Modeling with Animals
Some of the most frequent questions I receive are about my interaction with stingrays.
“Are stingrays dangerous to swim with in open waters?”
“Have you ever had a bad experience with stingrays?”
So this month I thought I’d attack the subject of modeling with animals. I’ll give you my pointers on interacting with stingrays, tiger sharks, and anything underwater but I’ll also share with you some tips from a fellow model I interviewed who has created some killers shots with animals too!
If you’ve ever wanted to model with sea creatures my suggestion is that you get extremely comfortable in the water first! Understand your body, its limitations, and abilities. Understand equalizing, currents and tides, how waves works etc. If you want to have a safe experience modeling underwater with unpredictable animals this is crucial.
Another aspect to safe shooting is to always have someone with you that is equally as comfortable in the water. In a lot of my shoots this someone was the photographer. However, in bigger productions there have been two safety divers hired especially to make sure I get back home in one piece. So, not to scare you but bring a buddy you can count on if anything happens. Even turtles can bite!
Every shoot and method of modeling will depend on the animal you are with. Please research and study your animal before getting near it. For example, stingrays can sting but did you know they bite? Did you know sharks can be afraid of other sharks? I was once in a group of reef and lemon sharks when they all scattered and disappeared. Luckily, I knew this meant a bigger shark was around and was able to spot the approaching tiger shark and prepare myself. It’s important to know animals’ behavioral patterns in order to have a positive shooting experience.
My last input is to respect the animal, always. I once had to spend 12 hours in the water with a tiger shark before it even let me get near it! So give the animal time to grow accustomed to you. Let it approach you. Make it feel safe. Enjoy its presence and stay calm. If it chooses to leave, allow it to and try again another time.
Regarding a few animals I’ve worked with:
Stingray - Keep your fingers clear of their mouths.
Tiger Shark - Keep eye contact with them at all times.
Whale - Allow them to see you by staying to the right or left of them.
Octopus - Keep them close to your body and away from your face.
As a bonus, I asked model Cassidy Alexei what advice she might give you about modeling with animals. Here’s what she said:
“Spend time with them before getting in front of the camera. Let them get close to you and form a bond so that when you’re on camera they feel like it’s you and them together rather than two individual entities. If I have to work with someone else’s pet I usually sit down and get comfortable with them. I don’t look at them but feel welcoming until they feel like they want to come over and get to know me.”
Be safe and happy shooting!