated on one. Obviously the advertisement was created for the brand on which the dog did not urinate. I wondered how this was taken. One day when I visited a dog show, I met a dog trainer who claimed that he had supplied the dog for that particular advertisement. I asked him to explain how he had trained the dog to perform as he did. He laughed and said that a dog does not generally urinate at the same spot; so he had collected the dog’s urine and poured it around one pillar. When the lighting was set and the camera was rolled, he let loose his dog in the ‘field’. The dog sniffed at the pillars, avoided the one where he got the smell of his urine and then peed on the other pillar; basic instinct! Once again there was a lot to learn.

I would now like to share with you how I shot a few cat pictures. The cats were breeds known as ‘Persian cats’ and ‘Rag Dolls’. Both these breeds are fury and very ‘sophisticated’ in their looks. It is true that a man who has such pets is always a man of taste. The family who had these pets considered and treated them like their own family members. The cats were very friendly and enjoyed sitting on my assistants’ laps. Considering the looks of the cats, I decided to use a cane basket and wool of pastel shades as props in the shoot. We observed that the cats were enjoying being kept in a deep basket and this made the whole thing very easy. She kept observing the things around her and we kept adding different coloured wool around the cat to get variety in the shots.

To give a little aristocratic feel to this sequence ‘b’ of the cat pictures, we added a pillow along with an old gramophone. The cat was kept on the pillow and she instinctively got attracted to the gramophone cone. After she lost her interest in that, she sat down quietly on the pillow. The pet owner, standing to the left of the gramophone, then waved a small toy. The cat got interested and made an attempt to jump and catch it.

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Photography Workshop: Photographing Pets
Photographing Pets
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Photography Workshop
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