When I look back on my journey through pet photography over the past few years, there are a few milestones that I felt launched me to new levels, artistically speaking, that you might be interested in hearing about.
I'm very much a creature of habit; trying new things is often difficult for me. When confronted with new information, I'm frequently overwhelmed until I take the time to break it down into bite sized pieces. Maybe this list will help you break things down for yourself.
This blog post primarily focuses on dog photography, since that’s where I started out and I’m most familiar with it.
SHOOT YOUR DOG:
My dog was (is) my guinea pig. She's always up for playing with me when I want to try something new. I know her face, her structure and her movement inside and out. I know what I want to emphasize about her in images, and I know what I want to veer away from. She’s safe. She’s easy. She’s what started this photographic venture for me.
SHOOT OTHER PEOPLES' DOGS:
The biggest "AHA!" moment I've had was when I began taking photos of other people's dogs.
It's tough! It can sometimes be challenging to communicate to owners what you're trying to set up. It's challenging working with dogs you're not intimately familiar with and don't know how to make them react the way you'd like.
But it's also immensely freeing! All of a sudden, you can focus on your job as a photographer 100% and leave the animal wrangling to someone else. New avenues suddenly open up to you. New dogs bring new things to the table, both behaviour- and appearance-wise.
If there is one piece of advice I can offer, this would be it!
NEW GEAR, NEW ANGLES:
When I got my first 50mm lens, it amazed me! When I got my first 70-200 f2.8, it just about broke my mind. Using new gear (or gear you’ve not used for a while) forces you out of your comfort zone and opens up new opportunities for you. And it doesn't have to be terribly expensive. A beginner 50mm lens can be very reasonably priced brand new, and purchasing gear second-hand from a trusted source can save you money too.
When I first started out, I would only look at my photos on my computer screen, and I trusted that what I saw was what others saw too. Unfortunately, my screen was uncalibrated. All my work was embarrassingly pink and I had no idea until someone pointed it out. It was a knock to my confidence that took a while for me to mentally recover from.
Calibrate your screens. Turn down your brightness. Use screens designed for photography. Ensure what you see on your screen matches the prints from a professional printer. This way, you can be confident that the images you're creating match what others are seeing (for the most part at least).
PLAY & EXPERIMENT:
The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.
The creation of art is a playful endeavor. Try new things! Even if you never share them with anyone. Experiment. Grow your knowledge. Challenge yourself. Take what you've learned along the way and use it to create your own voice.
Maybe it's not very good. Maybe it's great! Give it a try and find out.
REDUCE BY 50%:
If you're trying a new-to-you editing technique and you think you're done, take what you've applied and reduce it by 50%.
This is something that I heard a while ago stuck with me. Sometimes we get a little carried away with post-processing (... GUILTY!), and photographs are best edited with a light touch.
BE ACCEPTING OF CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM:
Not everything you create will be great, and there is always room for improvement. It's been very helpful for me to find people whose opinions I trust, and who are not afraid to share those opinions with me when I ask. So much of the time we're surrounded by echo chambers; it's refreshing (if not a bit humbling) when you receive critical feedback of your work. The trick is finding people who are both trustworthy and kind to do this for you.
I still have a lot of room to grow, and I still have an immense amount to learn, but maybe some of these points will help you out.
What advice might you offer to animal photographers who are just starting out?