It's easy to take a quick picture of a pet -- just aim, shoot and clean up the red-eye later on the computer. But a professional pet photographer does far more than simply capture an animal's image.
"It's so much more than 'sit' and click," says Margaret Bryant, who specializes in dog portraiture. "People come to me because I capture the personality of the dog and the relationship the dogs have with their humans."
The goal for Fort Worth photographer Jill Johnson is for her clients to be able to look at the photo that she has taken of their pet and be able to say, "Oh, I know that face."
But getting those special shots that best reflect a pet's spirit isn't instant -- or easy, say local pros. Loving animals is a given, but the difference often comes down to spending time with pets and their people before taking that first shot.
Fort Worth photographer Nancy Degenkolb, who has snapped animals ranging from dogs and cats to pigs, horses and even a kangaroo, says that time is important in helping the pet calm down, sniff around and get accustomed to her studio. She also likes to talk with the owners, either in person or over the phone, to find out key details that will affect the way she approaches the photography session. Degenkolb says it can be helpful to know the reason behind the portrait -- some clients just want a wonderful photograph of their child with a favorite pet or a charming portrait of a new puppy.
Others, however, have a beloved pet who is very old or very sick, and they want to have a keepsake before it is too late. "Several clients have gotten the bad news from the vet, and their next call is to me," she says.
Bryant schedules face-to-face design consultations with clients in her Carrollton studio to get ideas for the most appropriate artistic angle before they return for the official portrait session.
Johnson meets with her clients and their pets, too, but this meeting most often occurs on location, either in a client's home or in an outdoor space like a park or a back yard. "I don't even have my cameras on at first," says Johnson. "I get on the floor and interact with the animal. I get on their level and let them smell me, let them get to know me."
Shooting in a client's home is especially helpful when photographing cats, which has become somewhat of a specialty for Johnson, who last year took the photos for a bestselling gift book by Julie Jackson called Glamourpuss: The Enchanting World of Kitty Wigs (Chronicle Books, $14.95). "Cats are finicky," she says. "If you can come to their home in their environment, where they're on their favorite couch or windowsill, you're going to get a better picture."
During the actual shoot, treats and toys are an absolute must. Degenkolb says she often asks her clients to bring treats with them, in case the animal is too nervous to eat something unfamiliar. Johnson notes that the ability to focus while also making mouth noises is another useful skill, especially when photographing horses, which look best with perked-up ears.
Most of all, however, photographing pets requires patience, patience, patience. And, notes Bryant with a laugh, "You have to be fast on the trigger."