How to Get Noticed as an Animal Photographer

Every day is an adventure for Carli Davidson—that’s because she spends her time photographing a particularly wild niche of subjects: animals. Known for her stellar pet photography and especially for her project called “SHAKE” where she photographs dogs in the act of shaking their heads, Davidson’s animal photography is turning heads, and for good reason. She’s shooting what she loves and the joy she finds in connecting with animals manifests in her photographs.

In this video, Davidson describes how she got her start in animal photography and how she came up with the concept for the “SHAKE” project, but perhaps her most valuable bit of advice is to follow your natural leanings unto discovering your photography niche and gaining recognition as an animal photographer:

Most “noticed” photographers have one thing in common: they’ve chosen to focus on one major genre in photography and have spent years developing projects within that genre in ultra-specific niches. While shooting in a variety of genres may seem to promise larger exposure, it’s usually the focused photographers that stand out because they have devoted much time to becoming masters within their particular genres and niches.

Choosing a niche is no easy task, but for the photographer who pays attention to his or her natural preferences, the first step of choosing an overarching genre to focus on, such as “Landscape Photography” or “Animal Photography,” can be much more seamless.

Ask yourself this: If you were rock climbing in a mountain range with several people and their pets, would you naturally want to take photos of the rock climbing, the mountain range, the people, or their pets? Would it be the adventure of it all that captured your interest, or would it be the relationships and love among the members of your company, or the fun had by all during the climb? If you could pack your studio full of any type of subject, what would you want to photograph? What makes you excited and what do you love?

armadillo zoo portland carli davidson pet portrait portraiture

Davidson’s success has provided her with opportunities to photograph a wide range of animals.

Davidson discovered her love for animals early in her life. Having grown up with family pets near a nature preserve that often allowed her to care for animals, Davidson’s decision to become an animal photographer was a no-brainer.

“Animals were a natural subject for me,” said Davidson. “I think that photography is very personal. I think it’s important for people to do what makes them feel good.”

After choosing a genre, it’s not only important to become a ravenous learner who is dedicated to eventually attaining some level of mastery within that genre, but it’s also important to begin thinking about particular niches to photograph—that is, begin thinking about the specific aspects of landscapes or animals that attract your interest. Then think about how you could uniquely communicate your intrigue through your photographs to future viewers of your work.

“When I shoot, I’m really looking for something that’s new and fresh. I’m looking for an energy or an expression that grabs me personally,” said Davidson. “I’m an animal person. I’m my own audience.”

oregon zoo portland porcupine studio wild

Davidson photographs wildlife in partnership with the Oregon Zoo.

Davidson’s niche for her “SHAKE” project was born out of her love for animals. As she continued to photograph animals, she realized that one of her favorite subjects to photograph was her own dog—and eventually, she wondered what a high-speed portrait of her dog shaking his head and spraying spittle all over the walls would look like.

“I took the [first few] photos and we uploaded them and I had that moment of, ‘Oh, that is funny. Like, that’s amazing,'” said Davidson. “The images are captured in a way that makes the dogs really interesting and funny and kind of gives the viewer an opportunity to see the dogs in a way they might not have seen them before.”

pet animal wildlife carli davidson shake

Davidson’s dog, Norbert, was her inspiration for “Shake.”

Once you find that sweet spot, the possibilities of what you can create are virtually endless. If you play to your strengths and natural preferences, your photography will likely reflect your passion and turn more than a few heads.

Carli Davidson lives and works in Portland, Oregon, USA. You can see more of her “Shake” photographs here and sift through her gallery categories here to view her other work.

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