From laughing dogs to sulking cats, social media is full of amusing amateur pics taken by shaky-handed pet owners.
But animal photography can be much more than just entertaining; when done properly, it can be used as a powerful agent for change by challenging people to think differently about how we treat and interact with animals, according to activist, author and award-winning Canadian photographer Jo-Anne McArthur.
“Animal photos bring us joy, but I would love for everything to get more political,” says the producer of the documentary WeAnimals and the subject of the celebrated documentary The Ghosts In Our Machine. “Our cameras can be tool for change; if you see animal cruelty, photograph it and report it…post it to social media and make a statement. It’s an easy way of creating change, and its something we should be doing every day to make world a kinder place.”
Even taking cute pictures of our pets is a worthwhile endeavor, she says. Pets help us reconnect with the natural world and appreciate all animal life on a deeper level.
“We are so disconnected from the natural world, that sometimes a cat in the house is our only connection to a non-citified, non-cementified world; no wonder they make us feel good,” McArthur said. “We all need nature, and they are our link to that.”
Loving your pets — and even anthropomorphizing them — is about making connections, McArthur said.
“It’s about connecting the dots between the animals we love and the ones we call food,” she says.
Here are here pro tips for shooting the animals in our lives:
1. Get Low.
“The first tip is to get down to the animal’s eye level,” she says. Don’t be afraid to crouch or lie on your stomach and get into the animal’s world. If you “shoot down” at the animal, you’ll just getting a “typical, boring, dominating human vantage point,” she says.
2. Get Close.
Get the animal to engage with you. And that happens by getting up close and personal. “You’ll create interaction with the animal by virtue of being close,” McArthur says.
3. Move Yo’ Feet.
If you can’t get close to the animal, move your feet. “Walk left, walk right —the background will change and eventually you’ll get your shot,” McArthur says. “To be good photographer, you always have to move. Constantly move.”
4. Tell the Truth.
If photo animal in captivity, be honest about it —“show the bars and the zoo in background,” McArthur says. Don’t misrepresent animals or try to manipulate their pose. “Show their surroundings. That serves to educate people about the treatment of animals.”
5. Just a Little Patience, Yea-ah.
Allow sufficient time to photograph animals, McArthur says. “It’s the same as photographing kids — you get unhappy faces, tantrums, running away, and being uncooperative,” she says.
6. The Golden Rule.
The Golden Rule also applies to your Golden Retriever (or, in this picture, sheep, although the wordplay isn't as fun that way). “If you respect animals they will be more relaxed and receptive to your instruction, just like humans,” McArthur says. “Animals are very smart and they have a will and personality of their own; so treat them the same way you would want to be treated.”
All photos courtesy of Jo-Anne McArthur, who will be a featured panelist at Fusion’s #Riseup event on Nov. 19.