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Tutorial: Photoshoots with Animals

Quite often I hear from cosplayers that they’d love to shoot with animals, be it a dog, a cat or a horse or, as the case maybe, chickens. Don’t do photoshoots with chickens….

While in Canada I had the surprising luck to do photoshoots with a surprising variety of animals. Whether it was dogs and cats getting in the way of our photos:

Or actually trying to shoot with animals for proper organised photos:

It’s been a definite education on how flexible you have to be with your photos. Forget the lighting stands and perfect posing. No reflectors for these shoots. It’s just you, your camera and how quick you and the cosplayer are at being able to pose properly and quickly before the animal decides to do what it wants to do.

It’s not easy working with animals. You can’t get them to do exactly what you want them to do and just have to go with how they feel like. Both the cosplayer and the photographer have to make compromises because you can’t bring the animals to you most of the time. This might involve stamping around in soggy poo and straw covered pens, watching your favourite shoes slowly soak up the poo liquid and turn from a turquoise to a brown.

Maybe you have to hike across an hour of hills just to get to the location you want to get a beautiful rolling landscape. You can’t load up the horse or the cosplayers so you either need to carry everything yourself or you need help.

So if you’re looking to do a photoshoot with animals, here are a few tips and tricks that I have picked up over the last few years. I hope they help.

Be fast!

You have GOT to be fast with animals. You can’t sit there and adjust lights and get facial expressions right. If you make an animal wait too long then they’re going to get impatient or run away (I’m looking at you cats). Larger animals are also stronger and will usually stay in place for a limited period of time but even then you only have a few moments. It’s usually best to have their owners and trainers at hand who can give orders and know the animal’s temperaments.

You have to be quick on your feet and be willing to move yourself instead of getting the cosplayers to move. Horses are the best example of this. Horses will do what horses want to do. You can control them to an extent but if they really don’t want to do something you’re going to have trouble convincing them.

Don’t use flash or reflectors

This goes without saying. Flashes and reflectors can startle the animals. A constant flat light will also work if you need artificial lighting but nothing that will cause a sudden bright light. With dogs and cats the worst that is going to happen is they might try and run away but with big animals like horses if they buck or kick or try and bite you, your cosplayer is GOING to get hurt.

Actually thinking about it, the worst that will happen is you’ll blind someone’s pet and you might have to pay vet bills to help get that resolved. Just don’t use flashing lights!

Be prepared

As I mentioned above, you will not be bringing the animals to you if it’s larger than a cat or a dog. You will be going to them. On top of that, if you’re shooting with chickens or goats or some other kind of animal that isn’t yours, their owners are unlikely to want to let you take them away from their homes because of insurance reasons.

Make sure you take food and water. Wear sensible shoes because if you’re going out with horses its probably going to be into their fields or unstable ground. You should always make sure you also have an assistant with you. Especially around horses and goats. When I did a shoot with goats around they tried to eat EVERYTHING that dangled off me and my bag.

Be Patient

You aren’t going to get the exact shots you envisioned because animals just don’t like doing what you want them to do. You have to be willing to adapt. If you can’t get the animals to do the exact shot you want to do then you have to adapt your vision to what the animals are doing.

This is especially important with animals like horses. Horses can sense it if the cosplayer is scared so be willing to spend some time for the cosplayer and the horse to become familiar with each other. Sometimes the cosplayers are scared of the animals. Let them lead the animal for a while. Don’t force the cosplayer to do something they aren’t comfortable with. Sometimes you just need to give up on a shot because the animal just doesn’t want to do it or maybe the cosplayer is too scared but that’s ok. I’d rather my friends and their pets be safe and happy than causing problems by forcing them to do stuff they don’t want to do.

I hope this helps with any ideas you might have with shooting with animals. It’s really fun and the images can be rewarding if you get them right but like all things you have to be ready to adapt and be flexible and doing shoots with animals can truly be some of the most fun and best experiences you have with your cosplayer friends.

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