Animal photography is not as simple as one may think. Each shot can be quick or slow, depending on the animal that’s in front of the camera.
“I need to work fast, and know how I want the animals to look (in the picture),” said Irene Lim Saw Khim, 47, a dog lover and pet photographer from Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur. She has been specialising in pet photography for eight years now.
Lim has also been an animal communicator for 13 years, as well as a Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) trainer, coach and sound facilitator.
So far, in pet photography, Lim cited a Husky and a Rottweiler as big dogs she has previously worked with.
However, she is open to working with dogs of any breed.
Despite the bad press about Rottweilers, Pitbulls and Dobermanns, Lim feels these breeds are not vicious. Their behaviour stems from how their owners bring them up, she insisted.
“I used to have a Rottweiler and he was ‘a teddy bear’,” she said.
Ten years ago, Lim signed up for a one-week pet photography workshop in Melbourne, Australia. She had found out about the workshop during an online search. She spent a tidy sum on workshop fees, flights and accommodation. But it was all worth it, she said.
She learnt the techniques of photographing animals in general, and shelter dogs specifically. The photography involved mainly outdoor shots. Tips were also given on lighting and post-editing.
Good photographs of shelter dogs, Lim said, help to increase their chances of being adopted. She has photographed many different breeds as well as the “vicious” dogs that were seen as unadoptable.
“There was a Pitbull that I photographed. He looked so sweet – a smiling dog!” she recalled.
Shutterbug from childhood
Lim took up pet photography as she had always been intrigued by the camera ever since she picked up her brother’s camera “all those years ago and hearing that clicking sound”.
She added: “I’ve also had dogs all my life (since age two). So, it was a natural progression to take photos of animals.”
Photographing animals is very different from taking pictures of people.
Animals, she said, don’t just stand there and pose for photographs unlike humans who can take instructions. They don’t sit still, either.
“They will walk around and turn when you want to shoot them. Trying to get action shots also presents challenges.
To capture a pet running, I need to be quick to catch it,” she said.
When on such shoots, Lim would love to have assistance. Otherwise, she would ask the pet owner(s) to help her.
“I will get him or her to get the dogs’ attention,” she said.
Once, in her studio, she photographed a dog whose “ears were flying while trying to catch the ball in mid-air”. She took the shots from behind the dog.
“In another session, a dog was looking at himself for the first time in the mirror, and fell asleep doing that,” she said.
Dogs are her favourite animals to work with.
“They listen better, but I’m not adverse to cats or other animals,” she added.
There was another time when she did a photo shoot of two skittish cats.
“One was nervous and wouldn’t get out of the cat bag. The other was an escape artist – it climbed out my window and tried to escape,” she said.
So, she had to get creative.
“In the end, the nervous cat was shot in the bag with a feather boa. The skittish cat ended up in the middle of the stairs. She calmed down after being comforted, and the shots of her were taken there,” Lim related.
Aiming for that perfect shot
“Professional photographers don’t just point and shoot. To get that perfect shot, the time taken may vary from half an hour to half a day.”
There is also post-production work, which includes editing. For example, she could have snapped up to 100 shots and will then have to look through each photo to choose the best ones and edit them.
Lim’s clients find her through Facebook or referrals.
“I love it when my clients are happy with the great shots of their furkids to remember them by.
These photos are hung in their homes,” she said.
Sometimes she does animal photo shoots for free.
“It’s my chance to do good deeds,” said Lim, who helps animal shelters take photos of their animals for adoption purposes.
In an animal shelter, the challenges in photography are limited space and too many dogs.
“I rely on the workers to bring the puppies one by one. Young pups who have been in a cage for some time will run off and have as much fun as they can,” she said.
Lim could spend up to three hours and still not cover all the dogs in a shelter.
“There are too many dogs looking for good homes. Each dog has its own character. Some will sit still and some will just not let you get a good shot,” she said.
“Some of them have that look in their eyes – that all hope is lost for finding a loving home. It just breaks my heart.”
Lim regards pet photography as an avenue to get close to the animals.
Lim herself has four dogs at home.
She said: “Three were rescued from the streets in Damansara Perdana. They had severe mange and had to get jabs for it.
Originally, there were three of them – two brothers and a sister – but one of the brothers was adopted. We couldn’t find appropriate homes for Hugo and Hazel.”
Then there’s Abigail, a black dog with a white chest, also rescued from Damansara Perdana.
Lim said: “She has a nervous demeanour but she’s very loving once you get to know her.”
The last one Snoop, a German Shepherd, was abandoned after her original owners got divorced, and neither party wanted her as their respective new partners didn’t like dogs.
Snoop was placed in a pet boarding home, where she spent six months. Lim found out about her and adopted her.
Her other ‘hats’
As an NLP trainer and a coach, Lim’s aim is to help people overcome their problems and find solutions.
“NLP is all about getting in touch with the conscious and unconscious mind (neuro) to find the answers we need, and being aware of the language (linguistic) we use to influence others in a positive way. It is also about how to change our ‘programming’. What we hear and are taught is what shapes our behaviour (programming),”
NLP, she emphasised, is all about our behaviour.
“I find that we need help as much as animals do. Getting to know ourselves is the biggest challenge and that’s where NLP comes in to help,” she said.