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Pre-Shoot Planning

Preparing for a pet photo shoot is a combination of planning what you want to capture and being flexible enough to change your plans on the fly. Much of my planning depends on whether I am photographing my pets or photographing other people’s pets. When I decide to get some new photos of my pets, I don’t have to worry about making sure I have all the right equipment or a spare battery, because I’m home and can just go grab the accessories I need. But if I’m photographing someone else’s pets or taking mine to a different location, I plan out what I’m going to do and what I need to have with me.

The first part of the preparation when I’m photographing someone else’s pet is to talk to the pet owner and see what they want from the photos.

Are they looking for an action shot of the dog or horse, or do they want a portrait of their pet sitting in their favorite spot? The more information you have before the shoot, the better.

I then make sure that I have freshly charged batteries for my cameras. This means that the battery in the camera is fully charged, and I have a spare battery in my camera bag that is also fully charged. Chances are I will never need the extra battery in the camera bag, but why gamble?

When I ready my camera, I make sure that in addition to a freshly charged battery, the camera has a formatted memory card. I always start any shoot with an empty memory

Figure 4.12

Figure 4.12 harley is a happy macaw as she sits comfortably on her owner’s arm. But when she gets upset, she pushes up against him.

Nikon D4 • ISO 400 • 1/1250 sec. • f/2.8 • 70–200mm lens

card so I have plenty of storage space to capture images. I also carry extra memory cards with me because you never know how many photos you will take during any given shoot.

It’s important to have a system when it comes to managing your memory cards. After a shoot, I download the images from the memory cards to the computer and to a backup drive so the images are stored in two places. Then I format the cards in the camera they are used in. For example, I format the XQD cards in the Nikon D4 and the SD cards in the Nikon D3200. The CompactFlash cards are formatted in either the Nikon D4 or the Nikon D700. Then I place the cards face forward in the card wallet. The used cards are placed with the back of the card facing forward so when I open the card wallet, I can tell immediately which cards are ready to go and which are already used. This technique also helps when I’m sitting at the computer and downloading the images; I instantly know which cards have images on them and which are empty.

With the batteries and memory cards prepared, I pack the lenses and cameras I plan on using. My favorite lens to use is the 70–200mm f/2.8 because it allows me to fill the frame with the pet but still stay a respectful distance away. The other lens that I use often is the 24–70mm f/2.8, which gives me a wider view of the scene. Next, I add a small towel to the bag and other camera cleaning supplies that might come in handy if the camera or lens gets drool, dust, or grime on it during the shoot.

Finally, I pack the specialty items that I need or might need for this specific shoot. If I’m working indoors on a more portrait-type shoot, I add some flashes, radio triggers, and a reflector. For an outdoor shoot, I’ll add the reflector and diffuser. For shoots where I’ll need to get close to a small subject, like a lizard or a snake, I add a macro lens. Which equipment you decide to take with you is just a matter of building the gear for the type of shoot you are planning.

For example, when I went on location to photograph some dogs going through a training session, I knew I wouldn’t need a flash or any gear that might distract the dogs. All I took was a camera body, the 70–200mm lens, the 24-70mm lens, batteries, and memory cards. When photographing my friend’s cats, I packed up everything because I didn’t know if the cats would be more comfortable inside where I might need a flash or outside where I might need the diffuser.

But always keep in mind that pets have a mind of their own, and many times the best ideas or plans will be wrecked in seconds when you realize that the pet has a very different idea of how to pose. You need to roll with the changes, keep your calm, and work with what you have; don’t try to force any animal to do something they don’t want to do.

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