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How to start your own pet photography business

Are you a budding photographer?

Have you ever looked at cute dog photos and thought to yourself ‘I could do that!’, but weren’t exactly sure how to start?

Well, I’m here to offer a few tips and detail the experience that I’ve been through while taking my Melbourne based pet photography business from just an idea through to viable photography business for my family and I.

Having worked in magazine publishing in the UK for 10 years, I moved to Melbourne with a wealth of experience in managing photographers and photography assets but limited experience in actually photographing animals.  I had worked on a dog magazine for 2 years so knew how to manage a shoot involving dogs, but also had plenty of tricks for getting and keeping a dogs attention.

My photography skills were well established from photographing events and weddings so I knew which way to point a camera(!) but combining it with animals was still a little challenging at first.

Once I had a few dog photoshoots under my belt, I felt like I’d started to find my groove with it and was coming close to the look I wanted to perfect and take forward as a brand style.  That took a year or two to hone, with a few learning experiences on the way.  I never had a disastrous shoot, but there were a few occasions on shoots which I got very wrong.  But you know what they say – you learn from your mistakes! Also, dogs are happy to be out and about having fun so it was easy enough to just reshoot the scene and nobody was any the wiser.

Even now, I still learn or gain something new from each shoot.  Whether, it’s something about a location, a technical improvement or  a new trick to keep a dog attentive during a shoot.

No two dog photoshoots are the same – there are so many variables ranging from the weather through to an unpredictable dog.  You should practice and shoot as much and often as you can so you end up being prepared for any eventuality.  Pick up your camera every day, whether it is for work or pleasure.

 

Tips for starting a pet photography business:

 

Start

Yes, it’s that simple.  Start something – either get a website running, apply for your business name, take some more photos, write a business plan.

Once you get started, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to keep it rolling.

Think up a great business name.  Personally, I love a good pun in a business name – hence Pupparazzi, but there are still plenty of good business names out there so put on your thinking cap!

Better still, get together with some mates and thrash out a few ideas.

In case you’re interested, here is a list of some of the Australian pet photography business names I really like:

  • Petography
  • Pawtraits of Pets
  • Furrever Photography
  • Dogfolk
  • Puppy Tales
  • Hairypants Photography
  • The Petographer

Some photographers prefer a more sensible look to their brand, so consider the brand name carefully and try it out on a variety of people.

If you’re looking for anecdotal evidence of a good business name, I can tell you that I have taken 2 bookings based solely on the strength of the business name. Each client claimed that they didn’t even take a look at the website before booking and contacted me simply because they loved the name!

Obviously, it’s your business, so you have to be comfortable with the business name so do what feels right for you.

 

Invest

Yes, it’s easy for me to say now that I have a business up and running, but investing in your business does pay dividends at a later date.  Once you have a decent website ready for the world (if you don’t have time to build one, this is an example of a good investment) start to advertise and improve your SEO (again, another example of money well spent – nobody wants to be spending their time doing that nerdy stuff!).

Invest in yourself AND your equipment.  Assisting other pet photographers is a great way to get some unpaid experience, but also learn a few new tricks and perhaps pick up some new ideas of how to photograph a dog.  I still love watching other photographers working as it always gives me a new perspective on a scene and also prompts me to think differently about photographing my next dog.

There are several pet photographers out there offering mentoring programmes as well as training courses.  I guess there is probably some value in this, but there is also great value in learning on the job.   I’m always happy to chat to up and coming photographers and critique their work so if this is you, feel free to get in touch.

 

Lenses

Buy quality equipment, especially lenses.  Quality, prime lenses aren’t cheap, but you definitely get what you pay for.

As a suggestion for a few lenses to get you started with a Canon camera I’d go for:

70-200mm f2.8 MkII version for beautiful bokeh backgrounds and perfect for getting those action shots of the dog running along the beach or park chasing a ball.

50mm f1.8 Canon will be the best $150 you’ll ever spend!  I have the $1500 f1.2 50mm lens and I probably couldn’t tell the difference between the two of them.  Apart from the $1350 hole in my bank account…

A nice 85mm 2.8 or a 100mm macro would also be fun to add to your camera bag, but you can’t spend money you don’t have so get some dogs photographed and earn some money first!  There is plenty of time for buying more equipment further into the business.

The irony is that you’ll probably always use your 2 favourite lenses no matter what else is in your camera bag.  I know I do!

 

Advertise

Advertising isn’t always cheap, but it gets results!  Adwords and Facebook adverts are probably the best and can be targeted to certain demographics or areas.  For instance I only advertise within 100km of Melbourne so that I’m not sat in my car in traffic when I could be photographing dogs at my local beach.

Large events such as the Dog Lovers Show in Melbourne is a great place to advertise and buy a stand.  Although it’s not cheap to have a stand at the show (approximately $3000 from memory) it does certainly bring in customers and create brand awareness.

If you plan to offer pet photography in areas outside of Melbourne, the Dog Lovers Show is also hosted in Sydney once a year too so.

 

Pricing

How much do pet photographers cost? My pet photography pricing starts at $99 for a simple session with an online gallery to select images from afterwards. Session prices rise to over $900, which includes high resolution images and some products.

Obviously you might need to start with low prices that reflect your skill level or at a level that will help to entice new customers and enable you to build up a portfolio.

 

Experiment

Once comfortable with photographing dogs and your locations, start to experiment.  Try something new or tricky on each shoot. Let things take their own course. Once you have a few key shots in the bag, why not let the dog lead the shoot.  Let them wander and keep taking photos – you might be surprised where you end up, as well as what you manage to capture.

Experimentation can also happen in the post processing stage – try a few plugins, mess with the contrast, go black and white.  Give the images to another photographer to process to see if they do something unique or give you a new idea.

I was part of the original team who helped launch Helpouts by Google, and I offered an online Helpout  session that was all about starting and running your own profitable pet photography business.

Unfortunately Google discontinued this product a few years ago but since then I have offered one-on-one coaching and mentoring to up and coming photographers as I’ve been approached.

So, if you have any pet photography questions, would like to chat photography, have your animal portfolio reviewed or are just a curious pup, then jump on over to the contact button above to drop me a line.

However you choose to run your pet photography business, I wish you all the very best with it and I hope you have a lot of fun with it.  See you at the dog park!

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