Walking on the Wild Side: How to Create Amazing Advertising Images with Animals

They help us beat the blues, lower our risk for heart disease and push us to exercise. Employees who bring them to work are happier and show increased loyalty to their employers. With the holidays upon us, we want to take a minute to celebrate pets and the joy they bring us.
That said, have you ever considered the challenges of photographing pets for advertising? Those cute little faces in the pet food ads? Well, it takes some serious know-how to make the perfect pet shot happen. Following their recent photo shoots with clients Amazon and Pottery Barn featuring some four-legged friends, prop stylist Allegra Hsiao, commercial photographer George Barberis and art director Quinnten “Q” Caylor shared a bit of their expertise. Sally Bjornsen, photographer’s representative, also weighed in with some thoughts to help ensure a smooth photo shoot with animals.

Is there a special skill set that you need to work well with animals?
Allegra:  When you’re photographing pets, it’s important to know that what you want them to do and what they can do. These ideas might be different. Stay flexible because the best shots come from the animal being able to interact in a very genuine way. We use props and treats and rely heavily on the owner or handler to influence the dog. For our most recent project with Amazon, we worked with employees’ dogs not professional talent. To set up compositionally, we used a stuffed panda that was about the size of a corgi. Once we set the scene, all our comments went through the photographer, George. At the end of the day, and especially with animals, the talent needs to hear from only one voice.
Q: Patience and planning. Much like directing kids – it’s important to cast animals that take direction well, make sure they've got a good handler, be patient while you wait for them to get to the thing you want from them and be open to loving the unexpected things they'll do on set. And, it’s always a good idea to have a backup.
Do you find yourself working more with pets these days?  Do you prefer working with professional pet models or amateurs?
George:  When shooting for Amazon, we do shoot a lot of pet-related products. Photographing pets is all about capturing a moment of curiosity or play. That means being ready to shoot right when the magic happens! It's great to have a dog who has experience on set, but our dogs were all "unprofessional" from the Amazon campus and they still managed to do a great job! 

What do animals add to images that humans can't?
Q:  I have yet to shoot a model that can consistently wag their tail at the sight of a squeaky toy.
George:  There's something so innocent and uncontrived about shooting pets. The atmosphere on set tends to be jovial with lots of happy faces.

What can go wrong on set with animals? How do you prepare?
Sally:  Talent and trainer are everything in a photo shoot.  Most trainers bring a backup pet in case the animal is not feeling up to his best on shoot day.  Beforehand, make sure the trainer is familiar with commercial shoots and knows what’s expected.  Be sure to limit your time with the pet so they don’t get agitated and worn out. Make the shoot a non-intimidating and friendly environment without too much chaos. Treats and toys are a must, but let the trainer or owner manage those details because he or she knows the pet the best.

Be sure to visit www.sallyreps.com to take a look at the brillant work coming from Q, Allie and George!


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