Pet photography is all about the details, about capturing the little things that people often overlook. When it comes to photographing guinea pigs and other small furry creatures, the little things are even more important.
Several years ago, sticking my lens in the faces of itty-bitty rodents wasn’t something I ever would’ve dreamt of, let alone actively pursued. When I considered the world of “pet” photography, I thought of it as a world entirely composed of cats and dogs. That is, until one day while browsing Pinterest and killing time, I came across an image of a guinea pig pushing a shopping cart full of tiny vegetables.
I was hooked.
Considering the fact that I owned several guinea pigs, (at the time the count was six) I simply had to start planning and stock up my supply of parsley to use as potential bribes. It was the most natural thing to do, obviously.
It all began with this photograph, a single guinea pig reading an enormous book. And from there, my creations have become more elaborate. It’s a welcome diversion from my more serious work.
One of the things I’ve learned over time is that photographing this genre of pet isn’t always so simple. They move around a lot, have incredibly short attention spans, and they’ll do their business all over your set if you don’t give them frequent breaks. Imagine tiny children who haven’t napped and aren’t wearing a diaper. That’s your average subject.
I’ve composed a handful of pet photography tips to make the process easier for you, and to help you take better portraits of the little guys, whether rat, mouse, guinea pig, ferret, hamster, gerbil, bunny, etc.
1. Get down on their level
Like with all pets, most people usually see them from above, so if you want to create an image that’s memorable, you’ll need to change that perspective. A good portrait of a human will capture a glimpse of their personality, and will often feature their face. The same thing applies to rodents and small furry creatures. Shoot from their eye level, and you’ll be surprised how brilliantly their little personalities shine through.
Often it will be the stink eye, but you might occasionally get a smile if you’re lucky, or if you’re holding a carrot.
2. Keep plenty of snacks on hand
Speaking of carrots, tiny animals are much happier when their bellies are full. Guinea pigs especially need to eat almost constantly to keep up with their metabolisms. Before you begin shooting, set them up in the desired position, and then give them a snack (although I would avoid anything red- or orange-colored, as it will stain their little faces). I usually keep fresh parsley on hand. A sprig before you begin shooting and a sprig halfway through will keep them calm and happy.
3. Give them an environment to interact with
It’s important to know that the teensy ones are extremely skittish and have little to no attention span, but if you bribe them sufficiently, and don’t encourage them to stand on their back legs for more than a split second, then they might give you a window of opportunity.
Still, you don’t have to leave it to chance. Set up a “stage” and let them wander around and explore. They are all curious creatures, and if they think they’re not being observed, they will become their cutest. Also, give them some space. Shoot with a 70-200mm and stand back. That way, they won’t feel the need to run away from you. You can only have so many “bum” shots in your portfolio.
4. Shoot in spurts of 10 minutes or less
Speed is of the essence when you are working with these little darlings. Crank up the shutter speed and up the ISO as much as you can manage, because when a rodent moves, it really moves. It’s also important that you speed up the process and take frequent breaks because they 1) have to eat a lot, as we mentioned, and 2) nature will always call.
It’s something you just have to get used to. When you’re creating your set, lay down towels, and keep a brush and dustpan on hand to keep things tidy just in case. You will need them.
5. Work with an assistant
If you’re just capturing one animal, it’s not as essential, but if you’re photographing two or more, you will need help. Because you have such a small window of opportunity in which to capture them, you need all the help you can get to keep them posed and to keep them happy. You can take 150 photos, and maybe 1 or 2 will turn out if you do it by yourself; your subjects simply move too much. With someone there keeping them in line and soothing them when need be, you’ll have much more to work with.
6. Watch for warning signs
“They’re so cute and furry. They won’t get aggressive, right?”
Don’t be fooled by outer appearances; rodents can be especially vicious when provoked. Some of the signs to watch out for, signs which demonstrate that they’re unhappy:
- Grinding teeth
- Making a low rumbling noise (called a “Rumblestrut”)
- Yawning (showing off their teeth)
- Rocking back and forth, like they are ready to pounce
- Making a very loud squeaking noise, called a ”Wheek”, usually caused by another guinea pig crossing their personal “boundary” line
Photographing guinea pigs and other small creatures can be an adventure, albeit an incredibly rewarding one. They do have such personality, and it’s up to us to capture it, in all of its tiny furry wonder.