Six Things All Pet Photographers Should Do
Most pet photographers start because of a love of pets but, well, you can't live on love. It takes a certain set of skills to deal with those four-legged kids, their "parents" and turn a profit…without going barking mad. In fact, here's what three respected professional pet photographers suggest all budding pet photographers do:
Be Patient or Go Home
Pet photography can be full of chaos, but a good rule of thumb is to simply wait. "Unlike toddlers who come in quiet and then bounce off the walls when they warm up, pets come in wound for sound. It takes them a bit to calm down and relax," says Sarah Petty, M.Photog.Cr., CPP. That's why she doesn't rush the sessions, waiting for the pet to get comfortable so she can get her shots. (Sarah even tells the owners of young or hyper dogs to take them for a run in the park before their session.)
But even when calm, pets still need patience from their photographer. You can't really guide their poses all that much, as Georgia-based Leesia Teh notes: "Most of my session is spent waiting for the pet to do something we want them to do." And you have to be okay with waiting for that shot. Pets can pick up on if you are trying to rush, which can make them uneasy and put you back at square one!
Study Animal Behavior
If you're photographing pets, it's just smart to study their behavior. Learning to read a dog or cat's body language can help you understand if a situation is stressing the pet out, if they are intimidated by the lights or looking for an exit plan, says Teresa Berg of Teresa Berg Photography in Texas. This extra bit of study can help you better interact with your subjects from the very first moment you greet them (don't rush up to them).
IMAGE © SARAH PETTY PHOTOGRAPHY
Know How to Use Your Equipment
If you're a pro, you probably already know the basics and beyond of using your gear. But are you ready to use those skills on a subject that doesn't always sit and stay where you want? Leesia says that with pets, you have to be ready to capture the perfect shot when it comes because it will likely only happen once. "Plus, I've seen a lot of new pet photographers showcasing images that aren't quite in focus. While there's a place for intentional blur, sometimes it doesn't add to the image and could be the result of a low shutter speed. Dogs move quickly, and you have to account for that in your settings."
That's perhaps why Sarah suggest practicing your style on your family's and friends' pets, or even offering to photograph a local veterinarian's staff with their pets (partnership marketing opportunity!).
Cultivate People Skills
"You may photograph pets, but unless a dog can write a check, you need to be able to communicate with people too," notes Teresa. People are the ones booking the sessions and paying the bills, so you can't neglect that aspect of your business.
Be a Businessperson
Like those people skills, business skills are another area where pet photographers (all photographers, really) need some strength training. "You have to study products and pricing and really figure out what it costs to be a pet photographer," says Teresa. "So many start photographing pets for the pure love of animals and think they're making a profit when they're really just giving their time away. I think everyone can benefit from some business management classes like what PPA offers."
IMAGE © TERESA BERG PHOTOGRAPHY
Think Like an Artist
Teresa, Sarah and Leesia all agree that pet photographers need to think of themselves as artists. "Don't let clients push you around or undervalue your work," says Leesia. "Hold your ground and respect your work, and your clients will too."
On that note, Teresa suggests being leery of requests to do on-site photography at events. "It can attract the wrong type of client," she says, "one who will now always be looking for a bargain from you." Instead, she likes to focus on offering custom pet portraits through her boutique studio. (And she volunteers by photographing homeless animals for shelters or rescue groups: www.focusonrescue.com)
In the end, pet photography is like all professional photography—you gotta love it, but you also need to know what you're really getting into!
IMAGE © LEESIA TEH PHOTOGRAPHY
Teresa Berg owns Teresa Berg Photography in Dallas, Texas: www.teresaberg.com
Sarah Petty owns Sarah Petty Photography in Springfield, Illinois: www.sarahpetty.com / www.thejoyofmarketing.com
Leesia Teh owns Leesia Teh Photography in Atlanta, Georgia: www.leesiateh.com