Confession: my phone is filled with p***y photos. And by that I mean that my phone is filled with pictures of cats – my cats, the cats of my friends, the cats at work, cats I don’t know, pictures of pictures of cats, pictures of things that look like cats… it’s a little weird. But despite my best efforts and lots of practice, my photos are, shall we say, somewhat lacking:
Which is why it’s no surprise that professional pet photographers such as Andrew Marttila of The Great Went Pet Photography are in such high demand. Andrew graciously agreed to travel to the Cat Connection on Saturday, April 23, 2016 to take photos of local felines, raise money for animal rescue and spend time with DFW cat people. In anticipation of his visit, I was able to catch up with Andrew to learn a little about his photography, his cat allergy and how you can improve your own pet photography skills.
Andrew, thank you so much for chatting with me today. First off, here’s the obligatory Cat Connection question: what cats do you share your life with?
I have two Bengal cats in my life currently, but only one is mine. My guy is named Haroun, and my roommate’s Bengal is Grendel. I got Haroun around 4 ½ years ago following a breakup. My ex-girlfriend and I had been waiting to move in with one another before I got a cat of my own, and once that was no longer a prerequisite, I swiftly went to Petfinder and started my search. I found a rescue Bengal in Philly, but was turned down after an application and interview process… may have been a bit too overzealous! Anyway, I fell in love with the breed and found a responsible breeder about 2 hours away from Philadelphia. A week later, Haroun was in my arms.
Points to you for going to a responsible Bengal breeder and for searching Petfinder first. That breed is so popular, it’s important to do your homework before bringing one home. So how did you get into pet photography? Was your Bengal just too adorable you couldn’t resist?
On a whim, really. I’ve always loved taking photos, but didn’t have a proper camera for a very long time. When Haroun was a kitten, I wanted to document his cute moments and ended up borrowing my roommate’s digital camera. I started taking photos of him and some friends recommended I post them on instagram. I thought it was a novel concept and had always loved looking at photos of cute animals, so I followed through with it. Over time I gained a lot of traction through social media, and after finishing school, decided to see if I could pursue it as a full-time career. That was about 3 years ago, and I’ve been doing this ever since.
And how would you describe your photography style?
I have a degree in neuroscience and am not classically trained in photography by any means, so it’s been a very organic evolution. I always try to incorporate facets of anthropomorphism in my photos, which is just a big way of saying I like finding “human-like” traits by way of expressions in the animals’ faces. I love projecting an emotion onto a photo and truly believe animals have a much greater depth of feeling than one would often attribute to them. It’s a lot of fun capturing surprise, contentment, disdain, etc., in the faces of animals.
Also, one of my favorite things within photography is taking macro photos. Macro lenses are very much like looking through a finely tuned magnifying glass. I get some of my favorite eye and tongue shots this way. The detail is incredible!
Yeah, your tongue shots in particular are amazing to me. Whenever I catch my cats licking their lips in a photo, I love it, but it mostly just looks like a pink blurry ribbon thanks to my phone’s old camera! So, I read your bio where you confess that you’re allergic to cats. Me too! I have built up my immunity through exposure and controlling the allergens in my environment, which is something most people don’t consider when encountering pet allergies and instead get rid of the animal, which is heartbreaking and often very, very dumb. Does your allergy inform your work in any way, and if so, how?
Ah, that’s awesome! I still carry an inhaler with me just in case I encounter dander that I’m not necessarily acclimated to. I don’t think having an allergy influences the way in which I take photos, per say, but it did help to propel me into what I do after I overcame the allergy. I’ve been an animal lover from a young age, but most fuzzy animals were off limits. Now that I don’t have to deal with severe reactions, I’m making up for lost time!
Yeah, me too. When the Cat Connection first started to approach our customers about having you take their cat’s photo, most were skeptical that it could be done with their kitty. We heard a lot of “can you imagine Fluffy in a photo shoot? Hahaha.” I imagine this isn’t unusual, so what contributes to a successful shoot with you and what do you tell your clients before shooting?
Honestly, we don’t discuss too much before I do a shoot. Typically, I like to arrive in the afternoon so that there’s still a fair amount of natural light, but I have no real concrete preferences. When I get to the home, I take time before getting my camera out to befriend the animals and allow them to acclimate to my presence. The best photos are taken when they’re completely comfortable and being themselves.
You mentioned that social media has been a huge factor in your work and your photography career, but have your photos been exhibited anywhere else?
I’ve contributed to a few galleries, but have yet to have a show of my own. My photos have been in a number of publications (both print and online), and I was even interviewed on a Canadian morning show late last year. It was easily the most terrifying experience of my life, but I’m glad I went through with it. I tend to travel a lot for photos and events, much like what I’m doing with the Cat Connection. In between trips, I can be found in the comfort of my own home snuggling my cat for as long as is socially acceptable.
Well you are among friends with that, Andrew. Obviously, we’re all cat people at the Cat Connection, although a few of us represent the dog constituency too, and most of us are women. We’re all really interested in the whole Real Men Love Cats thing because, as the proverbial Crazy Cat Ladies ourselves, it’s interesting to see how the label has been applied to men, and in turn how that can confound what people expect of cat enthusiasts. Do you ever encounter any reaction to the fact that you’re a dude working in the cat world?
Hahaha, of course! For the most part, I’ve been very much welcomed into the crazy cat person club. On occasion eyebrows are raised when I talk about how much I love my cat… I really, really love my cat. His face can be seen tattooed on my forearm. Those that are suspicious or think it’s too feminine are simply behind the times. Anyone who loves animals can readily identify with the feelings I have for my dude. I’d be lying if I didn’t say cat guys were in the minority, but I expect that to change over time.
We hope so! There’s so much that a cat adds to your life; it’d be so stupid to deny yourself that joy because of a label no one cares about in any way. So for all of the novice pet photographers out there, what advice would you give to someone who wants to take a great photo of their pet?
One of the first tips I give to people is to get on the same level as their animal. We’re so accustomed to seeing life from a fixed perspective many feet off the ground. Getting down on the floor and snapping photos offers up an entirely different viewpoint and can make for some really cool photos. It’s also a good idea to have decent light wherever you’re taking photos unless you know how to utilize a flash. And personally, I don’t like “setting up” shots. My best photos are all candid. My cat seems to be extremely perceptive, and whenever I attempt to achieve something very specific with a photo, he knows how to do the exact opposite.
That sounds very much like every cat I have ever met. In addition to supporting yourself as a pet photographer, you’re very active in the animal community, which we love. The very best people working in the cat world have one foot pretty firmly planted in animal welfare. Would you like to talk about any of your charity work?
Sure! I’ve done a few photo contributions to organizations, either to be auctioned off or to raise awareness to a cause through social media. About a year and a half ago I put out a “Snug Life” shirt to raise money for the Cat Town Café and Adoption Center in Oakland, which was the first of its kind in the United States. More recently, my sister and I have developed a clothing line to benefit all kinds of animals in need. It’s called “A IS FOR ANIMALS” and runs through the alphabet, pairing a letter to an animal (B is for Bears, C is for Cats, etc.). So far we’ve only released two shirts, but have many more designs ready to be printed. You can check out the website at aisforanimals.org.
Andrew Marttila will be at the Cat Connection on April 23, 2016! Sessions are $50 for 20 minutes and are for one cat (additional cats require additional sessions), and 50% of the proceeds will be donated to a local animal charity. Sessions are limited, so please email email@example.com to inquire about availability.