Lens Reflections

Your Pet’s Shining Moment
by Kaylyn Kuzniar
Photography by VGallery, DRAKEphoto & Kira Kwon

Area photographers capture the unique essence and personality of your pets.

Today, more than ever, pets are considered family members. “Our relationships with our pets give us a comfort and energy that we don't really get from anyone else,” says local photographer Kira Kwon of Peoria Heights. “There is an unconditional love that we often search for, but struggle to maintain even with our own children at times.” Kwon, along with Kelli Drake of DRAKEphoto in East Peoria, and Vicki Taufer of V Gallery in Morton, share their advice and experiences on photographing pets.

Prepping the Perfect Portrait
Before a session begins, the photographer allows the pet to familiarize itself with its new surroundings and build trust with the photographer. “Trust is the foundation for capturing the essence of another being—human or animal,” says Kwon. Kelli Drake holds a planning session before the big day to learn about the pet’s personality and find out what the owner wants out of the experience. “We know that people who take time to have their pet’s portraits created have a strong emotional bond with the animal,” she says. “We take all this into consideration to create images that they will always treasure.”

Just like humans, animals need a little primping before their shining moment in front of the lens. Most owners take care to have their pet groomed before its portrait is taken, but “I wouldn't recommend a fresh haircut, in case it gets cut too short,” says Vicki Taufer.

Accessorizing your pet for a photo shoot is quite popular. What is Pooch Couture owner Lindsey Reck’s No. 1 recommendation? “The perfect outfit, of course!” The new pet boutique at Junction City offers bathing and grooming services for dogs of all sizes, in addition to homemade treats, pet toys and unique accessories and clothing options. Cubs and Cardinals clothing and accessories and glitter-dusted pet tutus are popular items.

In addition to looking good, Taufer reminds us, “If an animal is high-energy, it definitely helps if they get some exercise and a chance to go to the bathroom before the photo shoot.” Having the pet’s favorite treats and toys close by—but not always in sight—can help get the shoot started on the right foot.

Finally, keeping stress to a minimum facilitates a comfortable environment for both pets and their owners. “I remind my clients that photo sessions are always stressful for everyone,” says Kwon. “Both children and pe ts are very aware when their guardians are tense. The key is often finding a familiar activity to engage in together.”
Chasing Studio Tails
Fortunately, none of the three photographers have ever experienced a disastrous pet photo shoot, but they do have favorite and interesting subjects to share. Kwon’s favorite subject is her sister, a veterinary student, and her three dogs. “They each have very different personalities and different relationships with her,” she says. “I want them to look at each other. That is when the relationship is unveiled, and I can capture a moment that passes between them.”

Drake enjoys photographing service dogs. “This takes the owner/pet bond to another level,” she claims. “These dogs are born and bred to assist and potentially save their owner's life, and the respect seen between the two is quite impressive.” She adds that her most difficult pet was a white rat owned by a veterinarian. “He was so fast it made focusing quite a challenge!”

In contrast, several years ago for V Gallery’s annual “Dog Days of Summer” event to benefit the Tazewell Animal Protective Society (TAPS), a young boy brought his pet turtle to get photographed. “It was the easiest animal I ever photographed,” says Taufer. “I didn't have to chase him around!”

In the end, Taufer assures us that no matter what pets (or people) are being photographed, the result is bound to reflect the devotion of the pet to its owner, and the love of the owner for their pet. “Don't worry if your pet isn't cooperating,” she adds. “That is why they came to a professional photographer. Leave the hard work for us. We will get a great image.” a&s