Pink Feathers

What’s Really Happening With Animal Photography? Part 1

There is little doubt that animal photography is one of the most celebrated forms of photography found in the world today. The sheer number of photographs of pets and other animals is astounding. Most people don’t think too much of taking a picture of their pet, but for the photographic artist however, taking pictures of the animals leads to some unique challenges.

The biggest challenge the artist faces is giving their personal vision to their work. The basic problem is the science involved with taking a picture means that I as the photographer must use the light that is available to me. While a painter or sketch artist can change the color and lines of their subject to suit their whim, a photographer must change his equipment to suit the conditions.

Pink Feathers
I had to set my camera settings correctly to get just the right amount of light for these feathers.

While I can change the amount of the type and angle and intensity of light using a studio and various filters and equipment, the result is still a picture that can only accurately represents the lighting conditions that existed at that moment you release the shutter. That is the unavoidable science behind every picture.

So, let’s take a moment to deal with the inherent challenges of the aesthetic aspect.   Why is this so much more of a challenge in particular to the natural photographer? Well, often times our subjects are living animals. These animals tend to have a will and conscience of their own and we often cannot control their actions.

For instance, if I take a picture of a dog in my studio looking at me, it is because the dog show an interest in me. I’m human and the dog wants to play or petted or given a treat.  However, as cat owners would generally agree, if I were to take a picture of a cat, the cat might look at me, or not at all.  Because,  while the dog wants your attention, the cat could care less.  After all, there is a reason the famous behaviorist Pavlov chose to use dogs and not cats.  It’s up to the individual animal and their temperament.

Socksy the Chiuahua
By looking to the side, the dog is showing action. She sees something we can’t.

So, you might think that taking a picture of that same dog is easy. Or, at least easier than the cat.  In a controlled environment like a studio with a friendly dog and maybe a handler I would agree. But, let’s spice it up a little. To get an artistic vision of your dog, we have to create something unique. A different angle, a new slant on how we can look at your dog.  Do we want to show her teeth? Are we looking for action? Do we want to see how high she can jump? How regal she behaves? Just standing up, putting the camera to my face and clicking away is not going to cut it. The photograph will look bland and unexciting and that is not what we want. We want art.

Ok, so now we’ve made the dog portrait a little more challenging by wanting to add an artistic side to it. Not impossible, mind you but a little more challenging. In the second part of this entry, I’ll explore the hidden challenges that seem to make it only get harder.

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