How to become a pet photographer

By Dog Photographer Rebecca Goutorbe

Disclaimer – This website contains affiliate links to the products and services I use and highly recommend including SmugMug. You won’t pay any more for the products or services they offer but I may get a small commission Thank you  

Learn about pets

A great tip when you are photographing dogs, cats or any pets is that you really do need a good understanding of your subject. Sure we all love dogs, and animals but is that really enough? 
 You will need to understand a little bit about pet behaviour and breed traits with in the dogs you are photographing. Know what the dogs are supposed to be doing if they are out working, and also have a good idea what the owners are requesting.   

I have been around by dogs and cats all my life, I started showing dogs when I was 11 years old. I’ve bred dogs, looked after dogs, I groom dogs, photograph dog’s. Every day I see a dog whether it’s my own or someone else’s. I know when a dog is happy, sad, had enough of being photographed and when it’s ready to try and bite me.
When I decided I wanted to photograph dogs all I thought I had to do was learn how to use a good camera. I knew exactly how I wanted the images to look I just had to figure out how I was going to make the camera take the shot I wanted. 

How to become a dog photographer
tips to become a pet photographer

What is the best camera for pet photography?

If you are new to digital photography don’t think that by buying the best DSLR or mirrorless camera, and lens on the market is going to be able to make your photo’s better it won’t. Unless you know how to use the camera off the automatic mode.
 I really am trying to help you out here with this one –
  if you are looking to start pet photography and don’t have a camera yet, buy a second hand camera and lens to start off with.  Then learn how to use the camera off the automatic mode.

I started off with a Canon 60D it was a good crop sensor camera, which had a standard kit lens and zoom lens to go with it. You can still buy that camera for about £200 second hand, which is better than trying to find around £2000 or more just for a camera with no lens.
I have only ever used Canon there is nothing wrong with Nikon, Sony, Fuji or any the other camera on the market. All the camera suppliers have to update their models of camera and bring out newer, bigger, smaller, faster, lighter versions to keep up the game and make money.

How to become a dog photographer

The right lenses for pet photography

If you are buying a lens you will need to think about the focal length. This will really depend on what style of photo’s you want to be taking wide angle or telephoto. If you are wanting really close up quirky photo’s where the dogs head is massive and the legs look tiny go wide angle, really wide like a 16-35mm lens or wider. If you want to work from a good distance away from the dog a 300mm or 400mm lens will do the job. I prefer prime lenses, these are lenses with a fixed focal length. But every paid dog photo shoot I do is taken with a 70-200mm lens with an aperture of f2.8. This gives me the flexibility to zoom in and out and my lens is always on a full frame camera. An aperture of f2.8 will allow enough light into the camera in low light situations. The 70-200mm lens is most dog photographers go to lens. A second hand lens again will do the job, I have won awards with images taken with a second hand Canon 85mm lens which cost just £200, you don’t need to spend a fortune to photograph pets.

Basic camera settings

Once you have your camera and lens you need to first understand the basic settings on the camera, what they do and where the buttons are. See how high you can push up the ISO on the camera until the photo quality is too grainy and no good to use with the lens you have. You need to be able to get a fast enough shutter speed for the action shots so the photos are sharp and not blurry. I have a second hand Canon 400mm f5.6 L Series lens that is an amazing lens, it’s sharp, and light in weight but only a f5.6 aperture. This means I need loads of light to get the stutter speed where I need it to be for sharp actions shots. In order to do this I have to increase the ISO on the camera. With the fixed long focal length of 400mm on the lens and an aperture of f5.6 you are pushing the camera to its limits when the light is low or you are in the woods. 

How to become a dog photographer

You need to be physically fit even to photograph your own dogs. To be at the right angle with your camera for pet photography you need to get down low on the ground. Sometimes lying down or kneeling down then you have to get up because dogs move around it’s like a workout in itself. If you go further with your pet photography and start doing event photography, or Fieldsports photography you will have some walking to do. Not normal walking, walking with big heavy camera’s and lenses strapped to your body, up and down hills and Moors on uneven ground all day. You need to be able to keep up to take the photo’s.

How to become a pet photographer
How to become a dog photographer
How to become a dog photographer

Photo editing process

If you are happy with your images straight out of the camera that is great. But however much you look through the viewfinder of a camera to check the background before you press the shutter on your subject. You can guarantee there will be something that needs editing out of an image which is usually your best shot of the day. You will need to be able to use an editing program, like Lightroom or Photoshop to clean up the images if are wanting to sell photos from the shoot. 

How to become a pet photographer
How to become a pet photographer
How to become a pet photographer

Pet photography tip

If you really want to become a pet or dog photographer you need to learn how to be patient and know when the pet you are photographing has had enough. If you go out on a photo shoot with a vision of what you would like to create with the dog, you have probably set yourself up for disappointment already. Don’t force a dog to anything it doesn’t want to do it will show in the dogs expression and will not look natural. It’s the same with with any pet.

How to become a dog photographer

Event Photography

 If you get asked, invited or are paid to photograph a dog event this is where if you are truly interested in your subject then you can broaden your knowledge of dogs by seeing what they look like at dog shows and by watching them work as they were bred to do so. If you still haven’t figured out where and what those buttons on your camera do, you going to have to learn quick. What you have to understand at dog events is you have a job to do and it’s not about taking photo’s that you want to be able to fill up your photography portfolio with.
Usually my brief was a photo of each dog in action and the dog with the competitor if possible. Only one photo of the winner from each test was required to use in the press and publications. All the other photo’s were needed but only the very best quality photo’s and only one from a run of the same photo’s. 

How to become a pet photographer

Selling photos online

When I originally bought my first DSLR camera there was only one reason I got that camera and it was to photograph my own dogs, no other reason. Before I photographed the Kennel Club’s Gundog events I went on a dog photography 2 day course, it was great I learnt more again. Whilst I was on that course I was told to get a SmugMug website, you need a SmugMug website. I didn’t have a website, I had never made a website and I knew nothing about photographers websites, so I bought a SmugMug website that night when I got home. 
7 months later when I came to photograph the Gundog events at Chatsworth for the Kennel Club for 5 days solid, I was so glad I had my SmugMug website 

After photographing Gundogs for 5 days you end up with a hell of a lot of photo’s to sort out and edit. I had no idea in the world how to use Photoshop, I only ever used Lightroom then. My work wasn’t done it had only just started. The Kennel Club want the best photos’s and soon as possible because they need to do a press release. Everyone who attended the event want to know where the photo’s are to view them.

How to become a dog photographer
How to become a dog photographer

Once I had finally edited all the photo’s and sorted out which were the best, I uploaded each working test into separate galleries within my SmugMug website. I did this so it would be obvious and easy for everyone to find their dog as there was a lot of photo’s.

I already had the Portfolio account with SmugMug which gives you the option to be able to sell your photo’s online by selling prints, digital images, keepsakes and wall art. SmugMug have something like over 1200 products to choose from to sell. There is every professional photographic print size you can imagine, 3 different types of print paper Lustre, Glossy and Metallic.

 All you have to do to sell your photos online through SmugMug is decide which of the 1200+ photo products you want to offer on your website, and choose your price. You don’t need to take product shots of the prints, or build an online shop or anything like that, its already there set up for you. 

All you have to do is
Thats it

Luckily I had played about with the price list beforehand so I knew what was available I had already decided my price, it was all ready. Although SmugMug do suggest a price to help you out, if your unsure. Once those Gundog galleries were added to the home page of my SmugMug website which was so easy to do, you just drag & drop the galleries on like any website. I shared the links to my facebook page. 
Within just 4 days of those photos being available for everyone to see through the website online, the stats showed that in one day 25,000 photo’s were viewed. The days either side of that were not too far behind that figure either. I sold photo’s online, I sold prints, loads of prints, digital images, web files and high resolution files.  
Thats how you sell photos online.

Private online galleries

My SmugMug website has been with me since the very start, and I was told on the course you need a SmugMug website how true that was. I use the website all the time, I always have.
Every photo shoot I do will always be edited then uploaded to a SmugMug gallery and then sent out via a private link for viewing. This method has never changed. All my family photo shoots, dog photo shoots, pet business website images, photos sent to magazines, I don’t photograph Weddings but the Wedding I did went through it too. Everything I photograph goes in a SmugMug gallery.

A good example of how well the private online gallery works and has worked for me is as follows.

 Rachel has her pet business in Spain, I photographed the established for 3 days then flew home. I edited the images and then sent out the photos via a private link for Rachel to view in sunny Spain. Rachel then choose the photos which she wanted to use on her website by making a note of the image file numbers in the gallery. Then sent the private link and file numbers to her web designer in London. The download buttons were switched on, on her private gallery so all the web designer had to do was download the right images Rachel wanted straight from my SmugMug website. Dead easy job sorted.

How to become a dog photographer
How to become a dog photographer
How to become a dog photographer

Secure unlimited photo storage

All my photo’s are securely stored online with SmugMug, I can sell my photos through the website so easily. I still sell photo’s from the Gundog events I did for the Kennel Club because the galleries are still there available for the world to see and access online.
If I didn’t have the SmugMug website when I photographed all the dogs for the Kennel Club that very first time I wouldn’t of been asked back the following year. This is because the photo’s were available to be viewed and purchased easily online. Which then led to being invited to photograph the HPR Championships and the amazing 2 days at the Queens estate Sandringham for the ‘The Cocker Spaniel Championship’ in HM The Queen’s presence. A couple of days I will never forget and I got to photograph it all too.
Thank you SmugMug

How to become a pet photographer
How to become a pet photographer
How to become a pet photographer

If you want to go to a dog event to test your skills Crufts at the NEC is the best place. You need a press pass, or permit to be able to sell photo’s you take at Crufts but if they are just for yourself or personal use you will be fine. There is no harder test for your camera or skills than Crufts with the terrible lighting, the green carpet which reflects back up onto the dogs and you can’t use a flash around the show rings. 

How to become a dog photographer
How to become a dog photographer

Event photography tips

 The key to event photography is not to overshoot.
Whether you have a camera with a high continuous frame rate or not, try not to overshoot the day. By taking loads too many photo’s your editing will take you twice as long. You are far more likely to catch the dog in action by taking fewer shots, with the correct camera settings and by timing the shot. It is a very nice to have a fast camera, but you can still get cracking action shots with a Canon 6D which has only 4.5 frames per second on continuous shooting mode.  

Think about the handlers too at dog events. Some dog trainers have worked all year to get their dog ready for the event, don’t ruin it for them by distracting the dog in any way by trying to get the photo ‘YOU’ want for your photography portfolio. You will never be asked again to do the job. Think about it, the dog handlers will be the one’s buying your photo’s from your website so don’t upset them.  If you want photo’s of pets for a photography portfolio ask some friends who have a dog or cat and photograph them for free.

Dog photography courses

Go on photography courses, watch video’s, read articles keep learning all the time if you want to get good at pet photography. Look at other photographers photos and work out how they took the shot, what lens do you think they used and how much photoshop do you think they used to finish an image. Have the ability to be able to take constructive criticism about your photo’s accept it and apply it.  

How to become a pet photographer
How to become a pet photographer

Dog photography courses

Go on photography courses, watch video’s, read articles keep learning all the time if you want to get good at pet photography. Look at other photographers photos and work out how they took the shot, what lens do you think they used and how much photoshop do you think they used to finish an image. Have the ability to be able to take constructive criticism about your photo’s accept it and apply it.  

How to become a pet photographer
How to become a pet photographer

Photography club or organisation

By joining a photography organisation like The Guild of Photographers you will learn more, improve your photography skills and meet like minded people. The Guild of Photographers members are made up of a variety of photographers pro’s to hobbyists across a all genre’s of photography.  Once a member of the Guild you will have access to entering their Image of the month photo competition, trade discounts and more.  

tips to become a pet photographer

 Just be aware when entering some photo competitions that you are signing away your rights to your photos. This means a photo of yours could end up being used anywhere for advertising purposes or in magazines. Sometimes you will get your name credited, sometimes you won’t. This doesn’t happen when entering photo’s in the Guild’s competition they are safe.
By entering into a online photo competition a few years ago, I got a phone call and was asked if one of the entered images could be used as a front cover for a magazine and I got paid for it too. So it’s not all so bad giving your photo’s away in competitions.

tips to become a pet photographer
How to become a pet photographer

Photo website

I have already talked about websites, but If you really want to become a pet photographer work out your camera settings, never stop learning and you need a photographers website, you need a SmugMug website. 

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