Animal Photog

Portait of Larry Johnson.
Portait of Larry Johnson.
Larry Johnson photographs a cat at the Greater Baton Rouge Cat Club show in Gonzales on March 17.
Larry Johnson photographs a cat at the Greater Baton Rouge Cat Club show in Gonzales on March 17.

By Baileigh Rebowe | LSU Student

A 9-month-old cougar sat in front of an audience at the Miami animal hospital. Suddenly the big cat jumped back, four legs in the air and knocking the backdrop to the ground.

"Let's try this again," Larry Johnson yelled from behind the camera.

Johnson has photographed animals professionally for more than 25 years throughout the world. A Baton Rouge resident, he has worked for animal-welfare organizations, such as The Humane Society and other non-profit organizations.

He sets up a backdrop, chooses coloring, and adjusts lighting for his subjects and their owners, but there is a catch: convincing uncooperative animals to pose.

"It's an interesting job," Johnson said. "It's unpredictable no matter how long you do it. Each animal is different. You try to not capture their eyes closed or with an intimidating look. You really have to pay attention."

Johnson has photographed everything from dogs to horses to fish to iguanas to hedgehogs, skunks and tigers.

"They are like children, some are prima donnas, others pout. You have to pet them, play with them and get them to laugh at you. I have toys, teasers and feathers to rid them of their nervousness. I like the challenge."

Although Johnson said he has never been injured by an animal, there are a few moments when he was the nervous one.

Johnson was photographing a 140 pound mountain lion in a studio on one occasion and during the session he leaned in close to the lion's face to get a tight shot. He was now in the animal's space.

"She had me as her a toy and came at me and put her jaws around my leg. I instinctively had a bit of fear come to me. She released and did not break the skin, but I was left with four black and blue spots from where she placed her canines."

The photographer's current focus is on a much smaller cat, photographing a domestic cat show nearly every weekend around the globe. He frequently gets assignments in France, Japan and Germany.

In the U.S. alone, there are two to six sponsored cat shows every weekend. Several organizations, such as the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) and the International Cat Association (ICA) sponsor the shows. On a typical Saturday show, Johnson has up to 150 photo shoots.

Expenses from attending the shows add up, the photographer acknowledges, although some organizations pay for his travel.

The 60-year-old Johnson started taking photos of nature more than 30 years ago, evolving to animals after being invited to photograph a dog show in Miami where he was living at the time. He moved to Baton Rouge about a decade ago to work in a "slower-paced" area.

There are several photographers that shoot animals in southeastern Louisiana, but Johnson, who makes house calls, says he does not feel the competition since most do not specialize and capture only dogs.

He recently won the award for "Photographer of the Year for a Competition" from the Baton Rouge Photographer's Guild association. He is the president of the Greater Baton Rouge Cat Club in his spare time.

In-house photo sessions of family pets range from $75 to $250, according to Johnson, offering digital or traditional prints.

"There is an expertise behind photography. You have to be smart about it. I know it takes a whole lot more than a camera to do what I am doing."