Hello Shotkit peoples, I’m Peter Samuels, a commercial and fine art animal photographer based out of San Francisco, California.
I photograph people too, but my animal work seems to be my shining star so I’m currently rolling in that direction – both because I love it, and because I’ve been winning awards for this work.
So, you know awards are like a sign saying “keep doing this” and I’m very fortunate to have the opportunity to do just that.
My training and career began as a product/still life photographer which is where I honed my studio lighting skills.
My transition to animals began after I got my first dog, Leica, in 2007 and realized I had a way with this subject. Maybe it was my naiveté of not being an animal person before, like a tourist who brings fresh eyes to a city, I’m not sure, but something was working.
I photographed a friend’s horse and one of those images started winning awards, then selling in galleries, then in Restoration Hardware (a series of 3 equine images that sold out fairly quickly). This is essentially how I’ve been inadvertently moving from commercial to fine art.
However, I’m still very much a commercial photographer. Commercial jobs afford me a chance to collaborate with talented people, produce cool concepts and work with reasonable budgets on projects I might not have done otherwise, and I love that!
Anyway, with my history of being a product/still life photographer, I’m very particular about how I use light and I’ve brought that skillset to my animal work. I light and produce animals as if they were a still life image – a rather difficult approach, though simple at the same time, as I do not use complex lighting setups.
However, my lighting, while minimal, is very specific. All my years of experience have culminated in my using fewer lights with greater intent.
Here’s my primary list of gear:
Just moved up from the Nikon D800 and I’m loving Z7! It’s in-body stabilization actually works with my Sigma lenses, which are huge pieces of glass, so any help on vibration reduction is a plus. It’s also refreshingly light for a full feature camera. A lighter camera and the stabilization are important components as I usually shoot handheld.
This is now a backup camera in case the unspeakable happens.
Nikon 85mm f/1.8 G Lens
Awesome light, super-sharp lens. I didn’t need the 1.4 as I usually shoot at or around f/10.
While this lens is terribly heavy, it’s incredibly sharp – noticeably sharper than the Nikon 1.4 – so I use this on projects where I expect to be making super big prints or commercial gigs.
Nikon 105mm f/2.8 Micro Lens
Great all-around lens for getting in close.
🤖 Related: Nikon Lens Recommendations
Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art Lens
Wonderfully sharp lens and use it whenever there’s not enough room to the use the 85mm.
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art Lens
A solid and affordable wide-angle lens choice, I don’t need wide-angle all that often, but when I do I use the Sigma.
Profoto D4 2400 Ws strobe pack – I cannot say enough about how great this strobe pack has been! However, newer models are now offering higher freeze rate (lower flash duration) when paired with the Profoto Air Remote so my next strobe purchase may be the profoto D2 1000 Ws Monologhts. I wouldn’t go with the battery versions just yet as I typically need more than the 500 Ws those units are offering.
Profoto Acute/D4 heads (x4)
Profoto Acute 1200 strobe pack
Pocket Wizard remotes (x2)
Profoto White Large Deep Umbrella (with diffuser sock)
Profoto Shallow White M Umbrella (x2)
Chimera Pro strip bank (x2)
Wescott Octa XL lightbank
Tether Tools USB cable (for tethering) – I always shoot tethered.
Sony RX100 III
My official behind the scenes camera, I can hand this off to any assistant and expect perfectly good results (as long as they get my good side, haha).
Apple MacBook Pro 15” 2018 32GB and 2 TB internal drive
Magliner Gemini Jr (with shelf) – Transports my gear then converts to a table on-set.