I hate the bandwagon effect, the idea that just because everyone else is doing it you should be, too. Isn’t that what leads all those lemmings off the cliff? But I’ve been hearing from other photographers across the country how much fun they’re having photographing pets. And there’s a certain profit motive involved here as well. I read a few days ago that people in the USA spend some $35 billion annually on their pets.
Dogs (and cats) are much-loved members of the family for many households. They give unconditional love and affection, something that is often otherwise missing in our daily lives.
I’m starting to explore those bonds and relationships between pets and humans in my photography. My latest venture, Purebred Pet Portraits, is an outgrowth of my human portrait photography. I’m getting some marketing guidance from Taimi Gorman, owner of Gorman Publicity and the unfortunately now-defunct Doggie Diner in Fairhaven. That’s Taimi with Oscar in the photo at the right. Madeline the pug, sitting on the wooden chair, is also her dog.
My friends may wonder whether I’ve lost my mind. See, I’ve never owned a pet in my life (unless you count the milk snake I caught when I was 7 and kept for a while), although we’ve dog-sat for neighbors many times. I used to be the shy guy who only wanted to photograph things with roots. Well, I’ve discovered that I’m not as shy as I thought and I enjoy developing relationships with living things that have legs and brains.
There’s a whole different dynamic that goes on in a pet portrait session than with a family or a high school senior. Adults listen and take direction well, at least most of the time. We can take our time and work out the nuances of a portrait together. With pets the session is a lot more fluid.
One thing that’s the same is that I take the time to get to know my subjects before I pick up a camera. With dogs and cats I’ll be down on the floor, at their level, so we can look each other in the eye. I’m not into the sniffing thing like dogs, but they will sniff me and figure out what messages my odor is telling them. I’m pretty good at making friends with new dogs pretty quickly, even those whose humans think they’re aloof.
Once we’ve made friends then I pick up my camera and go to work. It’s a three-way partnership, with the dog’s human companion helping him pose and providing eye contact. I’ll be down on the floor so I’m photographing at eye level. I haven’t had a Saint Bernard yet, but I’d have to sit up for him. Although I usually prefer to work with my camera on a tripod, with pets I’ve found that hand holding gives me more freedom to move and follow their shorter attention span.
A professional portrait of your pet is an investment in memories of the love you share. It can be somewhat formal, like these studio portraits of Taimi’s dogs, or a more casual portrait photographed at your home or a favorite park. Whichever you choose, know that I’ll provide lots of personal attention, flattering lighting, and all the photo skills that my 15 years of photography experience bring to the table. You’re going to love your pet’s portraits and have a hard time choosing which ones deserve a prominent place on your wall. I guarantee it.