Aury Glenz: How to Shoot Better Pet Portraits

20140416-DSC_2457

All images by Aury Glenz. Used with permission.

Photographer Aury Glenz has always been an animal lover. He is a wedding and engagement photographer, but also does pet portraits on the side. According to him, the secrets to better pet portraits has to do with the body language–and much of it can be in the ears of the animal.

We chatted with Aury about what it takes to shoot better photos of our furry friends.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.

DSC_0285

Aury: I actually got in to photography from photographing my pets. I started with some Canon superzoom when I was in early high school, and I lived on a beautiful 60 acre chunk of woods. I’d try to go out and take pictures of wildlife, and my two dogs would always accompany me. I didn’t get many pictures of wildlife, but I got a ton of my mutt and toy poodle! From there I was hooked; when you’re new, you don’t understand what makes a picture good. You get a lucky shot, and you want to learn how to take more like that. That’s how it was for me, anyways.

Phoblographer: What made you want to take pet portraits as a source of income?

20141002-AAA_8398

Aury: Pet portraits are a combination of two things I love: photography and animals. Plus, who wouldn’t want to play with puppies for hours and get paid for it? You’d have to be some sort of monster.

Phoblographer: How do animals in general differ? Like Cats and Dogs for example?

Aury: Every animal is completely different, just like people. In general though, dogs are more emotional. If they’re happy, they’re really happy. If they’re scared, you’re not going to get anything. Cats simply act like cats in that they’re in their own world, and will cooperate if they simply feel like it.

Phoblographer: Each and every animal usually has their own personality. So how do you work with each one considering that humans and pets can’t communicate in the same language?

Aury: It’s hard, especially if you’re not familiar with that type of animal. I can’t read a horse’s expressions; I can’t extrapolate them from human expressions as they’re too different, and I simply haven’t been around them enough. At that point you just need to rely on the animal’s owner and let them know you need help. Apparently it’s all in the ears.

“Plus, who wouldn’t want to play with puppies for hours and get paid for it? You’d have to be some sort of monster.”

Phoblographer: In your opinion, what makes for the absolute best pet portrait?

20141012-AAA_0987

Aury: The exact same thing as with regular portraits: a genuine expression. The Holy Grail for generic “smiley” portraits for people is to get them to laugh, right? For an instant you get something far better than their camera smile. Animals always have a genuine expression, but it’s usually not too interesting. Get them happy, excited, or even a little frightened and you’ll get a look that’s unique to that particular pet.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about the gear that you have.

Aury: I’m currently rolling with:

– D600

– Tamron 70-200mm f2.8

– Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art

– Nikon 50mm f1.8

– Tamron 11-16mm (Usable on full frame at 16mm)

– Tokina 100mm f2.8 macro

For lighting I’m using Yongnuo YN-560-IIIs and their 560TX wireless unit. I love that thing. I’d like to get some monolights eventually, only to have better recycle times. For modifiers I’ve got some brolly boxes and some Saberstrips.

One thing to keep in mind when photographing dogs is the fact that their ears are much more sensitive than ours. Some dogs can hear ultrasonic focusing motors in lenses, so it’s a great idea to have a lens or two on hand that doesn’t use one. I’ve found most animals don’t mind flashes.

AAA_2930inbetween

Phoblographer: What methods do you use to get the animal comfortable with you?

Aury: Treats, petting, and a lot of patience. At my studio I have a variety of foodstuffs, including a big box of Slim Jims I got online for really cheap. I personally don’t think they’re fit for human consumption, but dogs absolutely love them. The downside is they’re so greasy you need to wipe your hands before using your camera again.

Phoblographer: How did you start to make a living off of this? Obviously though it’s not all you do.

20141015-AAA_1375

Aury: I’ve been in business for one year now – for many years I did very occasional jobs on the side, mostly shooting hotels and events. This past year I started to get more in to it as I was frustrated with my main job, a contracted web developer. It’s such a nice change having people be thankful for the work you do instead of another cog in the machine. I still do web and app development for a different company. I’m lucky I’m afforded the chance to grow my business part time and still be able to pay my bills. I’m in a rural area that has one other studio, but right now they have an absolute stranglehold on the market, including pet photography. All I can do right now is try and get my name and images out there. It’s a slow process, but more and more people are coming to me through referrals. Pet photography is only a small part of the business, but it’s up there as far as enjoyment goes.

“At my studio I have a variety of foodstuffs, including a big box of Slim Jims I got online for really cheap. I personally don’t think they’re fit for human consumption, but dogs absolutely love them.”

Phoblographer: Talk to us about the business side. A lot of pets are like children to people, so what’s it like dealing with the owners?

20140714-AAA_1739

Aury: People can love their pets just as much as they do their children. The closest thing to pet photography is actually newborn/baby photography. You can’t pose the subject, they’re subject to their own whims, they may very well have an accident, etc. The main difference for me is that most people are more likely to go to a female photographer for newborns. I’d assume that’s due to presumed competence with babies – and frankly, I’d probably have the same stereotype. That doesn’t exist with pets, so it’s been easier for me to get going.

Most pets’ lives are short enough where they’re only going to get professionally photographed once, if at all. One of my sessions this year was for a dog that was nearing the end of its life, and the owners wanted to make sure they had images to remember him by. Nothing could be more meaningful to me.

AAA_1679