Really, there are many. For the purpose of this blog post: Soft skills.
Working with people requires people skills. Working with dogs, requires dog skills.
Early last year I was invited by a colleague, Keith Bodziak (www.keithbodziak.com), to photograph Kristi and her dog Marli, a Bull Terrier/Great Dane mix. This was my first attempt at pet portraiture outside of photographing my family's dogs, who are older, less active, and familiar with me and where I'm photographing them--at home--and my SF SPCA documentary project, which had a distinct style and goal. Marli, affectionately called, "Marli Moo," is an adorable and high-energy dog, whom I'd never met before. Our portrait session was at the City College of San Francisco Photography Department studio, where she'd never been. It was fun and challenging to photograph her and in the process, I was reminded of a couple things:
- Establishing rapport with your subject - human or canine - is key
- When all else fails, be flexible and have a bag of tricks - or treats - up your sleeve
We had set up a pedestal for Marli Moo to sit on. When she arrived, Kristi let her off leash and she set about exploring the studio. Once we got her on the pedestal, she did not like staying on it. At all. We had to coax her to stay on long enough to get a few shots.
In a way her awkwardness on the pedestal is like crying babies on Santa Claus's lap--adorable in a funny sad way! Despite her initial discomfort, I was able to get a couple nice shots of her.
After a few tries with the pedestal, I abandoned it. I felt bad photographing Marli Moo when she was clearly not comfortable with the set up. Also, as a volunteer at the SF SPCA, one of many things I've learned is that consent is important when working with animals. And I was pushing her comfort zone on the pedestal. A comfortable model is the best model. So the pedestal disappeared and Marli Moo got a bit of a break.
I continued photographing her on the seamless back drop but getting her to stay still and facing the camera was tricky. Again, slight change of plan, I recruited Kristi to be in the photos with Marli Moo. Being with her human helped Marli Moo feel more at ease. I captured some wonderful moments with them together.
After awhile Marli Moo got antsy so we gave her another break. I still wanted to try getting some photos of just her. Luckily, I had finished volunteering at the SF SPCA that morning and had some leftover treats. I remembered them and I asked if feeding them to Marli was ok. I got the go-ahead. The treats worked. They also allowed me to establish more of a rapport with her, since suddenly, I was a source of yumminess, aka her new best friend. Being flexible with Marli Moo and making her modeling experience more fun (treats, playing with momma, establishing rapport) allowed me to capture better photos of her.
As a sweet bonus, the treats warranted some doggie kisses for me. Unfortunately, I do not have any of those behind the scenes puppy love photos. I do have these two photos, in which I tried to emulate the Utah Humane Society's hilarious candid photo booth pics of dogs catching treats.
A special thank you to Keith for the invite and photo assist, and Kristi (who is also quite the photographer!) and Marli Moo for the opportunity! Also, much gratitude for my learning and experience as a SF SPCA dog volunteer. I would not have had that bag of treats with me had I not volunteered before the photo session! Now I know for future work with dogs to always have a bag of tricks and treats with me.