“You can say any foolish thing to a dog, and the dog will give you a look that says, ‘My God, you’re right! I never would’ve thought of that!'”
~ David Barry
Halloween is coming, and that means it’s time for my annual rant about keeping those ears up in your animal photographs. If you read about this last year on my blog, then you are a year ahead of all your animal photographer friends! If you are new to this blog, read on…this subject is so important, I repeat it every year.
Ok. Back to Halloween. So what the heck does it have to do with animal photographs and ears?
Well actually more than you might think. Halloween is the very best time of year to collect super props for animal photography. Props that are almost guaranteed to get those animal ears up, and keep them up long enough for you to make a great image.
Let’s start with these two images of a horse. Which one is worth keeping?
Ok, this was sort of a no-brainer, but it’s an important no-brainer. If you decided that the second photo was the way to go, you get an A+.
Having the ears up when you photograph animals is like taking photographs of a person with a smile. You wouldn’t take a photograph of a person who was scowling, would you? Well then, don’t do it with animals either.
Look again and notice how it’s not just the ears that are up. The eyes have a more alert look and there is a arch to the neck. The whole head of this horse is animated as opposed to the “flat” look of the horse with the ears back. Got it? Well most of the time you won’t, if you don’t use props.
So now we’re back to Halloween and the fact that right now the stores are full of cool thingies that go bump in the night.
Here’s my favorite prop of all time. When you turn on the battery, the wings move and it makes a ghoulish noise. Depending on what you are photographing, this is a great prop!
Dogs and cats love this prop. They’re curious, so when the wings start to flap, up go the ears.
You never know with llamas and alpacas. Sometimes this prop works, sometimes it doesn’t. There’s a fine line between too much stimulation from the prop (ears go back), and just the right amount (ears go forward as the animal watches the prop).
Horses can be skittish, so a prop like this might send them off over the fence running from witches. Try something without a battery for horses. Puppets and stuff that you shake on a stick work well.
The point is, you have to have a lot of different props and you have to experiment with them to find out which ones work best. The above prop might be my favorite, but that doesn’t mean it will work with every animal.
So get a cloth bag and stuff it with all sorts of props. Why the prop bag? So you can carry it around in the field, barn or house without the animal being able to see the props ahead of time. The attention span of animals is short. Keep them hidden, then keep bringing out new props as you work to make a perfect image. That doesn’t mean you can’t reuse a prop that worked for you the last time you made images…just keep them under cover so they are not familiar objects to your subjects.
The bottom line is doing whatever it takes to get those ears up. Remember the comment above about the arch in the horse’s neck? Here’s another example. See how the whole demeanor of this alpaca changes when the ears are up?
Got the picture? Hope so! Your assignment is to find some ghoulish props and try them out on your next shoot.