A career in animal photography offers many rewards to those who enjoy creating photographs as much as they enjoy animals. If sharing career facts sparks your child's interest, help him begin photographing animals as a hobby. Photography is a creative outlet that builds confidence as camera skills improve and kids develop an understanding of species or particular animals. A hobby might lead to a career as a pet or wildlife photographer, but is best approached with the understanding that childhood is a time for exploration and paths leading to vocations are not always linear.
The Work Place
Animal photographers typically shoot outdoors with digital SLR cameras and various lenses, and photo-edit on their computers. Some pet photographers work inside a home. Seth Casteel’s studio is a pool and his work attire is a wetsuit. A 2012 CNN report tells his story, describing how Castell came taking his underwater pictures of dogs chasing tennis balls. Wildlife photographers might travel for months out of the year to far-flung places or shoot in their backyards, depending on the subjects and the jobs. Some jobs allow you to photograph in sanctuaries while others want you on location, whether it be the Antarctica or Africa.
Most animal photographers freelance, according to the Art Career Project, selling images or rights to use them. Many sell images to magazines such as “Ranger Rick” or “Cat Fancy.” Some sell to stock photo companies that sell them to customers who use them in various ways, such as on greeting cards and in advertisements. The photographer might sell rights to multiple places for one image. Some sell prints from their websites and in art galleries, art shows, shops and other venues, others self-publish photo essay books. Others get paid by organizations to take photos at events such as horse shows. Many people with pets pay photographers to create portraits of their animal companions.
Not all animal photographers freelance. Some of the larger zoos employ staff photographers. Many environmental and animal activist groups employ photographers. Magazines such as "National Geographic" hire full-time wildlife photographers. While most pet photographers have their own businesses, some are hired by photography studios. Credentials required vary with employer and the type of work.
Animal photographers need more skills than camera technique and the ability to recognize what makes a good picture. To compete well in this fascinating field, animal photographers learn all they can about their subjects, so they can be in the right position at the right time. Both pet and wildlife photography require patience -- animals rarely pose for the camera. Capturing wildlife with the camera also requires stealth, even when photographing small wildlife such as butterflies. Many insects flee when they detect carbon dioxide, so the photograph must know to hold his breath just as he creeps up on one. Upon seeing a hippo yawn, which means it is angry, the photographer might be the one to flee.
Animal photography can be dangerous. As reported on the website of "Popular Photography," Ingo Arndt, a wildlife specialist and world-renowned wildlife photographer, advises to always go with a guide, and one that specializes in the animal you’re most interested in. Even the best understanding of a certain species isn't sufficient insurance when you're in the wilderness. Those who photograph animals near their homes might create a landscape to attract certain animals, but must be careful not to attract wildlife that in turn attracts dangerous predators or that in itself is dangerous. Wildlife photographers use large telephoto lenses so they can capture animals from a distance.
Many animal photographers do not study photography in college. However, many do study animal behavior, either in college or elsewhere. Pet photographer Jamie Pflughoeft learned about dogs, her favorite photography subject, while working as a dog-walker while taking animal behavior courses in college, according to NWJobs.com. Her photography skills are self-taught. Casteel volunteered at an animal shelter. A staff photographer for "National Geographic" might have a degree in any one of a number of disciplines, such as wildlife biology, but most don't have degrees in photography, although they studied it. To freelance for a big magazine such as "National Geographic," a photographer needs an impressive portfolio, but not a degree. The most important thing is to understand animals, or the ones that will be photograph, and building good photography skills. Those who photograph animals, other than in the wild, should understand legal requirements. For example, using a photograph for commercial purposes that you took of animal belonging to another requires a signed release from the owner, according to the American Society of Media Photographers.
- CNN: Smile You’re on Canine Camera
- NW Jobs.com: Jamie Pflughoeft, Pet Photographer
- The Art Career Project: Wildlife Photography Career
- Random House: Orangutans Are Ticklish: Fun Facts from an Animal Photographer
- Pop Photo.com: Life as a Nature Photographer
- American Society of Media Photographers: Property and Model Releases
- National Geographic: Shooting Wildlife with a Camera
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images