If you are an animal lover with an affinity for photography, starting a pet photography business might be the ideal career move. Creating lasting memories for families with their beloved pets can be a rewarding way to spend your time. If you’ve decided to make the move and make photographing pets your new business, there are a few things you need to do to give yourself the best chance at success.
To start with, you need to make sure you have a great camera. You’ll want a high quality digital camera with several different lens. If you don’t have much money yet, start with a small compact camera and work for free for a month or so to build your portfolio. You can charge $25 for a 30-minute session, and give the pet owner all the photos on a CD.
If you have between $500 and $2,000 to invest in your camera, look into both Canon and Nikon. Do not buy new equipment as your first camera, as pet photography is very hard on your camera – look on eBay and Amazon for a used camera. For the beginner, go for a Nikon D-90 or Canon Digital Rebel. These are under $500 and very easy to use.
If you already have experience as a photographer and have a little money to burn, go for the Canon 50D, which is the latest in the Canon removable lens series. The camera body (main camera without lens) is currently $999 and the basic lens will set you back about $200.
Once you have the camera, it’s time to work on your business image. Your business needs to have its own professional space, which might be in a part of your home, or you may need to rent a studio space. If it is in your home, the space needs to be entirely separate and professional. A converted garage can make a great studio for photographing pets. Make sure you repaint it carefully on the outside and get a bronze or silver nameplate with the name of your photo company, or a sign reading ‘John Brown Pet Portraiture.’
Next, paint at least 2-3 walls pure white. These will act as your backdrop. Next, visit a photography store and buy some colored backdrop cloths. You’ll need some good strong lighting in your garage, and an on-camera flash. A great and low-cost option for the beginner is to buy some of those crepe-paper/ paper globe lights, and hang as many in your studio as your wiring safely allows. The crepe-paper will soften the light and get rid of ugly shadows created by many amateurs who mistakenly use direct, harsh lighting. The more light you have, the better, but be sure to diffuse it through fire-proof paper or white plastic for professional results.
If you are a pro photographer, consider mounting track-lighting on the ceiling, with movable soft-boxes. Make sure you set up your on-camera flash to properly sync with the track lighting.
Next, create a hospitality area for your clients. You’ll need to make a small seating area with a sofa and a coffee table. Make a portfolio of your best photographs and mount them in a portfolio book for the clients to browse through. You’ll also need to make a drinks station, with at the very least a small coffee machine, a jug of water, paper cups, and some biscuits or cookies for family children. Small toys and magazines will entertain waiting children and adults alike.
For the pets themselves, make up a ‘helper box’ that contains the following: Dog and cat treats, spare leashes, cat and dog brushes, assortment of toys with squeeky noisemakers (to get the animlas to look at the cakera) and a dustpan and brush to sweep up hair. Be sure to have a dog bowl filled with fresh water available at all times, and change the water between shoots.
In terms of cleanliness, accidents do happen when photographing pets, so be sure to have plenty of newspaper and cleaning materials handy. A vacuum cleaner is a must for vacuuming between shoots. You must do this religiously – there is nothing worse for a family being photographed than to find themselves sitting or lying in cat or dog hair in your studio, leftover from your last session!
The biggest ‘must have’ in any photo studio is a fire extinguisher. You’ll find that your lights get very hot if you leave them on all day, and it just takes an energetic dog knocking your main light over into a pile of newspaper and you have a nice miniature garage fire on your hands! (Yes, I speak from experience)
Once you have your studio taken care of, it’s time to practice. Taking practice shots of your own pets or the pets of friends and family will help you hone your photographic skills. You should get used to the best ways to work with animals so you can get great shots and create wonderful memories for your clients.
As your business grows, it’s also a good idea to create a website on which to display your portfolio. Business cards and fliers are another great marketing tool. Check out Vistaprint for some free business cards (these are offered free if you out up with the company’s brand stamp and adverts on the back).