Adventures in Commercial Pet Photography: Fur Flies in S.F. Studio
February 20, 2019
Dogs + Cats + Dark Background = Very Furry Set
Here’s some advice if you use a dark background for a dog or cat studio photoshoot: bring a good vacuum cleaner (or three) and lots of pet rollers. I’m used to excess animal fur at the many commercial pet photography sessions I shoot in San Francisco. However, most are on light-colored backgrounds where the actual amount of fur is somewhat camouflaged. When you work on black there’s no hiding dog or cat hair. It literally gets everywhere.
Meet the Client: Kinship
All this fur took flight during my first project with Kinship: a partnership started by Mars Petcare. Kinship’s a bit of melange: part pet-care start-up incubator, a bit of venture funding and a dash of data/analytics support. Some of the companies they help include Whistle, Wisdom Health and Puppo. With the official company launch approaching the execs wanted eye-catching action shots and portraits of dogs and cats for the accompanying promotional campaign.
Planning a Commercial Pet Photo Shoot
I worked closely with Kinship’s design agency Clarke and came up with a series of dramatic image concepts on dark backgrounds. For animal talent and training I leaned on my go-to team at Bow-Wow Productions who quickly came up with a solid mix of 14 dogs and cats plus a very cute Vizsla puppy for the big shoot day. Producer Filiz Rezvan booked Ciel Creative space in Berkely which has spacious studios with enough room for pet action shots (and plenty of parking).
At the Shoot
My first assistant recommended the ultra-fast Profoto Pro 10 strobes for reliably freezing the action. They’re more expensive than the standard packs but it was love at first use for me. They recycle almost instantly and easily stop leaping cats, tug-of-warring dogs and ear-flapping Basset Hounds with no motion blur. These strobes also readily capture the copious amounts of fur coming off the animals when they’re shot against high-contrast black seamless paper
Cleaning up fur in the air in post with photoshop isn't too bad. Unfortunately, it also gathered in highly visible clumps on the ground like hairy tumbleweed. We had to use black carpet to give the dogs something to grip which only made the mess worse. The studio had a vacuum but it was a shop vac and had no suction so we ended up sweeping sweep the rug vigorously with a broom between set-ups.
Note to self: make sure you pack a couple of Dysons on your next pet studio shoot. Or, make sure the client is a vacuum cleaner company!