Unique Holiday Gift Idea: Photograph Your Own Pet Calendar

Unique Holiday Gift Idea: Photograph Your Own Pet Calendar

The holidays months can bring extra leisure time, and there's nothing more rewarding than spending that free time on a challenging photography project. During last year's fall holidays I decided to turn my available energy into something creative and fun: a pet calendar for 2018.

Perhaps these images will inspire you to try out a calendar project yourself. It doesn't have to be pet themed. Use your favorite subject, whether astrophotography, portraits (don't forget release forms), or landscapes. The calendars made great gifts for friends and family.

After beginning the project in October, I was crunched for time. I browsed royalty-free websites for backgrounds to composite with. While that might sound lazy, the truth is that going this route required detailed attention to lighting as well as hours compositing in Photoshop.

Studio Process

After deciding on the backgrounds for each month, my wife and I set up a basic home studio with a white backdrop. Since our cat, Jeff, (the subject of the calendar) is brown, the white would make clipping him out and pasting to the new backgrounds simple. While not absolutely necessary, a green screen could also be used for this purpose.

The lighting setup was easy: Two studio strobes and a Speedlight mounted to my camera for front fill light when necessary. A few modifiers and gels were used to change the direction and color temperature of light.

A shot for fun taken while setting everything up.

If you know anything about pet photography, you know that these shoots require a lot of patience plus a handful of treats. Since we weren't working with a green screen, we would go back and forth between analyzing the light in the image while it was fresh in our minds and attempting to wrangle our furry model with more treats. It got chaotic at times, but was actually loads of fun.

Naturally we chose fitting themes for each month and created cat images to composite into them. The themes for each month will be self-explanatory.

All of the following images were composites - the subject (cat) was not in any of these scenes.

This was a result of three images composited: the beach, pineapple, and cat were all separate layers.

Creating the Calendar

You've created your 12 images, great! Now, it's time to print them out and create some unique holiday gifts for your friends and family. You have options when it comes to printing out your calendar, the easiest route being to outsource it to a professional printer.

The other, more involved option for creating your calendar is using a template and binding it at home by punching holes with a wire-binding machine. (have I lost you? Maybe you should stick with ordering your calendar online).

I hope this project has been interesting for you, maybe even a useful gift idea. Feel free to share project ideas in the comments section below.

Scott Mason's picture

Scott Mason is a commercial photographer in Austin specializing in architectural imaging.

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So stupid it's cute, right? ;)

Unless you want to use one of the inside pictures as a cover (most do), I would recommend shooting a 13th photo. Also keep in mind what direction your Calendar will be opening in and shoot accordingly. Calendars mostly open from the wide end and would best be shot in landscape. Some calendars open on the narrow side and would best be shot in portrait.

Good call Lee. I ended up using one of the twelve images as the cover, with custom graphics laid over it.

OMG! Your poor cat. The look on its face is priceless. Thanks for the smile.

Nice idea but the photos are second rate, sorry.

You should take a stab at compositing sometime, your images show potential.

Please, NO MORE CALENDARS! I only have so much wallspace!

Fun idea! I especially like the concept of compositing other pets in on ornaments in the Christmas tree set. (Or you could even decorate a tree with multiple image-ornaments of just the one pet in the photo, for a gift that could send some pet owners I know over the moon.)

One question: why a white background for a cat with so much white in its socks, chest and belly?