The Nature, Wildlife and Pet Photography Forum - Fine Art Landscape Photography

Capturing personality

Posted By: Julie

Capturing personality - 05/26/10 01:32 AM

A spin off on James thread, which interestingly got into a topic that is worth talking about. We all see and feel things differently and I think that is reflected in how we portray our subjects. We take what we see at that moment and put our own personal spin on it. Finding what the owners see and what they want to see of their family member

Here are a few I have done recently.

Posted By: Jim Garvie

Re: Capturing personality - 05/26/10 11:38 AM

these are all great but the mouse is amazing! And, yes, I agree that it's important to understand what the owners are looking for in their portrait. How they see their pet.

When you go to the homes of the animals and can watch the interaction within the family, I think that helps a lot. You don't always get to see that when they come into the studio. But, I agree that our job is to capture the essential personality of the animal we are photographing. Bringing people into the portrait helps, I think. The image of the Dobe and the little girl is outstanding in that regard. This Xmas portrait really brought out the personality of the dogs and their owners.

As did this one of the Boston Terrier and his owners.

BTW, I love your use of props. Great stuff.

Posted By: James Morrissey

Re: Capturing personality - 05/27/10 06:54 PM

Hey Guys,

First things first - great photos...from both Julie and Jim. I think that this has the potential to be a great thread. When we talk about 'capturing personality,' I think that we need to be careful. Capturing personality is just that - it is photographing what is unique to a subject and bringing it out.

I can say that when I look at these photographs that they are animated, but unless I actually KNOW the subject, I have no idea what the personality is. It may be that the personality of the mouse coming out the heart shaped box was captured...but is it really? Do we really know the unique subject enough to determine that the personality was brought out?

Posted By: Julie

Re: Capturing personality - 05/27/10 07:57 PM

James, do the photos make you feel something toward the animal? That is the goal. If they don't make you imagine the animal doing something, then they don't have personality. Its a photo of a dog, or a photo of a cat.

That's what moves it into a new level. All photos of ANY subject should make you feel *something* toward what is pictured. If it doesn't, it is just a photo.
Posted By: Holly

Re: Capturing personality - 05/27/10 08:01 PM

I personally find that it's not so much that we are necessarily capturing the "personality" of the pet, but rather the mannerisms and facial expressions that are easily attributable to the pet and recognizable to the pet parent. I love it when someone says something to the affect of "My dog makes that funny expression with her ears perked up whenever we're about to go on a walk - I love that you got a photo of that!"

I always strive to get as many natural expressions and actions/postures shots as possible. I personally will not know which exact expression/mannerism will bring out that gut reaction from the client, but hopefully with enough variety, I'll hit the mark.
Posted By: Jim Garvie

Re: Capturing personality - 05/27/10 10:40 PM

I come at portraits from the position of shooting show formals where you don't really get to see any personality of either the dogs or the handlers. They are soooo boooooring . But, that's the genre and that's what you have to shoot for.

With portraits, we really work to get some reaction from our subjects -- whether pets or people actually. So, using props, food, squeekys, toys, etc. anything that will get a reaction from the subject is fair game. Is it "cheating" to coax expression out of the animals? I don't think so. Their reactions are true to themselves. For example, a dog with very little play personality, won't cock it's head for a squeeky. A cat with the lights on, will give you the type of pose you see in so many of Preston's images.

Julie points out that the image should produce some type of emotional reaction. The mouse made me literally go "wow"; your shots of Yoshi, the stray kitten, made me say "great kitten". Those images conveyed something that made me react to them. I believe that's the objective.

Now, I'll admit that you can't always get what you want (was that a Rolling Stones song?). Some animals won't react in a particular situation; some will only react to their owners; some won't react at all. But, I think beyond getting it right technically, that's the challenge in pet photography. Getting them to show us themselves. Isn't that the same as with people portraits? Why should animals be any different?

Posted By: Jim Poor

Re: Capturing personality - 05/28/10 02:41 PM

I think what James is talking about is; Capturing personality is one thing, but capturing the correct personality is another all together.

We might like to see a happy, bubbly mastiff, but what if there is nothing happy or bubbly about that dog in reality?

I capture the "wrong" personality quite often when doing rescue photos. I make the shrinking violet look outgoing and happy, I make the scared to death puppy look thrilled to be in front of the camera. My goal in this case, is to get folks to meet the dogs, then they can decide if the personality is a fit for them.

When doing portraits, I don't think it would serve us very well to capture a "personality" in the image that has nothing to do with a dog.

On the head cocking, I haven't met a dog yet that I couldn't get that out of if I tried hard enough, but then what's the point if that isn't a "normal" behavior?
Posted By: Jim Garvie

Re: Capturing personality - 05/28/10 04:57 PM

capturing the "correct" personality assumes that you know what it is. Often, a one or two-hour photo session isn't enough time to get to know an animal so well that you can tell a "false" personality from the "correct" one. So I pretty much assume that what the animal shows me is what he/she is. And, when it comes to dogs at least, I have magic hands so I get good interaction from them. I've also shot my fair share of rescues and, generally speaking, if I can get them to show some personality -- which is the objective since we're trying to get them adopted -- it is in fact a true representation of what the dog is really like.

While I do agree that it's easier to find the right expression when you really know the animals well, I don't think that getting animals to be animated in a portrait session forces them to show an "incorrect" personality. Under those circumstances, that's how they behaved. There's nothing incorrect about that. However, I think you are more likely to capture the true essence of a particular animal if you reduce the stress of the situation by shooting them in their home environment, with available light, with things and people they love, etc. Unfortunately, we can't always do that. So what we get in our studios with strobes flashing away is what they are in that environment at that moment in time. Which is also part of their personalities.

Posted By: Julie

Re: Capturing personality - 05/28/10 06:46 PM

This is where the thinking stops and the feeling start. You don't THINK about it, you feel it. Its not a tangible and if you just let things sorta happen, you WILL get the essence of a dog or a person. Light them well, interact with them and where they are will not make a difference.

Its a comment I get a lot, that I capture the essence of the subject. I am sure I miss sometimes. I would say that is reflected in my sales how well I did
Posted By: Julie

Re: Capturing personality - 05/28/10 09:16 PM

OK, I think this album will illustrate what I mean by capturing personality or emotion. I am linking it because of the comments. I had less than 1 minute with each person. It was chaotic, it was crazy and it was important.

The photos make ME cry. So, they do what they are supposed to. They tell a story and make you feel.
Posted By: Jim Garvie

Re: Capturing personality - 05/28/10 10:54 PM

while I agree that those images generate a lot of emotion, they are not what I would term "traditional portraits". Situational portraits -- especially those of dogs doing Service Work or Therapy Work -- make you understand what those dogs are all about and bring out the emotions in the people in the images and the people viewing them.

But, put those same dogs in the studio, without people with whom to inter-act, and there's a good chance you won't see what makes those dogs so special. Which is why I think it's important to be able to get those animals to inter-act with us, the photographers. To show us their personalities. To look at us behind the camera and behave the same way they do with the elderly in convalescent homes or children in the Cancer Ward of Florida Hospital. To show us their love (or their joy, their goofiness, their sweetness) so we can capture it.

The greatest moment I ever had in Therapy Work came when I couldn't photograph it -- I was the handler. Rowdy and his daughter, Cassidy (12-weeks of age), had just finished our Doggie Education program with 5th graders at a local school. As we were getting ready to leave, a woman came up to us and asked if we could spend a few moments with a group of children that had just arrived by bus. They were severely handicapped children: autistic, MS, MD. Most had never lived a "normal" life. Some had never reacted to anything outside of their world of a wheelchair or a bed.

The children were grouped around outside and we brought over Rowdy and Cassidy. Rowdy sensed who needed him most and put his head in the lap of a little girl who was blind. She was told that it was OK to touch him and she explored his entire head -- including his mouth -- with wonder and joy. Rowdy just licked her hand gently and she laughed.

Cassidy, who was a pretty wild puppy, sat calmly in my arms. One of the women who was supervising the visit asked if a young girl in another wheelchair could touch Cassidy. I said "OK" and tentatively placed her in the lap of the girl. She was autistic. She showed no reaction to Cassidy being there. Then, slowly, Cassidy placed her paws on the girl's shoulders and gave her the sweetest puppy lick on the cheek I've ever seen. The girl actually reacted to that "kiss" and placed her hands on Cassidy and rubbed her fur. I was paying full attention to the situation to make sure Cassidy didn't do anything to hurt the girl but when I looked up, the supervisor was crying. After a few minutes, we let Cassidy kiss her goodbye and moved on to other children. I asked the woman why that moment had been so special. She said "that girl has never reacted to any stimulation. That is the first time she has ever acknowledged another being outside of herself." I cried too.

Posted By: Julie

Re: Capturing personality - 05/29/10 12:48 AM

I have to disagree Jim, I know I can pull personality out of shelter dogs with no human interaction, or just a regular dog in the studio. I do it all the time. When photographing a dog, whether shelter or pet or show, you have to get show emotion/personality. It has to tell some sort of story

Done alone in the studio, with no one to even hold the dog

done at the shelter, 83 animals in 2 hours. Lots of personality shown. The white dog was adopted because of this photo, the owner has told me that a couple of times.

Posted By: Tony Bynum

Re: Capturing personality - 05/29/10 12:24 PM

great shots! Love them all! You can use all the silly lights and bait, and balls and toys you want, but this is how we roll in Montana . . . ;-)!

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Posted By: Julie

Re: Capturing personality - 05/29/10 12:52 PM

Tony, you must have the patience of Job. Your magazine covers illustrate exactly what I am talking about. They evoke emotion and tell a story. The story I make up in my mind may be different from everyone elses, but, its an emotional reaction that says something to me. What it is saying is not as important.

Jim P remarked what if it is not the correct personality. Stop thinking so much and start feeling more. Its like worrying over animoto music and whether they will like your selection. THEY WILL. As long as you have a semi understanding of your clients. I can design a whole book for a client and the love them. No previews, no changes, no anything. Because I get a feel for who *they* are.

People will tell you about their pet's personality. They want to talk about them. They have made a big leap to get them ready for photos, get them there, they love their dogs and want to talk about them.

The thing is, people see what they know in photos. A tilt of the head is always cute in a pet, the show people don't like it as much. You just need to know your client and you will capture the "right" Personality

Without emotion, the photos are pictures and no more
Posted By: Jim Garvie

Re: Capturing personality - 05/29/10 01:20 PM

Oh, sure, and I suppose you're going to tell us you didn't use a squeeky for those shots . Great images that show the "personality" of the subjects. As Julie says, it doesn't matter whether it's a dog in the studio or a Grizzly in the wild, you have to capture an image that speaks to people otherwise it's not a portrait. A picture, yes. But not a portrait. Each of those images tells me about the species and about the individual animal in the image. They are portraits.

I think we sometimes get caught up in what's "correct" in an absolute sense instead of just going with the flow and getting expression, interaction and personality that represents that animal in that situation at that moment in time. I take lots of candids of dogs either at shows or in the dog park or just hanging around. Some are decent images but most are NOT portraits. In my portraits, I try to look into the eyes of the subject and see what's in their soul. Kinda like this shot of Rowdy and his girlfriend Melanie.

There is no question that Rowdy loved that young woman.

Or these taken at Disney's Animal Kingdom and used to create a birthday card.

Posted By: Tony Bynum

Re: Capturing personality - 05/29/10 03:25 PM

There's one point missing here, that is, when we shoot, no matter what the person knows or does not know about the subject it is up to the photographer to show something unique. I have worked with people and horses who have for years been "best-friends." I get joy when they see one of my images and learn something new about their horse or themselves that they did not know . . . If I can do that, i know I HAVE DONE MY JOB. To me the ONLY way to accomplish that is to relax and do your thing never mind the pressure or what's going on around you, you have to bring yourself to the image. . . Obviously this applies less if youre shooting documentary or with strict standards or rules, but if given the license to do your thing, JUST DO IT!

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Posted By: Julie

Re: Capturing personality - 05/29/10 11:35 PM

That is it exactly Tony. Anyone can take a well exposed focused photo. The difference comes when you get something unique and moving. If you can make clients cry, you have done your job
Posted By: James Morrissey

Re: Capturing personality - 06/01/10 03:56 PM

100%, Julie. the best arbitrator of if you captured the personality of the pet is the person who knows the beast best. This has been a great thread, thanks for starting it..

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