Taking pictures of monkeys and other funny wild animals -- use a professional animal trainer!
Creating a stock photo representing the cliché "monkey on your back".
I originally set out to create a stock photo illustrating the phrase “monkey on your back”, but my favorite photograph ended up being this image of a monkey sitting on a pile of books in a parody of Rodin’s state of the thinker. This image was made from the last of the poses we had the baboon do and was actually one of our only unplanned images.
Rules for shooting monkeys (or baboons)
Before we started our shoot the animal trainer laid down a set of rules for the shoot. I was not allowed, for instance, to interact with my female assistant. Apparently she would be considered part of the baboon's harem...and he might feel he would have to fight me for her, something I wasn't prepared to do. Another rule we were instructed to observe was not to smile. Smiling would be displaying our weapons. Nope, don't want to do that! Staring into his gaze was another thing to avoid.
Most of the shots would entail the baboon being perched on the back of one of our models. The animal trainer, Stephanie Taunton, also cautioned us that there would be a good chance the monkey would pee on the model. Hey, not my problem, that sounded more like a wardrobe issue!
Now, to be honest, primates are not my favorite animals to photograph. The first time I ever photographed a monkey, also for a stock photo, I had the animal posing with a computer. We had everything in place, the monkey with his hands on the keyboard.
I squeezed off a couple of shots and BAM! The monkey began an ear-piercing shriek as he exploded into motion. He leapt off his seat onto the floor, charged right at me, darted up my leg onto my chest, jumped on to a light stand, scrambled down across the floor and back into his pose where he sat quietly and glanced furtively around. All before I could even react.
It didn't help that an animal trainer once told me that primates spend most of their time trying to figure out how to kill you. I don't know if that is true, but there is something very disconcerting for me in photographing animals that look at me with such intelligence.
Our baboon shoot actually went off without a hitch. Stephanie, our trainer, had total control and knew exactly how to get what we needed from the baboon. For the Rodin shot she went up and carefully adjusted his body position then slowly stepped back saying “Good Boy, Good Boy”. He actually held that pose for nearly a minute before he moved.
One key to a successful animal picture shoot is to use an animal trainer
I find that a key element in the success of all of my animal pictures is the trainer. An animal trainer knows how much we can ask of any given animal, which animals can do what, and what motivates a given animal. Whether we are trying to create a funny monkey picture, a dramatic lion photo, or cute kitten shot, having an animal trainer on hand helps insure that we will get the image we need.
Other ingredients for successful animal shoots are patience, preparation, and more patience. It can also help to have a spare animal, a look alike, just in case the first animal isn’t in the mood. Of course, with exotics, like monkeys, lions, elephants and such that is seldom possible. And if a lion or an elephant isn’t in the mood…oh well!