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How to Start a Pet Photography Business

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Four dogs with holiday stockings
Sharon Montrose/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Pet photography is a fun and profitable niche business that allows you to combine a love of animals with technical skill in photography. According to the 2011-2012 survey by the American Pet Products Association, pets are an important part of 79.2 million U.S. households (62% of all households). A growing number of owners are interested in displaying professional photos of their pets, and they are willing to pay a premium for high quality images.

Equipment

Good photography equipment is expensive and there are many components you will need to purchase. You will need several digital cameras; it is important to always have backup cameras during a session. Tripods, reflectors, and a variety of lenses and flashes should also be a part of your inventory.

While some shots may be done outside with a natural background, you will also need a backdrop stand and backdrop material for indoor work. Props are often useful when composing shots.

Don’t forget to have treats and toys available to help get a pet’s attention. The crinkling sound of a candy wrapper often gets them to prick their ears and focus on the camera. You also might bring a tape recorder of interesting sounds to get the pet’s attention. Species specific sounds are often the best bet for drawing attention.

Experience & Technique

If you do not already have a background working in photography, taking a series of classes to learn the basics is highly recommended. Local community groups or colleges often offer photography classes. Another option, if you can find a willing mentor, is to apprentice yourself to an experienced photographer.

You will need to know how to use lighting, lenses, flash, shutter speed, angles, and poses to capture the most detailed images possible of your subject. The animal’s expression and coat texture are especially important considerations as you compose your shots.

Animals are a lot like children in that they can be difficult to photograph. Be willing to go with the flow and take advantage of unexpected moments. You might not get them to sit still for a particular shot, but you could come up with something even better in the process.

Services

Pet photographers can offer a number of services in a variety of locations. Photo shoots can take place at your studio, a client’s home, or a local park. A photo package is offered to the client after the session and they choose the proofs they wish to purchase.

Pet photographers can also take photos at dog shows, horse shows, and pet adoption events. Holiday photos with Santa are a perennial favorite. You may also find work taking advertising shots for groomers, trainers, breeders, or pet shops.

Equine photography is a growing subset of the pet photography business and those specializing in this area take photos at horse shows, race tracks, breeding farms, and equestrian centers. Conformation shots and competition shots are popular purchases.

You can also consider selling some photos for stock photography collections or multimedia advertising purposes.

Pricing

Some photographers charge a sitting or session fee, but the majority of their income tends to come from offering high quality prints or digital images for sale. Options may vary, but generally a photographer offers several packages at different price points with prints of various sizes.

Rates can vary widely based on experience, location, and options included. For example, one well known Seattle photographer offers a 2 hour session for up to 3 pets, and you can choose 2 locations. The base fee is $350, and photo packages run about $500. Other photographers in different regions offer more affordable rates.

Your best bet is to find out what pet photographers charge in your area for various services and packages. Price your packages reasonably based on your level of experience and the going rate in your area.

Advertising

There are a number of ways to advertise your new pet photography business. Leaving flyers and business cards at pet related businesses, using phone directory listings or Craigslist, and taking out ads in pet or lifestyle magazines are common options.

A photo session package can be a great item to donate to a fundraising event, as it will give your business great exposure while at the same time contributing to a deserving cause.

You can also work out an arrangement with local vets, humane societies, or restaurants, offering to provide artwork to cover their walls. You may even be able to offer your work for sale while on display, perhaps giving the business owner a cut of the proceeds. This is a win-win proposition and certainly will bring attention to your pet photography business.

Word of mouth and referrals will become an important source of new business. Be sure to provide some sort of incentive to current clients for repeat bookings and referrals.

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