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How To: Chinchilla Holiday Photography

One of our favorite ways to get festive during the holiday season is with winter-themed chinchilla photo shoots! This guide will go through my process with photographing LY Chinchillas on my own with no strobes or flash (basically, nothing fancy)! Be sure to have a fast camera (I use the Fujifilm X-T10 Camera because of the super-fast continuous shooting mode) and light sources ready to go!Koko Warm Posing XmasThe very first thing to check prior to starting the shoot is the chin-proof factor. Admittedly, the actual time on set is very short – and the rest of the time is spent coaxing your little one back on set or sending them back to their cage to nap off a hard 10 seconds of work! In those off-set moments, you’ll need to make sure that everything is completely chin-proofed to prevent any accidents, fur loss, or injury.Muff Sideways HolidaysThe next thing you’ll want to check are your ambient light sources – that means your natural light, ceiling lights, desk lights, lamps, floor lamps, whatever other illuminating tools you may have in the shooting area. This will help capture your chinchilla by allowing you to have a faster shutter speed due to more available light. Normally, I prefer a clean white light, but for the holidays, there’s nothing wrong with a warmer glow that comes standard in most home lighting.
Grab a portable spotlight if your natural lighting is low – ideally, this will be somehow diffused. You can do this by using a strong flashlight or adjustable desk lamp covered and tied down with a very sheer scarf. This will make sure that your light is not too harsh and capture your chinchillas in all their softness.Set design holidays 2016 The third step is to create your set: start out with a fun, safe idea and execute! Fleece is always great, but other textures can be visually pleasing too. For my holiday shoot this year, I went with simple silver and white tree decorations, along with a chunky knit sweater. It’s important to note that these decorations are obviously not safe for consumption, so I would not suggest this for anyone who is starting out with shoots; managing the talent on set is a huge part of the multitasking these types of productions require!Lulu Munching Warm HolidaysThe final step is to shoot away! I like to set up the scene, get the lights on, take a few test shots, and then plop them in one by one to see how they react. Normally, my chins are very confused at the new environment, so they’ll take 10 seconds to look around before dashing off. Those 10 seconds are crucial! With a fast continuous shooting mode, you can grab up to 8 images per second – more than enough to finalize at least one adorable final shot.Mitty HolidaysKnowing your chinchillas, staying very patient, and setting realistic expectations is key: after shooting for years with them, I know that Fifi will be tough to contain (she has a strong dislike for unfamiliar environments) – so during this year’s shoot, she slipped out of the roster by her own sheer determination. Remember, it’s your own selfish cute-loving self who happens to be encouraging them to pose for adorable photos, so never get frustrated if things aren’t working out. If someone is being a diva, simply save the shoot for another day. Or, if you know a shoot is coming up, hold off on safe chews and treats for the week prior and let them munch on set. If difficulties arise, the rule is: better safe than sorry, always! It’s not worth straining your relationship with your beloved chin over some images.Muff Holiday Warm EatingDon’t be apprehensive to reinvent the concept if needed. Sometimes, simple is better. A fleece backdrop and a chew stick can yield incredibly cute shots, too! Staying basic is an awesome way to start learning how your chins will behave in front of the lights and camera. It’s always truly just a buildup of trust, anyhow. We all wish you a very warm and happy holidays with tons of bonding and photography, sweet friends! Koko Cute Head Warm Holidays

Custom Chinchilla Cages

This week has been busy! I’ve been all around the city, catching up with old friends, meeting with clients, and planning for the holidays with the fam. Needless to say, it’s been full of fun and festivity. One major thing I’ve set out to accomplish prior to the new year is to re-customize our custom chinchilla cage.

Chinchillas love change! To encourage mind and body stimulation, I love to move around parts of their cage from time to time – and that’s the best part of having a custom built cage. Everything can be modified simply with new pieces of kiln-dried pine (or other chinchilla safe woods) and just a couple of screws! Since each chin is different, getting to know your chinchilla is critical when it comes to modifying their cages and allowing them the safest & funnest habitat possible.

Cage 2013 2014

Last year, my boyfriend and I custom-built a cage based on the size and preferences of our chinchillas. For most of 2013 into 2014, we had only four chins, so the single custom armoire cage made perfect sense. When Koko came along in the latter half of 2014, we modified and combined two smaller wire-based cages to create a spacious multilevel loft for Mufftoneous (it was best at that point to separate the boys from the same cage complex). Prior to that point, we had a few wire cages in storage and the other as a playtime wheel for the kids, containing a water bottle and wheel for free use. Now, we keep the wheel with Muff because he has been deemed the unstoppable athlete – everyone else gets their energy out at playtime, but Muff just keeps going like the Energizer Chinchilla.

Below, you can see the most recent updates to our cages:

Over the course of the year, there were many small changes and modifications to all cages. But the desire to switch it up even further has officially arrived. So, onward! The process we use to make changes to the cage involves taking the chins out one by one for playtime and modifying cages one at a time. Typically, I start with the oldest chin’s space and work my way to the youngest, although there are always slight aberrations to that selection method. Since I constantly observe my chins in their environment, I have noticed their changes and preferences as they get older, bigger, and more curious. Their cages have always been able to be a reflection of their personality, and I’m happy to be able to be hands-on with it.

Since Mitty [located in the bottom left tripartition] loves organization, he received a few large shelves, VIP bedding area, and a custom house (not pictured). He was also given Muff’s hammock, since Muff used it more as a platform than a relaxation tool. Muff [located in multilevel wire cage] had that hammock replaced with sturdy pine shelving in large and small sizes to keep him entertained. Since I know Muff loves wall climbing and tight spaces, he received a long pine wall to scale and squeeze himself up and down (don’t worry, it’s not too tight). Lulu and Fifi [located in the bottom right tripartition] received a spacious 3-way aluminum tube so they could snuggle together and new platforms to stretch their legs on. Finally, Koko [located in the top tripartition] received Mitty’s old hut and the girls’ smaller tube. She also got a few small ledges to prance around on – she’s not a jumper, so height has never been her preference.

We had a great time modifying our kids’ cages this time around, and it’s always an exhausting pleasure being put to work by the chinchillas! I know they’ll be happy for a few weeks to come. Remember, a chinchilla owner’s job is never truly done – it’s onward, and upward, always!

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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.  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! 😀