Sharon Montrose Answers What It’s Like to Photograph Lions and Other Incredible Animals

When was the last time you got to snuggle a wolf puppy at work?

Never? Us neither. Sharon Montrose, on the other hand, can raise her hand to that one (and we’re green with jelly).

Sharon’s the photographer behind The Animal Print Shop. You might’ve spotted her portraits of wide-eyed baby giraffes, raccoons looking smug, and baby bears being baby bears.

We asked about how she discovered her awesome talent for photographing animal personality and what working commercially is all about.

While wolf pups might not be next up on your model list, you’ll get inspired to sit your pet down for a session!

Sharon Montrose on Animal Photography

Who is Sharon?

The first time we heard about Sharon, she was snapping a baby giraffe in this Etsy interview. That’s when we knew that she probably had the best job in the world.

Sharon’s an acclaimed animal photographer who happened upon her talent for capturing portraits of animals when she was inspired to photograph her own dog one day (read more about that in the interview).

While she shoots dogs and cats commercially (you’ve probably seen her photos on billboards), Sharon has had the opportunity to work with less common animals like bear cubs, ostriches, and flamingos in her personal photography. This project is what became her Animal Print Shop series. Read about where the animals come from here.

Looking through Sharon’s portfolio is a roller coaster ride of awwww and is that real! and dang, she’s inspiring. Read on to learn more about how Sharon got started and what gets her inspired.

Is photographing large animals intimidating?

Q: You’ve photographed buffalo, cows, giraffes, lions even! Is it intimidating to stand in front of an animal that large with your camera?

A: No. I’m naturally a somewhat fearful person, but I when I get behind the lens, my fear is goes away–I think I’m too distracted getting my shot to be afraid. 

How do you get great photos of wiggly subjects?

beforeQ: So, kittens and puppies aren’t known for their sitting-still-in-one-spot skills. How do you manage to get great photos of them regardless?

A: Patience and timing. With animals that move around a lot, you have to be ready and focused to hit the shutter in that split second when they stop.

How many shots does it take to get that one photo?

beforeQ: When you’re shooting for your Animal Print Shop series, how many shots does it take to get that one incredible photo?

A: It really depends on the animal–if it’s a calm animal (like a cow) who will just stand there and look around, I can get my shot in a couple frames. Others though, like little lion cubs, are running all over the place and take some serious time and patience.

How did you get into animal photography? before

Q: Did you know you wanted to get into animal photography off the bat? If not, what was getting there like?

A: At first I had a very tough time turning what I loved doing into a way to earn a living. I floundered before I became established as a working photographer. I was shooting headshots and weddings and doing okay at it, but I wasn’t happy doing either and had lost the love I had for photography.

Around the same time, I adopted my first dog (several members of my family also had dogs), so I started taking photos of all the dogs in my life to see if it reignited the love I once had for photography. It did, and I learned an important lesson as a result: I had to have an authentic connection with my subjects.

Shortly afterwards I began work on my first book Dogtionary (Viking Press 2001). The book came after many failed attempts at marketing myself as a private party pet photographer. Back in 1998 people didn’t spend money on their dogs like they do today.

The book (and subsequent books) established me in my niche because the internet was still new, so being published was more productive in those days and there were very few published photographers with dog books in the United States. There were only a handful of us in the shadows of the great William Wegman, Elliot Erwitt, Henry Horenstein, and Keith Carter. I think it was me, Jim Dratfield, Kim Levin, Valerie Shaff, Sharon Beals, Deborah Samuel, Jeff Selis, and Debra Marlin. If I forgot someone, I’m human, please don’t send me hate mail.

Can you describe a shoot in 5 steps?

beforeQ: Can you describe a shoot (let’s say one from your Animal Print Shop series) in 5 steps? Give us an idea of what happens start to finish!

1. Phone calls: Reaching out to my contacts to see if there’s anything out there for me to photograph.
2. Production: Coordinating the logistics and equipment for the shoot.
3. Shoot day: The best day!
4. Editing, post production, and test printing.
5. Producing Materials for New Release: Producing product shots, printing inventory, and adding the new release to the site, plus marketing efforts.

What is having a professional team like?

Q: What is having a professional team like? Are you ever like, “I wish it was just me?” 

A:never wish it was just me. I literally couldn’t do what I do without my team–I’m very lucky to have them.

What didn’t you realize you would be doing?

beforeQ: You’re pretty much running your own business as a photographer. What do you do a lot of now that you didn’t realize you would be doing when you started?

A: Answering questions about myself in interviews. I take my work seriously, but I don’t take myself seriously–so it’s a weird challenge.

How much creative free-reign do you typically get?

beforeQ: In commercial photography how much creative free-reign do you typically get? We’re guessing you’re working with clients’ marketing teams and maybe stylists — how collaborative is it?

A: It’s always a collaborative effort to get the shot, sometimes with many different creatives coming together: creative director, set decorator/prop stylist, production, and my crew.

If I have been selected for a job by a creative team, it’s because they like what I do and believe I can nail their comp, so it’s inherently collaborative.

Usually after we’ve been successful at getting their comp and the client is happy, I’ll shoot variations and freestyle a little to get extra options and make sure they have everything they need — that’s where I get free-reign. And sometimes they end up using those shots instead or in addition to the original concept.

Who are your top 3 favorite photographers?

Sally Mann, Robert Mapplethorpe, Edward Weston.

Where or who is your favorite inspiration? 

beforeQ: When you want to photograph your own stuff, where or who is your favorite inspiration? 

A: Honestly, it’s hard to shoot my own stuff now since I’m so busy running The Animal Print Shop. Inspiration does strike though, and I usually just pull out my iPhone to take a few snaps. It’s usually of my dogs or my crew messing around at the shop to post on Instagram.

Unless I’m in my most favorite place on earth: Yosemite. There you will find me somewhere along the Merced River in all my photo glory looking like a total Ansel Adams wannabe, photo-geek. True story.

Do you have any favorite phone photo apps or tips?

beforeQ: We see you’re on Instagram. (OMG wolf puppy!) Do you have any favorite apps or tips?

A: I like VSCOcam and Squareready. But don’t ask me, I’m old.