What is the secret to an amazing pet photo? Julianna Koh-Blackwell shares her tips and favourite photos on Exposure Pro.
Artex (aspiring model)
Name: Julianna Koh-Blackwell
(Credit: Julianna Koh-Blackwell)
Biography: for many years, Julianna posted pictures on Flickr and, later, Instagram, amassing a large following of other photographers using only Pentax and Sony point-and-shoot cameras. It became obvious that it was about time she got a digital SLR and really showed the world what she could do.
Two years later, Julianna is now the proprietor of twoguineapigs photography. She uses her unique ability to connect with a subject to bring a freshness and sophistication — not to mention love — to pet pictures for her clients.
She is an emerging member of the Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP), which has recognised her animal portraits at competition level.
Two Silver Awards for Pet Portraits at AIPP NSW Epson Professional Photography Award (2012), finalist for Kings Cross Photography Prize (2011), exhibited at the Art and the Heart Group Exhibition, Dear Patti Smith Gallery (2012).
When did you realise that pet photography was a viable business?
I was never really sure whether this would be a viable business, and it was really quite hard getting things going. When people think of commissioning a photographer, they tend to think weddings or maybe a family shoot. They don't often think about their pooch! A lot of the business has been about introducing the concept to the public. It's hard work, even if it comes naturally to you — and there is always the chance you'll get nipped!
What are some of the specific things you need to bear in mind when photographing pets and animals, rather than human subjects?
Communication is a lot harder, since most pets only follow a few commands, and, in the case of cats, usually none at all! You can't expect too much from them, and you certainly can't force them to do things. You need to connect with them and, above all, you need to respect them.
Are there any tricks you use for uncooperative pets?
Begging is one way — usually on the ground with tears in my eyes! Food is also a great way to most dogs' hearts. As for cats, avoid the full moon; that's about as much control as you get. Usually, pet owners can be a big help in these situations.
You use lighting very beautifully in your work, so do you have a specific lighting set-up, or is it all natural?
I mostly work with available light unless absolutely necessary or I'm looking for a particular effect.
Have you had any particularly memorable experiences with pets running wild on set?
Always. One dog kept running towards me; I was hunkered down getting great shots, but this guy just didn't stop, and the next second, it was the ultimate body-slam experience. I survived — and we are still friends.
For anyone wanting to get into pet portraiture, do you have any tips or suggestions to share?
Prepare to invest in time, effort and equipment. A lot of people in this Facebook era assume pet pictures should be inexpensive or just free, but it takes an equal amount of time and work — if not more — to create pet portraits as it does to create equivalent portraits of people. Don't undersell your hard work. And avoid getting yourself a pet just to practice on. Animals are not objects.