In my family portrait photography I’m always trying to capture the character of the people I’m photographing. With a human subject it’s easy to get good communication, which helps to produce great images, but with animals it’s a bit harder. I’ve had a look at some of my animal portraits to see if that character is there too.
This resting lion, in a zoo, really has the Aslan look about him. Aslan is the lion in the C. S. Lewis series of books about Narnia. There’s a sense of quiet power in his face. There was a wire fence between me and him, so I used a long lens and wide aperture to throw it out of focus.
This pony, peering over a fence, had a different sort of character; no quiet power here. The perked up ears and half smile make her (look at those eyelashes!) look a bit cheeky, and definitely interested in any sort of food you might have. I used a long lens again to ensure that the background was nice and fuzzy.
With some animals we put our own spin on what their characters are like simply because of how they look. This little owl is a prime example. To me they always look really cross! It was in quite a dark pen so I used a pop of flash to fill in and give good catch lights in the eyes.
This Egyptian Vulture, seen in Tunisia, looks a bit foppish with its fluffy white feathers, but its face has the expression of Travis Bickle in the film “Taxi Driver”. His most famous phrase was, “You lookin’ at me?”. It’s a sort of “don’t mess with me” face.
Finally, the Jacob’s Sheep ewe, seen with her new lamb, looks both protective and very pleased with herself. The other ewe in the background is like a neighbour who wants to know what’s going on but can’t quite see. The lamb, who has no experience of life yet, just looks cute.
So is there real character there in these animal portraits, or is the character something that we apply to the animals ourselves based on the character of humans we’ve met? I think the answer is “Yes” to both questions.