In my other job, as a veterinary nurse, I get to “play” with animals all the time. We have varied duties – taking blood samples, prepping for surgeries of all kinds, taking temperatures, getting stool samples (a favorite, of course) and the most wonderful task of all – expressing anal glands! Luckily, our boss likes to take advantage of the various skills of his staff members, and for me, that is photography. I take most all the pictures in the clinic and of the daily goings-on in the animal hospital. My photos decorate the website, and our Facebook page. I love that I get to do something ELSE that I love at work - photography. So, when it comes time for staff pictures, I get to do those, too. Everyone who works at an Animal Hospital is undoubtedly an animal lover. If they are not, they have chosen the wrong field. So, it goes without saying that when we take staff portraits for display in our lobby, or on our website, that they should include our furrier family members.
Over the years at the Animal Hospital of Statesville, I have taken pictures of staff members with horses, cats and dogs. Sometimes horses AND dogs, sometimes multiple dogs – up to 5! THAT was a lucky shot, I must admit. PLUS, I actually had to remove their owner’s head and replace it with her head from another picture. ALL the dogs were looking in the proper direction, and, of course, she was making a face. Normally, I don’t do that, and wouldn’t have, but the thought of trying to get all 5 dogs looking perfect again was just out of the question!
Now, I would say that a dog’s attention span for pictures is about 5 minutes, tops. My main goal is to get the dog looking alert, and in my direction, and to make sure the owner is looking at me, as well. After all, it IS the employee’s picture. That your subject’s attention span is very short, and that you want to make sure the pet’s eyes are sharp are probably the most important things about these portraits. I usually have a co-worker come with me and use a squeaky toy to get the pet’s attention. Sometimes that works, other times, not. We look like real idiots trying to find the right technique that will get the pet’s facial expression just right. I try to encourage the person to not worry about their pet, and let US try to get their pet to look at us, and for the person to just concentrate on their own expression. We usually get a variety of funny expressions on both the person’s face and the pet’s face! We try to take quite a few so we can get the right combination. My boss, Dr. Chip Cooney, recently played Santa Claus for our Pet Pics with Santa event at work, and he said the funniest thing was watching me, my “elves” and the owners of the pets trying to get them to look at us so I could snap the picture. I find the fewer people involved in that effort, the better. The dogs just don’t know where to look. However, everyone tends to chime in, and chaos ensues!
Regardless, remember – it’s just like a family portrait. Sometimes, everyone looks “perfect”. Other times, they look perfectly like themselves. Either way, it can work – it just depends on your expectations. Dogs and cats will do what dogs and cats will do. There is only so much control you can have over it. Admit your limitations and take what you get! The main thing is to keep the session as short and as stress-free for both critters and owners as you can. Have fun!