Photography Exercise: Animal Photography

Editor’s Note: We are updating what was previously known as our “Monthly Project”, to a regular series we’re calling simply: “Photography Exercise”. Why you ask? Previously we found that photographers would read (for example) our August Monthly Project in September and say…“hmmm it must be over” and then not participate. Looking forward, we envision a library of photography exercises that you can reference and engage with at any time – not just the month it was published!

Key to success: These exercises are intended to be interactive – which means we want you to participate! How you ask? Learn, shoot, submit and then show off what you learned. Jackie will check in regularly to provide feedback!

Animal photography is a breed all it’s own (pun intended), combining the patience of child photography with an appropriate understanding of and flexibility with light. It is an area of photography that is steadily growing in popularity, particularly in terms of paid work. First, animal photography can be used to portray a destination or emotion therefore many businesses use animals in their ads and general marketing. Additionally, pet photography has grown exponentially. Many people who are hiring photographers for weddings, baby photos, engagements, and so on will ask to include specific pet photos. Furthermore, there is an emerging desire for solely pet-centered photo shoots! You must learn to work with the natural setting and temperament in which you find the animal and understand how to set the natural background in which your subject will best be presented.


The first step with animal photography is going to be research. While doing your due diligence is important for any type of photography, it is particularly true for animal photography as your subject won’t be able to communicate with you. If it is wildlife photography, you’ll want to research where to find the creature. This means overall location, specific parts of the area (i.e. watering holes, grassy areas, etc) and then the time of day you’re most likely to see the animal. If the time of day is not ideal (such as in the middle of the night or at noon with high sun) you’ll want to consider the best way to adapt and still get the image style you’re going for. This may mean using realistic lighting sources the way I did for the image of the moth below. Rather than setting up a speed light, I used the light from outdoor lamps to create a more natural feel.


For pet photography, this will mean getting to know specifically what your client is looking for as well as getting to know the animals general temperament and figuring out how to best work with it. To many people, pets have become like family. As such, there is a growing desire for professional pet photography or at the very least to include pets in major photographed moments. Often times it’s beneficial to have someone attend the photo shoot who is not a part of the shoot and who is very comfortable with the pet. This person can stand behind you and help get the dog positioned the way you like. When people are involved, the key is to get them set up and doing what they’re supposed to so that you can focus on snapping the photo right when the pet looks the way you like.



When photographing animals, flexibility is absolutely crucial. It is often difficult to get them to engage in a super specific way; additionally the unplanned photos are many times the best ones! Just keep shooting, moving around, and examining your work to get the right look. When shooting for any type advertisement, make sure to conference with your point person about any specifics they have in mind. They may want to have text overlaid directly on the photo, in which case you’ll want to be mindful of the negative space you leave available.


Animal photography is a steadily growing business, so take some time to get out there and try your hand at it. If you don’t have access to a pet or any type of interesting wild animal, check out a nearby zoo! Even shooting through gates and bars you can practice sending a message with your photography and utilizing the necessary skills to being a respectable animal photographer.


Call to action!

Now that you have your assignment go shoot some animals (wait, that came out wrong – you know what we mean) and upload your photos. More than one or two – please create a folder in your workspace and link to it! We can’t wait to see what you’ve got!

Images ©2016 Jackie DiBenedetto.

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