“There is certainly a huge gulf between working with a Chimp and a Goldfish, but every creature provides me with a challenge – to peek into their soul and capture the true character of the animal.”
Character and Emotion, these are two of the most important aspects of my image creation!
When photographing animals, the first step I take before I even consider to pick up my camera, is to gain the animals trust, if an animal trusts me then it will be a lot easier for me to capture their true character, allowing me to delve deep into their soul and capture true emotion. For me, emotion is what truly creates a great image, an image that draws the viewer in and holds their attention, encouraging them to come back time and time again to view and appreciate the image.
Emotion isn’t just an image of a happy dog, or a cat looking at the camera, an emotive image has the capacity to engage the viewer, drawing them in and producing an emotional response. Often the eyes of the animal hold the deepest emotional impact, but this isn’t always the case, an image with a sleeping dog or a profile portrait can hold just as much character and emotion as an image that has direct eye contact down the lens, it is all in the moment the trigger is pressed, capturing a true connection with your subject.
When I first started creating Animal Portraits I used a large format camera that had to be used on a tripod and once the film was placed in the camera you couldn’t see through the view finder to adjust the focus; picture one of those old fashioned cameras where the photographer was hidden under a cloth behind the camera, this was how I created a lot of my original iconic images. Using this process taught me how to truly connect with my subjects, I would spend time talking and working with them, watching them and understanding their reactions and movements, then when I had gained their trust and had established a good connection, I would focus the camera, place in the film and then reconnect with my subject knowing exactly when I needed to click the shutter…..a slow process which use to sometimes frustrate the hell out of my animal trainers, but it was the perfect way to teach myself how to truly connect with animals and I was able to capture images that peeked into the soul of my subjects.
Rachael working with her 4×5″ Large Format camera
(image captured by Tim White for Life Magazine)
I had a conversation once with one of the buyers for the ‘Rachael Hale’ branded licensed products, they were struggling, in a good way, to understand what it was about my images that made them sell so well. They said my images were different to other animal images on the market, they weren’t as cutesy or as colourful, yet mine were the images people were drawn to….I explained to him about emotion, that my images were created with the intent to capture character, this will encourage people to reach for a greeting card with one of my images on the front over a card with an image that is just a cute picture of an animal.
Fortunately, I have the ability to create images that are sometimes a little humorous, this also adds an element of appeal. The humour evolves from the animal’s character, something I learnt to watch for when slowly building up a relationship with my subjects. My portraits are set up, I do not take a documentary approach when creating them, but there are often spontaneous moments that happen during a shoot that add to final image. Take Barbie for instance, the portrait of a camel wearing a hat, photographed at a private farm outside Sydney, Australia. I was struggling to capture an image of Barbie, with her long neck it was proving to be extremely difficult to create an area of focus with the large format camera that would work. It wasn’t until Arjuna, the lion cub I had been working with earlier in the day, decided to playfully chase the baby donkey around the swimming pool that was situated to the left of where I was set up to capture Barbies portrait. Barbie seemed amused, and it was while she was watching the playful antics that I was able to get the camera focused, the film loaded and capture her animated grin in profile, all in a matter of seconds, creating one of my favourite, and slightly amusing, iconic images. A good example of an image containing emotion but with no eye contact to camera.
‘There are only two styles of portrait painting, the serious and the smirk.’
Using the Large Format camera allowed me to develop my love of shallow depth of field; having such a shallow focus plane, always focused on the eye area of the subject, assists with my aim to draw the viewer into my images. My love of muted tones, and the use of tone on tone (ie: black animals photographed against black backgrounds) keeps my images simple, with no distracting elements, drawing the viewers eye into the emotional aspect of the image. With analogue technology so sparce now and film not so readily available I now create my images with a medium format Hasselblad Digital Camera, I still carry the same attributes I learnt from using the Large Format cameras into my Portrait creation these days using a wide-open aperture and I still love using soft muted colour tones to keep my images simple. I work with my digital camera as if it was a film camera, I only pressed the shutter when I know the time is right and I have a connection with my subject and still the most important aspect to capture within my imagery is character and therefore emotion.
Kricket, was trained to hold the pipe by animal trainer Marie Manderson, the smoke was added in post-production after I had captured the image. I used my Large Format film camera to create this image, using a shallow depth of field to draw focus to the eye area. I worked closely with Kricket guiding her eyeline to the camera with food, the key to a pigs heart is through their stomach.
Bart was exhausted, he was nodding off while I was capturing his portrait; even though it is an incredibly simple image, there is so much emotion portrayed through such a simple gesture. Bart was also photographed using my large format camera and shallow depth of field.
Alien’s intense gaze down the lens is the aspect that draws the viewer into this image, his character is enhanced by the cloak I made for him and using a black on black theme adds a dynamic element. Alien was photographed using my Hasselblad Digital Camera using a 80mm lens and an aperture of 2.8.
It took some persuasion to get Sonny to stop acting the goat and sit still and pose for his photo, once he realised I was serious I was able to truly connect with him and work with him through the camera creating a powerful portrait with direct eye contact from his soul to the soul of the camera. Sonny was photographed using my Large Format camera with a wide open aperture.
It took 7 hours for this little guy to finally fall asleep, a test even for my abundance of patience. It was totally worth the wait. Using the same colour tone in the little wizard hat I had made for Merlin and the background, the focus is drawn to the peaceful expression on this adorable kitten’s sleeping face. Once Merlin was asleep I was able to move him gently to create a pose that showed his face clearly and gave a feeling of total exhaustion. The use of a shallow depth of field draws your view to the face with the hat only there to enhance the image and lay on the little kitten’s name.
If you visit my online store www.henryandgeorge.com you can browse the collection of images I have available, you can choose an image that feeds your soul with emotion, an image you want to go back to time and time again……having your favourite print on your living room wall or in your workplace will allow you to view it every day.