Cats, Dogs, Mice, Elephants And Other Animals
For those of you not familiar with my “Animal Antics” series of silly pet pictures, it is one of my sub-specialties. I create these pictures of cats, dogs, mice, elephants, cows and other animals by combining photography with digital compositing and manipulation. I use Photoshop to combine numerous photos and create anthropomorphic scenes and situations of our animal friends. Part of the idea is to bring a bit more humor and fun into the world by treating others to the unexpected delights of LOL pet pics (I get e-mails weekly from appreciative people…something that I have never had happen with my other work), and part of the series is to enlarge my photography market to effectively include the public…all those millions of people that search for funny pictures, funny pet pictures, funny cat pictures and so on, and that buy calendars, greeting cards, coffee mugs, mouse pads and…well, you get the idea!
Limit The Rights You Grant
The images are also available for licensing for advertising, editorial, corporate and promotional uses. For those of you moving into this arena, it is good to keep in mind that when a company wants to license an image, be sure and limit them to only the rights that they need, and in which they are competent. I have had enough experience now to understand that a company that does a great job at moving greeting cards might be terrible at distributing calendars or posters. Do your homework and makes sure you are not handicapping yourself by giving away rights to under-performing publishers/distributors.
I also think it is very important to get advances. In thirty years of professional photography I have only been stiffed about three times…and the most recent was by a calendar company that talked me into supplying images without an advance. They sold the calendars, then, through a series of financial maneuverings, have made it pretty much impossible for me to get a penny. And this was a company I trusted! If a company doesn’t have enough faith in their venture to pay an advance, then you are better off passing on the deal.
Have A Collection And Create Mock Ups
If you are going to be successful in this arena you will need a collection. Have at least a dozen, preferably two-dozen completed images, to show to prospective publishers. If they are greeting cards, get them mocked-up complete with captions. If you have a book idea, get it mocked up too. I once showed a book idea to a publisher by showing them a couple of dozen of the greeting cards and explaining the story line. They commented that I didn’t have a book, just a pile of greeting cards. When I had a designer put those same images into book form, that editor gave me a contract and published three books.
Cats And Razor Scooters
In the above photograph of three cats zooming down a walkway on razor scooters, I first found a location that featured a meandering path alongside some rolling hills green with spring grass. Next I arranged to have an animal trainer bring several "professional" cats to my photography studio. I worked from a layout that is a drawing, of what the final image should look like. I might add here that the image was originally created for a greeting card company and their art director drew up the layout. Using the layout, I made sure I photographed each part of each cat in the position and lighting that I would need to put the final photograph together. When we do our shoots for these images, we make sure we also have on hand any props and/or wardrobe apparel that we might need. In this case that was only the scooter. After photographing the cats, the scooters, and the location, I use Photoshop to put all the images together into one final photograph.
Animal Trainers And Professional Talent
When photographing animals for specific pre-visualized images it is a good idea to have an animal trainer that is familiar with the animal talent. I am always impressed with how a good animal trainer can get the most out of animals without stressing them. A stressed pet is not a good model! As it is it takes a tremendous amount of patience to work with animals, particularly when you need to get all the very specific angles and parts that I need to get in order to complete one of these photos. A good trainer, a professional animal (one who is used to these environments and is chosen for their tolerance of such things) and lots of time can usually be counted on to produce the results we need. But not always...so we tend to arrange, whenever possible, to have back-up animals on hand. An important point about a good animal trainer (we use Bow Wow Productions) is that they usually have back-up animals. That is, they can bring two or three cats that have a very similar appearance, so if one cat just doesn't feel like working on a given day, they have one or more that can be substituted.
Ganging Up Your Animal Shoots
This all doesn't come cheaply. We make our dollars go further by ganging up our animal shoots. We try and shoot enough animals at once to provide for a dozen or more images. Usually this means about three consecutive days of photographing animals, two days for shooting props and wardrobe, and a day or so for shooting locations...and that doesn't even account for location scouting, finding props and wardrobe, and casting for the right animal talent. On top of that, it takes me at least a day of digital imaging for each of our photos.
Cows Are Harder Than Elephants
We now have over 200 hundred of these silly animal pictures in our collection...and we are still adding more. Recently we have added a number of elephant and cow photos. As you can imagine, cows and elephants are much more difficult to photograph than cats and dogs. Cows are harder than elephants. You can have an elephant sit, stand; lift its feet, etc. Cows, well, they just stand there and look at you like you are an idiot!
Mice Are Tough…And They Bite!
Mice are also difficult to photograph. They are so small that you have to move in tightly to get a good image to work with. If you need to have them holding something, then it is necessary to get a tight shot of their little hands…and as cute as those little hands are, they are very difficult to get in focus and in the correct position. The mice don’t exactly pay attention to our requests…and they have this habit of moving quickly and unexpectedly. Trainers don’t like to work with them either…they have nasty little bites!
Give It Time
But whether you are shooting mice or elephants, remember to shoot for a collection, to grant only the rights that a client needs and/or is good at distributing, create high-quality mock-ups, get an advance, and don’t assume that other people are going to do their jobs correctly. Oh yeah, and give it time. It was three years before my greeting card efforts finally began to pay off.