Craig is a NZIPP Accredited Professional Photographer based in the Canterbury region of New Zealand’s South Island.
Hi Craig! Can you please tell us about yourself, how you came about becoming a pet photographer and how long you have been doing it?
I have been a pet photographer since 2001, which makes me feel very old when I say it! I guess I got into pet photography originally because I was taking images of the animals I worked with at my first job; headkeeper at a bird park. The park closed down due to a huge downturn of tourism on the island of Guernsey, where I’m from, so I went to work in a camera store and started doing photography jobs in my spare time. Friends loved the images of my pets and I started taking pet photos for them. Then a good friend, who worked at a vet, shared them with her colleagues and everything grew from there!
I moved to New Zealand in 2009 with my husband and started up the business here shortly after. Since then I’ve released 3 bestselling books published by Penguin Random House, Quake Dogs, Quake Cats and A Dog’s Life. I have found myself travelling around the world for clients and workshops, and have become an ambassador for the charity “The Kotuku Foundation Assistance Animals Aotearoa” and also an official Fujifilm X-Photographer. Most recently I launched the Furtography Academy, an online education platform for pet photographers all around the world. I still pinch myself every day that this is real life and I am doing a ‘job’ that is basically an obsession. Oh I’m also a big fan of cakes, pop music and all things sparkly!
Do you have any pets of your own? Details please….
I am owned by 3 cats, Jazz, Mr Tinkles and Millefeuille. A Bengal, a Ragdoll and a Sphynx, or as I like to say the long, short and bald. Despite being a dog photographer since 2001, we only got our first family dog 18 months ago. Ralph is an affenpinscher and I am besotted with him. He’s only small, but has a BIG personality and has become my constant sidekick and occasional assistant on sessions, though he’s not much help, he’s just in it for the treats!
What has been your most popular picture and why do you think that is?
I photographed Tallulah, the gorgeous French bulldog in Paris a couple of years ago. It was such a special shoot, ever since I visited The Louvre a couple of years before that, I had this image in my mind. Finally, here I was on a cold and gloomy winter’s evening actually making it happen. I wanted to use the glass pyramids and triangular shapes with Tallulah right in the centre of it all to keep things nice and symmetrical. I didn’t expect to make a panorama, but that’s what I ended up doing. I shot several images of Tallulah, got the one I knew was the keeper and then took several frames around her to stitch together later. All the while Tallulah sat perfectly still, hamming it up for the camera while I was waiting for the walkways to clear of the other visitors. Fortunately, most were behind me, watching what I was doing!
I get messages and comments about this image all the time, I’m so humbled to know I’ve inspired other photographers and people still enjoy seeing it. I entered it into the Iris Awards and it scored my first ever gold, that was in 2018 when I won the Portrait Open category and Regional Photographer of the Year. It’s done well at competitions in Australia and Europe too and earlier this year it won the Dog category at the Animal Image Makers Competition in Minneapolis and was the 7th highest scoring image in the whole competition of about 500 entries.
Do you consider pet photography a challenging job? How do you get the animals to stay and pose for you?
Pet photography is most definitely a challenging genre, but that’s part of the reason I love it so much. Communicating with animals is not always easy, they have short attention spans and like to do their own thing. Despite a few challenges, capturing those furry, four legged companions in all their joyous, whimsical glory really is the best job in the world!
I think the most important thing anyone working with pets can do is learn about their behaviour and body language, that is the best way to understand what an animal is thinking or feeling. I see way too many images where I can spot body language that says an animal was stressed or uncomfortable in that moment and upsetting an animal, whether you realise you are doing it or not, just to get a photo is not worth it. Besides being a bad experience for the pets, their owners will almost always pick up on it in the result too.
Over the years, I’ve built up a few tricks, I always have treats and noisemakers with me. I am often heard making crazy noises myself too, that’s the most effective way to get their attention. I have endless patience, but I know when something won’t work and don’t force any situation.
For me it’s all about capturing the personality of each individual, so if that is sitting and posing, great, if it’s crazy full on running around, I embrace the chaos!
Are you currently working on any personal projects?
I’ve had to put a HUGE personal project on hold because of the pandemic this year, I’ve been working on it for a few years and I decided that 2020/21 would be the time to finish it up. Unfortunately that will have to wait now, but I’ll get back into it as soon as I can.
I am working on another personal project that is still me, but a little bit different. I’ve shot the first image already and I want to get the remaining images done for a fundraiser this year, so watch this space.
What does an average day on a photoshoot look for you?
I like to keep my sessions pretty short, dogs don’t have the longest attention spans. They always have to be a positive experience too, so I never push them too hard or too long. So usually I meet a client 1 ½ hours before sunset. I love working in the golden hour and really only use natural light. We’ll take lots of breaks for play between setups and I always try to capture personality filled portraits as well as some candid and action shots.
I’m not precious with my gear (Sorry Fuji!), it’s a tool to do a job, so if it gets slobbered on or covered in sand while I’m shooting, so be it. I’m usually laying on the ground to take a shot, it makes a huge difference to get down to dog level and immerse yourself in their world. So I do spend a fair bit of time cleaning my equipment after a session and I see other photographers squirm at the grinding sand noises that sometimes happen in my lenses!
How do you educate yourself to take better photos?
Education is so important, whatever stage you are at in your career. I can’t emphasise enough how vital it is for people to continue to educate themselves on all aspects of their business.
I have a membership to a couple of amazing online resources for pet photographers that have new content each month. I attend workshops and I have a fantastic network of my peers I can go to for help. I do also attend things not related to pet photography, that’s a great way to expand my knowledge and get inspiration from other genres too.
The other thing I believe is crucial for development is to undertake personal projects. If you are one of those photographers who say to themselves ‘I’m not picking up my camera unless I’m getting paid’ you are doing yourself a huge disservice. Getting out and trying new things without the constraint of a brief or client expectations is so important for your creative development.
What is typically in your camera bag?
Typically I have 2 camera bodies. My medium format Fujifilm GFX 50s with 23mm and 63mm lenses and my Fujifilm X-T3 with a 16-55mm and 50-140mm.
I take behind the scenes video for Instagram stories on my iPhone and that’s usually clipped to a gorillapod.
I also have a variety of dog treats, peanut butter, balls, squeaky toys and other noisemakers, water & poo bags.
Do you have a funny story from a photo shoot you would like to share?
I have so many funny stories, as you can imagine, working with animals is unpredictable at times, so crazy things do happen, like getting vomited on or rolling in poop…
I guess the funniest story that comes to mind is when I was working on the Quake Cats book, with some unlikely characters, cheetah cubs at Orana Wildlife Park. They were having a great time being kittens and playing around while I lay on the floor taking photos of them. One came charging over to me and stood on my back and swiped my head, totally in play, not in an aggressive way at all. But for those not familiar with a cheetah’s anatomy, their claws don’t retract like other cats, so when he got off and I stood up, there was a bit of blood dripping from my head! I didn’t care, it was one of the best experiences of my life. Chris (my husband) did capture the swipe in video and it’s on the behind the scenes of making the book video on my YouTube channel!
Why did you join NZIPP?
I joined NZIPP for many reasons really. I think most importantly for me, it was about connecting with like-minded, photography crazy people who are brave (or stupid) enough to do this job for a living, whatever the genre. I’ve made so many great friends over the years. I also think it’s important to hold a good standard of work for yourself and the industry and being a member does that.