My passionate thoughts about using animals as photography models

This is something that I think about a lot, but I realized that I never share it with anyone. Well, that changes now!

When I photograph animals, it is my NUMBER ONE priority to not just ensure their safety, but also ensure their happiness and comfort. I photograph animals for a living, not because I love photography so much, but because I love animals so much. I just happened to find a way to work with them that’s incredibly rewarding both personally and professionally. (And that I truly believe they also enjoy).

I have never, and would never, force an animal to do something it isn’t comfortable with- and that means- by it’s own choice. I have many (positive) ways of helping them make the kinds of choices I want them to make, but it is always their choice. (One of the few gifts I have is being able to coerce an animal to happily do exactly what I want while thinking it was their idea.) I don’t care if it’s a $100,000 shoot, or a $1,000 shoot, I will not force/harm/hurt/traumatize an animal for the sake of ‘humans making money’. PERIOD. We do. not. have. that. right.

Last year I had the worst experience of my 14-year career when I hired an animal ‘acting’ agency in Los Angeles to provide me with 40+ dogs and cats for one shoot. (Not the agency that’s been in the news lately about the terrible movie scene with the German Shepherd- a different one). Not only were the owner and trainers extremely difficult to work with, completely resistant to any of my input, and delivered a horrible product (overweight and very old animals, totally untrained animals, etc), but the way their trainers interacted with the animals on set made my blood boil. I’m still incensed by the male trainer yelling “sit!” and forcefully pushing the butt down of a dog that was clearly terrified of him. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing through my lens, because it goes so completely against everything I stand for and believe in. (And yes, believe me we had words. I’ve never come so close to walking off set before. We had two teams [my team and theirs] in a circle in a heated argument in the middle of the shoot). And my heart still breaks for the animals that were forced to wait in kennels in vans in 95+ degree heat while the other animals were loaded. That will NEVER, *EVER* happen on any of my shoots again. (Just to be clear, there were no injuries or [god forbid] deaths that occurred as a result of that shoot.)

If I ever have your dog or cat (or any other animal), work for me on one of my shoots, I want you to know that I deeply care about them. I care about their safety. I care about their health. I care about their well-being. I even care about their happiness, because if they aren’t having a good time on my sets, it shows in my photos. They have a good time, I have a good time, my crew have a good time, the photos turn out great, my client and I are happy, and everybody wins. It’s really not that hard.

I’m in the process right now of interviewing dog trainers that can become part of my long-term team. It’s critical for me moving forward to find trainers that I really mesh well with, who view me as a collaborator, not as someone who is going to ‘tell them how to do their job’. If you happen to know any great trainers in San Diego or Los Angeles who utilize POSITIVE training methods, have a high degree of competency, and are truly open to hearing me and understanding my methods, please send them my way.

I am also in the process of setting up a new dog (and cat) model database, to help me supply the animals needed for upcoming and future shoots. Look for that post/link in the days to come.

Just know that if you ever submit your pet for work with me that they will be in excellent (and loving) hands. I promise to treat them as well as I do my own dog Fergie, who is the most important thing in my world. And with any luck, we’ll all have a blast in the process, and your dog will make some good money by being a model. (I pay well!). All I ask is that you be a good person too and spend that money on gifts for your dog. After all, they earned it.

Ok, rant over, carry on!

Commercial animal photographer Jamie Piper