For a photo shoot involving pets you sometimes have to embrace the chaos. Scratch that. You really have to embrace it all the time or you’re probably in the wrong line of work. Even then some shoots are more chaotic than others and I had one last month that set a new standard.
This job was for an animal rescue promotional poster so it was light on budget and personnel: just me, my assistant, two pugs with their human guardians and a lot of dog treats. The pugs, Deedee and Tulip, were black–always a photography challenge–and we were shooting at a beach on a sunny, cloudless day. The plan was to wait until early evening and do a few set ups when the light was nice and low. In and out. Boom. Easy, right? Not so much.
Things started going sideways almost immediately. We pulled into the beach parking lot and saw we weren’t the only photography crew with this idea. There was an 18-wheeler and RV parked with a bunch of wardrobe racks and lighting equipment around them. Apparently the beach was also the location for a major clothing catalog shoot today. One of the producers told me they were wrapping in one area soon but there was a dead shark washed up there and it was pretty ripe. Not a good thing with dogs prone to roll in the stinkiest thing they can find so that spot was out.
The only space left to work was in the middle of the beach where all the beachgoers were concentrated. No problem. It had a beautiful big rock we could put the dogs on with a clear shot of the beach behind them. It would be iconic and beautiful. Unfortunately, when we got closer we saw the rock had fresh gull poop baked on it from the day’s sun. Even tastier than dead shark. The dogs would not be able to resist that so on to plan C.
That’s when the fun really started. The dogs were adorable but a little on the wild side. There was no way to get them to sit still in the sand so we tried using a few driftwood logs to elevate them and keep them from moving around as much. It took all four people to do this. I lay on the sand and my assistant held a scrim to keep direct sun off the dogs while their dad plied them with treats. Mom stood behind me and tried to get Dee Dee and Tulip’s attention each time dad moved away to give me a clear shot. I can only imagine what people around us thought because I added to the spectacle with audible barks and meows to get them to look at the camera. Despite the effort, we got somewhat mixed results as you can see
I was about to just call it a day when a large group of beachgoers next to us packed up and left. They’d been sitting on a big section of a washed-up boat dock or fishing pier which was even taller than that poop rock and also had a great view of the ocean. We moved everything over, got the dogs up on the decking and tried the same comical teamwork as we had with the logs. At first I didn’t think it would work. Dee Dee and Tulip were getting a bit full from all the treats not to mention tired and bored of watching the four adults make idiots of themselves in public. We’d get one to sit then the other would wander off or decide to start smelling something interesting on the wood just when I got a clear shot.
We were starting to lose the sun. People were leaving the beach and walking behind us, further distracting Dee Dee and Tulip. We gave the dogs a short break before trying it one last time and I’ll be damned if those pugs didn’t nail it! They stayed in place right next to each other for over a minute and looked toward camera the whole time. They even tilted their heads when I whistled. I guess everyone just performs better under pressure sometimes.
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