How To: Chinchilla Photography

As a professional photographer in New York City, I’ve had my share of dramatic clients – fussing over hair and makeup, complaining about angles, and throwing out last-minute conceptual changes. Yeah, sometimes high fashion and editorial work can be extremely particular, but if great minds come together to accomplish the task, beautiful imagery can result.

Chinchillas, on the other hand – well, where to begin? They are inherently adorable (to me, they are the cutest animals on this planet) and can do no wrong visually. However, they won’t come together with you on a photo shoot. They won’t say – oh sure, I’ll swipe my tail 45 degrees to the left and wink at you while holding up an apple stick with my right paw. If only! Chins are hard to get ahold of, and even if you have a non-reactive chinchilla (like my Koko), photographing them can be tough. They’re drama queens in their own right!

Flash photography is the easiest and most practical type of photography to use when snapping an image of a high-speed, high-energy animal. It freezes them in frame instantly, and most of the time won’t have blur. That means you can capture them jumping, twirling, turning, or performing any onslaught of energetic feats – but the image won’t be soft or cuddly, like we know our chinchillas to be. Along with diminishing their furry details and barraging their colors with an unsightly whitewash, flash photography will likely cause you to put in some post-processing time; you should expect to use a photo-editing program to get those tiny red eyes out of your photo.

Chins look best when photographed without flash, as most standard non-diffused flash units will be too harsh on their fluffy details. The problem with studio photography is that it typically requires more setup time, careful planning, and safe treats on hand! As far as camera settings go, you’ll need a slower shutter speed (or a super-bright lighting system). I like to maintain a low ISO on all my photographs to keep images less noisy, meaning my settings will slow down overall processing speeds even more.

As far as personal photographic tastes go, I’m ALL about natural lighting. Give me the morning sun, sulking half-light, or a heavy sunset. I love it all: the emotive depth, the searing contrast, the daring illusory effects. For all my clients, I suggest going natural. It’s more challenging (so to say, more interesting) than a studio shoot and lends a level of professionalism that supersedes the senseless ‘pro ideal’ of a $20,000 camera set and a 3,000 square ft NYC studio (although wouldn’t we all love to bathe in such fanciness ~ as the chins love to bathe in dust). I believe strongly in natural lighting, it shows in my work.

As far as chinchilla photography goes, I’m ALL about just surviving the shoot! Natural light is still the best for beautiful images, but studio photography accomplishes what natural lighting can’t – being able to be done at any time of the day. I’ll still grab my Nikon for the playtime sessions with the kids, but if I’m looking for some high-quality commercial-level imagery, I’ll overwhelmingly choose a studio set.Β  That means I’m gonna put in 20 minutes to get the lighting right but only end up shooting for a minute or two. Sets should be simple and clean, allowing the focus to be on the chins – adding in a colorful fleece background or sprinkling marigolds can brighten up the scene without detracting from the furry spectacle.

It’s imperative to prepare for the skittishness of the babies. Since chinchillas are nocturnal, their eyes perform better in low light, so I’m sure the brightness of the set becomes irritating very quickly. Chins have such little patience when it comes to waiting for human error to correct itself, so it’s best to be ready with a tripod and set your camera to high-speed continuous shooting mode, and give it your best!

Remember, patience and effort are the main components to great chinchilla photos. It doesn’t hurt to have a photo assistant to collect escaping chins or a chinchilla-safe treat on set to coax them into staying still – if only for a moment! πŸ˜€

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