As a photographer and lover of all things fuzzy, I’ve always loved combining the two through pet photography. One of the first things I trained my cat to do was model. It helps if your model is food-motivated, and lucky for me, my cat Toad is practically food-obsessed.
I started holiday shoots with him and my roommate’s cats, a couple of years ago. I find it helps to sprinkle catnip and treats liberally on set. If only I could do the same for my human subjects! For humans, conversation can put folks at ease, which isn’t as simple, but still very fun.
My crow-like collection of aesthetic objects is also important, especially my love of things that sparkle! The set pieces I use for pet shoots are pretty small, so my attic isn’t full to bursting…yet. Everyone knows I collect cute trinkets, and that I love holidays, so a lot of unexpected props find their way into my hands. At first, I started with whatever was on hand. My first Valentine’s Day shoot utilized a heart-shaped chocolate box that I filled with multicolored marbles. I plopped it in a sunbeam, and seasoned the blankets with treats, and my kitties loved the set. Each year, I upped my game and crafted more elaborate sets.
You don’t need an official backdrop frame to get started. I started by pinning fabric to the foot of a bed, and using the sun lamps I use in the winter. When I’m putting a set together, I pick a theme, and choose items that fit the color scheme. A wide palette of options is great, especially if your aesthetic is colorful and bountiful, like mine. However, I’ve also learned to pare it back when subtlety is needed. Last year, I did a cranberry and gold holiday shoot, and I put in enough things that it felt festive, without losing the main set pieces. When you want to get started and feel overwhelmed, I recommend starting with what you have! There can be a lot of barriers in getting your creative process going, and finding ways to make it easy and fun will make it less intimidating.
Working with animals is similar to working with people. You need to find a rhythm. Most adults get uncomfortable staring into the camera for a long time, and kids get squirmy. It helps to engage them for little blocks of time, take short breaks, and gently direct their attention. Even though we are very different beings, you can use similar techniques for doggy friends. Plus, you can also steer them around more than people!
I’ll ask the client to seat their dog, and when I see a dog getting wiggly, we redirect their attention and come back after a moment. It’s a great idea for clients to get the dog’s zoomies out before the shoot; bouncing puppers are hard to photograph, but not impossible! If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s to pay attention to energy. If my subject seems anxious, playfulness can help to put them at ease. Everyone’s creative process looks different, but the most important component is passion. I love my job, creating memories of beloved fuzzy companions!
About the Author
Leah Cirker-Stark has always loved working with pets. When they were a kid, their neighbors’ cats used to follow them home. It’s always flattering when a shy pet decides to trust you. They’re always making fuzzy friends and have loved photography since they started helping their dad shoot weddings as a kid. They got a BFA in photography and started their business after graduation. Their style is colorful, playful, and candid. The work often involves herding cats, sometimes literally! They make it a priority to make sure pets and their parents feel comfortable, taking photos in small bursts to not stress them out. Lots of treats and pats help, too! They love their work – what could be better than giving people beautiful photos of their fuzzy companions!