Perfecting Pet Photos
PetSmart Catherine Mabe
Anyone who’s surfed around PetSmart.com has seen the work of Bailey Brown. She’s the lead photographer for the site and has been successfully pointing her camera at pets and the products they love for almost 10 years. Here’s what she had to say about her gift for photography, her love of pets and how the rest of us budding pet photographers can work toward getting the great results she achieves!
Q: Okay, Bailey, we’ve all seen your wonderful photography on PetSmart.com — how’d you learn to snap a photo like that?
A: I started my journey by taking a photography class in high school. My family always made room in our home for pets and I lived with three cats, one loving dog and a one leopard gecko lizard — they all enjoyed having their photos taken. Working closely with the family pets helped prepare me for this job. I looked into several photography programs and ended up in Flagstaff at Northern Arizona University. The great professors at N.A.U. taught us about photography and how to use it, what our strengths were and how to fine-tune them.
Q: I want to be able to take photos of my dog that look as good as yours! If I’m shooting at home, do you have any setting and lighting tips I can put to work?
A: One of the best lighting options is opening your curtains and blinds to use natural sunlight for your pet portraits. Most cameras have an “available light” setting that can be applied. Natural light will keep that nasty red-eye look out of your pet photos and is warmer than using the on-camera flash. If your camera has an “action” or “sport” setting, turn it on and try to catch your pet in motion (this works especially well if your pets won’t stay still!). Also, instead of pointing your camera downward at your pet, try crouching down to their level to capture a different perspective.
Q: What about taking photos of my dogs at the park or in my yard? Any tips for taking photos outside? What’s the best time of day to capture the moment?
A: Outdoor photos are nice because you can take wonderful photos of your pet during playtime. When you are outside, make sure you are in a safe area where your pet will not be around traffic or other distractions and dangers. You probably don’t want a photo of your dog running away from you. When taking photos outdoors the best times for light are the morning and late afternoon. Morning and evening light will give your photos a warm feeling.
Q: Okay, I’ve got my camera and lighting situation squared away. Now what? Any tips for getting my pet to actually pose?
A: First and foremost, train your dog to hold a sit-stay position and grab your pet’s attention — think squeaky toy or another noise maker. The right sound will cause your dog to put his or her ears up and look perky. When your dog is panting, it helps create the illusion that he or she is smiling for the photo — so consider running around with your pet before getting down to business. Make sure to reward your pet for listening. Another tip is to catch your pet as he or she wakes up from a nap, be quick with the shutter release and you’ll have yourself an adorable photo.
Q: Wow, I got some great photos! They’re clogging up my camera — what do I do with them now?
A: Find a retail or drug store with kiosks where you can bring your digital camera in and make prints directly from it. If you prefer to customize your pet photos, check out programs like Adobe Photoshop Elements or Paint Shop Pro to make color corrections or digital enhancements. Once you have your photos uploaded to your computer you can find programs or services to create calendars, photo albums, holiday cards, scrapbooks, and more! Some computers even come with a basic photo-editing program. Don’t be afraid to experiment! For example, I am working with iPhoto and Photoshop CS3 to create a book of photos as a tribute to our first greyhound, The Pharaoh, who passed away earlier this year. Going through all of the photos I had of him has been a comforting experience and brings a smile to my face when I remember all of the good times my family shared with him.
Q: My dog/cat/hamster ferret could totally be a pet model! How do I get him/her into that? Where do you find all of those adorable apparel and bed models for PetSmart.com?
A: It’s a fun business to be in and if you think your pet has the talent and work ethic to make it as a model, find an animal talent agency in your area and inquire about whether or not they’re looking for new models. Many of the PetSmart.com models I work with come from our very own PetSmart associates! Associates who have well-trained dogs who are comfortable in a studio environment volunteer to put their pets to work to model apparel or other products. So far the result has been very positive and the associate pets look great!
Q: Now, time for the fun stuff — tell us about the difficult pet model diva you’ve dealt with on the set (you don’t have to name names!). What about the funniest pet model?
A: Believe it or not, the majority of our models, agency and associate, have been wonderful to work with. Sometimes the models are a little shy or distracted, but they almost always warm up after a few minutes (and a few treats). The models are always doing something to make me laugh from yawning as I snap a picture, getting up mid-photo to steal a dropped snack, or being so excited that they cannot sit still. The funniest pet model I have encountered is Loverboy, a cocker spaniel/poodle mix, who is such a ham. He loves being dressed up for the camera whether he is wearing a plain T-shirt or a Halloween costume.
Q: Do you have your own pets? If so, what kind? Do they enjoy having their photo taken?
A: I do! For the past two years I have been infatuated with rescue greyhounds. This year my fiancé and I adopted two retired racers: Cleopatra “Cleo” (6.5 years) and Quixotic “Quix” (4 years). Of the two, Cleo is more photogenic, even to the point where she almost looks human in some of her portraits. She will almost always stay still and pose for me. When I take my camera out, Quix tends to lay down and hide his face with his paw, or be so excited that he nearly knocks me over. The best time to take photos of him is when he’s just waking up from a long nap on the couch.