As a full time commercial animal photographer, this is something that I think about a lot, but I realized that I never share it with anyone. Well, that changes now!
When I photograph animals, it is my NUMBER ONE priority to not just ensure their safety, but also ensure their happiness and comfort. I photograph animals for a living, not because I love photography so much, but because I love animals so much. I just happened to find a way to work with them that’s incredibly rewarding both personally and professionally. (And that I truly believe they also enjoy).
I have never, and would never, force an animal to do something it isn’t comfortable with- and that means- by it’s own choice. I have many (positive) ways of helping them make the kinds of choices I want them to make, but it is always their choice. (One of the few gifts I have is being able to coerce an animal to happily do exactly what I want while thinking it was their idea.) I don’t care if it’s a $100,000 shoot, or a $1,000 shoot, I will not force/harm/hurt/traumatize an animal for the sake of ‘humans making money’. PERIOD. We do. not. have. that. right.
Many years ago I had the worst experience of my 14-year career when I hired an animal agency in Los Angeles to provide me with 40+ dogs and cats for one shoot. (Not the agency that was in the news about the terrible movie scene with the German Shepherd- a different one). Not only were the owner and trainers extremely difficult to work with, completely resistant to any of my input, and delivered a horrible product (overweight and very old animals, totally untrained animals, etc), but the way their trainers interacted with the animals on set made my blood boil.
I’m still incensed by the male trainer yelling “sit!” and forcefully pushing the butt down of a dog that was clearly terrified of him. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing through my lens, because it goes so completely against everything I stand for and believe in.
And my heart still breaks for the animals that were forced to wait in kennels in vans in 95+ degree heat while the other animals were loaded. That will NEVER, *EVER* happen on any of my shoots again. (Just to be clear, there were no injuries or [god forbid] deaths that occurred as a result of that shoot.)
If I ever have your dog or cat (or any other animal), work for me on one of my shoots, I want you to know that I deeply care about them. I care about their safety. I care about their health. I care about their well-being. I even care about their happiness, because if they aren’t having a good time on my sets, it shows in my photos. They have a good time, I have a good time, my crew have a good time, the photos turn out great, my client and I are happy, and everybody wins. It’s really not that hard.
I now work with agencies and trainers that I believe in and trust. It’s critical for me to work with trainers that I really mesh well with, who view me as a collaborator, not as someone who is going to ‘tell them how to do their job’.
I’m always open to meeting more positive trainers, so if you happen to know any great dog trainers in San Diego or Los Angeles who utilize POSITIVE training methods, have a high degree of competency, and are truly open to hearing me and understanding my methods, please send them my way.
While I can’t speak for any other commercial animal photographers, I can guarantee that my sets are a healthy, happy, positive place for all animals.