A Friendly Resource For New Photographers: Pet Photography Advice

I get a lot of emails from novice photographers, or pro photographers simply new to the animal photography business who are looking for a little support (and answers to a lot of questions). Because I was been blessed with some amazing mentors along the way, I’m always happy to return the favor and help mentor others. The questions I hear are basically the same from person to person, so I thought I’d make everything a bit more accessible by providing answers to some common dog photography questions online. I hope this is helpful to anyone looking to break into the professional pet photography world.  If you have any pressing questions, or just want some pet photography advice or help with your portfolio etc, I can always be reached via my contact page.


What camera do I use: I photograph with a Hasselblad 500c and Contax 645. I also use a variety of professional instant cameras (both Fuji and Polaroid), as well as large format (4x5 and 8x10) studio and field cameras.


Where did you get your Contax 645: I bought mine from an associate- my studio likes to keep things in the family, you know. The Contax 645 system is experiencing a big come-back. Which is awesome. But it means that they are harder and harder to find. Your best bet is to look on eBay or visit a quality camera shop or camera swap event. Before you buy anything, I highly recommend you get it checked out by a professional servicing company. The Contax 645 system is not produced anymore, which means they are hard to fix. If you are looking to buy a Contax 645 you should be award of the down sides of the system- a) you need to know how to shoot film, b) you need to be prepared to pay for the cost of film and processing, c) if something breaks on your camera or lens, you will wait up to a six months to get it fixed and returned from Japan or New Jersey, d) they are very heavy. It’s a truly wonderful system, but getting great results from the Contax 645 takes a lot of patience, practice, and dedication.


What settings do you put your camera at: Though I’m very happy to help advise people on how to get the most out of your analog film camera, I have my own system of exposing and metering that works very well for me, but may not work for you. A true gentleman keeps a few things to himself…


How do I get better at shooting film: Film is nice. Don’t be so scared. I bet you’ll be friends. The only way to get over your fears of making a mistake with your film camera, or messing up your chemistry in processing, or not knowing which film to use is to simply shoot shoot shoot. Being an analog photographer only seems hard because us analog nerds try to act all cool. But really we’re not. If you want to get better at using film and analog cameras simply get into a routine of photographing at least 3 rolls a week, getting them processed, making contact sheets or scans, and also making small test prints of your entire roll. On top of that, you should be making notes of your exposures for each frame. This will teach you where the sweet spot on your camera is- is it really f 2.0 or f2.8?- and let you visually understand the mechanisms of your film camera and the tonal range of your film. I know it sounds like a lot to do, but learning anything new takes commitment. At least you’ll look cool doing it and be building a portfolio at the same time.


 Should I use film or not? Well, I don’t really know. Should I wear Levi’s or Gap jeans? It’s a personal preference, it helps define your style, and it is a rewarding challenge. But most importantly- you must love the medium. That is all that matters. Do not go shooting a roll here or there for clients on top of digital just for the street cred. It’s not worth it. Your portfolio won’t look consistent and people will wonder why you can’t decide who you are as an artist. Commit yourself, go all in. You should shoot film if it inspires you, if the work you create with it inspires others, if you feel excited by it’s possibilities, and if it speaks to your authentic style. I love a good pair of Levi’s, but they’re harder to break in. Gap jeans go on easy, but the fit is sloppy. It’s so hard to get dressed in the morning, but in the end I always go with quality. Quality and authenticity and you’re good to go.


How do I figure out what to charge my clients? This is a hard question. Though you should never under-value yourself as an artist, for people just starting out I think it’s a good idea to charge a bit less than you want to be making. This will allow you the freedom to make some mistakes with clients who are not your top-tier clients before really putting yourself out there full time. People will talk to you about ‘market value’ until the cows come home, but don’t forget to do a little soul searching before you print that first draft of your pricing structure. Yes, it is important to know what the going rate is for a photograph in your niche market, and what the going rate is for an artist on your level etc. If you want to grow and make an impression in your community, you’ll need to stand out. And you need to do that by pricing yourself in a higher bracket than others. You’ll also need to have the portfolio and foundation to do so. So, start low, build your portfolio at a close-to-market rate, and increase your prices until you feel like you are honoring your creative work and reputation, and are pulling in the clients you truly want.


Do you really do this full time? Should I? I do really do this full time. Basically so I can say to people “Yes, I am a professional photographer. No, I don’t know Santa Claus” at dinner parties.  Should you do it full time? Well, why not? The fine line between getting the benefits of working full time at what you love, and the horrors of number crunching and bill paying and finances can be very confusing. I feel you. The trouble with being a part-time photographer when you WANT to be a full time photographer is that when you work full time at something and give it 150% of your attention and energy, there are inevitable benefits that come from it. More time working as a photographer means more time networking, marketing, creating content, being creative, and working with clients. Which then kick starts that amazing cycle of regeneration- more time for clients means more clients, more time for networking means more networking and doors opening for you, etc. It also means risking not making enough money (at first, of course) to support yourself or your family. Since I can hardly do basic arithmetic, I can’t tell you if it’s financially smart to quit your day job and jump in 100% to your photography. I can tell you that without being fully committed you will never know if you can actually succeed. Try committing yourself for 6 months to working every free moment you have on your photography business. If you can handle it and still wake up every morning loving it- it’s probably a good sign that you’ll be able to go full time. Confidence and faith in yourself are an artist’s secret weapons. Don’t sit and think about if you can do it- just actually do it. You’ll be great.


Do you need an intern? Sure thing! I love having interns at my San Francisco and Los Angeles photography studios. We use more interns at the SF studio, as I share that space with a few other wonderful photographers. If you’d like to apply, just send me your resume and some info about yourself. Interns are key players in the studio, and in return they get an amazing education about the dog photography business, analog photography, camera work, client interactions, processing and print production, a whole lot of one-on-one time with me and usually coffee and snacks. Also, dogs.

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