By Saloni Khatri*
Photographing Pet and Human Stories
After shooting 250+ Dogs in the past 22 months of Sniff Stories, including pets and streeties; raising three craziest Indies; and working with wildlife conservation, I can say that there is nothing more beautiful in this world than the soul of an animal.
It was during our Sniff Stories pet photography trip 2022 that one fine day I received a message from Kamna inquiring about family shoot details and procedures with two of their pets. Recently, they had a new addition to the family who is just 3 months old, named Gucci, so they wanted to celebrate Gucci’s arrival. They knew how quickly our furries grow, as they had already experienced it with their elder adopted indie pet Elsa who is now two years old, so they wanted to capture the beautiful bond their family shared. What intrigued me the most about this inquiry was that both their dogs were adopted. I was keen to know their story of choosing adoption over buying. But before we dived in, we had to finalize packages and sort queries; for the same, we had our Q&A call with Kamna, inclined to assure the parent of the choices they are about to make for the shoot.
Addressing Pet Parent’s Queries
Her first question was, “How will you manage these two hyperactive girls during the shoot? They never sit in one place and continue to jump and run around.” She added that she doesn’t want to force the photo shoot on her babies, so wanted to know if it was feasible to execute a session with such hyperactive behaviour. Well, this is the most common concern dog moms show for their pooches. Our pets are delicate and always need special care and treatment. A Pet Photographer is someone who, apart from having fabulous photography skills, is also a good observer and animal person, and must be able to understand the subject as much as their parents do. I assured Kamna that for me, if the dog is not being themselves and playing around, doing things that make them who they are, then there is no point in conducting a session. I always believe in unposed and natural style of photography. Though I guide parents for tiny details that can help improve their picture but I never force them or their pet for any shot. Kamna understood that she was at the right place.
Her second question was, “How do we finalize the shoot location?” I believe while working with animals you can’t predict anything, our smallest mistake can hurt them a lot and become a bad experience for life so we must be very alert all the time when shooting outdoor, so all my decisions are made while keeping a dog’s safety and convenience in mind. I love framing wilderness of dogs in the lap of nature including puddles, lakes, mountains, and pet-friendly resorts, so I suggested her some of the suitable shoot locations nearby – out of which we finalized Chota Ladakh, which is known for a stone quarry filled with water and this place has a resemblance to the Ladakh landscape. This location was located about 70 km from Bangalore city. And till date, it is one of my favourite shoot locations in the country for photographing dogs with mountain views. Knowing that our time with our furries is always fleeting, Kamna chose a combination of our Photo and Video shoot to preserve memories in motion, not just stills.
After finalizing the package, the location, and other stuff as per our standard procedure, I got on a call with Kamna once again to know more about the family bonding with babies. Our set of questions involved – what made them bring a pet at home, how their life has transformed since the four-legged animal entered their lives, and what major lessons they have learnt from their pets. I smiled a bit knowing how Kamna made her husband sign a dog contract before getting married to make sure that they would get a pet after two years of their marriage. She was raised around pets at her parent’s place, but her husband was not a dog person, he never had any interactions with dogs. One random day, Kamna saw an adoption post for a 45 days old indie puppy that was in a foster home. Kamna instantly fell in love with this puppy Elsa and adopted it. She explained that she feels glad that she was exposed to the horrible side of breeding industry and was able to make an instant decision on adoption Since then their life has changed, they became more responsible and patient. For my better understanding, knowing Elsa’s temperament and behaviour was very important to improve our first interaction during the session. After spending two years with Elsa, family adopted this little fearless kid Gucci. She is the complete opposite of Elsa and the naughtiest member in the house. By this period, Kamna’s husband was already a dog person and cannot imagine life without his furry kids.
Pre Visualizing the Session
I realized I needed to reflect Elsa’s calm and elegant personality and Gucci’s goofy and mischievous side in videos and photos. Collecting these tiny details about pets’ likes and dislikes not only helps us in improving the shoot experience for the pet and their parents but also in bonding with the pets before even meeting them.
After the interaction, I worked on a Storyboard for video and Mood board for photographs. All pet parents would agree when I say this – while looking into our pets’ eyes, we get that feeling of being the most fortunate people in the world for having these souls by our side. Treasuring this feeling in videos and photos, which would reflect their precious relationship of years, is what fascinates me the most.
As it was summer and the pets get exhausted quickly, so we planned an early morning shoot. We left for the shoot at 5 am and Elsa greeted me with licks and her non-stop wagging tail. And you know Gucci is the opposite of Elsa, she greeted me with a weird look as if she was saying, “Why are you looking at me… you stranger?” She sat on her mum’s lap and observed me for a while, whereas Elsa sat with me enjoying the ride and watching the scenery. As time passed, Gucci observed me interacting with her parents, so she slowly came to me, sniffed me for a while, and fell asleep on my lap. I consider such moments as the best moments of my life when an animal bestows its trust on me.
As we reached the location, we had to trek a little to reach the stone quarry; these two little girls were very excited and curious to explore this place. Kamna unleashed them and was very happy doing so as she has never been on such outings with her furry kids. I gave about twenty to thirty minutes to the girls to sniff around and poop and get comfortable with the location. I also made them sniff my gears to make sure everything was alright for them.
Rolling the Camera
Gucci was jumping around like a rabbit – for her, this place was huge. I guided the parents on how the session will flow and told them to have fun and enjoy the view with Gucci first. Initially, they were quite conscious about getting photographed but I tried to make them comfortable by turning off the shutter sound, so they don’t get to know when I click. This way I could get their natural emotions. After some time, Gucci was already tired and sat on her parent’s lap; I thought this was the right time to take full family picture, so we called Elsa. But guess what? Elsa was lost in her paradise. She was chasing a garden lizard on the mountain. How silly does that sound? We all laughed looking at her efforts in chasing the lizard. She was standing on the highest mountain, with quarry water and sun in the background; I could not miss such an amazing shot. So I made some weird noise to get her head to tilt and clicked the picture.
Later on, when her chase was over, she sat with her parents and I took the remaining single shots of their complete family. After successful completion of the session, we headed back to their home to click a few more pictures in their lawn; there I took some cosy clips and adorable pampering shots.
Framing the Memories
Pet photography is a very personal service where pet parents put all their trust in you for making their precious memories eternal. As the final edited videos and photographs were shared with the family, they had tears in their eyes. The family was in awe of the shoot experience!
And that’s when I feel glad for getting into Pet Photography.
* Author is a pet photographer/cinematographer from central India. She recently started Sniff Stories. She has a fine arts and filmmaking background, so she loves giving a cinematic and artistic look to the pictures. She has three rescued pets whose life stories have always pushed her more into loving animals. She loves and works not only for little pets but also giant wild animals.