Pet Photography Tips From a Successful Dog Photographer

Pet Photography Tips From a Successful Dog Photographer

Pet photography is as popular as ever right now, as more and more people become pet owners. In fact, according to a recent survey by American Pet Products Association, nearly 80 million American households have pets.

A Rise in Pet Portrait Popularity

From pet cams to boutique clothing, gourmet pet foods to expensive salon treatments, people are willing to spend big money on their beloved pets now more than ever. It only makes sense that this is a lucrative time to be in the pet portrait business. For advice on how to make this happen, I spoke with Springfield, Massachusetts-based pet photographer Liliya Brenner, of Lily Raven Photography, about her best tips for being a pet photographer.

Image used with permission of Liliya Brenner, Lily Raven Photography

Brenner caught the shutter bug from her grandfather when she was just a young child. She remembers the wonder of standing in the darkroom with him, watching family faces materialize like magic as he developed his film negatives. Many years later, she acquired her first DSLR and merged her passion for photography with her love for animals, and Lily Raven Photography was born. 

Practice to Hone Your Skills 

Brenner, who specializes in dog photography, is mostly self-taught, learning her trade through hours of online research, and complimenting that education by attending workshops taught with industry leaders like Kaylee Greer of Dog Breath Photography. The most important advice she can give aspiring pet photographers: “practice, practice, practice.” For her own practice purposes, she has two pit bull rescues, Lady and Julius, who are eager models when she wants to try out new techniques. 

Tips for Success

Brenner says there are many tricks of the trade that make working with animals a joy for her. While tasty treats, such as cooked chicken or cheese, and attention-getters like squeaky toys, work great to capture the attention of a busy pup, Brenner prefers to be patient and let the dog get comfortable with her, so that its personality has a chance to shine through. 

Image used with permission of Liliya Brenner, Lily Raven Photography

For pets who can't be trusted off-leash, Brenner makes sure to position the handler and leash in a way that will make both of them easily removable in post-processing. And she encourages pet parents to relax and let pets do their own thing. “I often stop dog parents from trying to make their dog sit for every photo,” she said. Instead, she prefers to let the animals explore and act naturally, so that her clients have a variety of looks to choose from, in addition to the standard sitting poses.

Choosing the Best Tools and Locations

As far as equipment, Brenner uses her Canon 5D Mark III, preferring to pair it with either the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L or Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L lenses. She shoots in mostly natural light, but on occasion will bring out a reflector, Stella Pro light, or a simple speedlight. 

Image used with permission of Liliya Brenner, Lily Raven Photography

When scouting locations in which to capture her furry clients, Brenner suggests local parks, area lakes, or even urban, downtown areas, depending on the taste and requirements of the pet owner. She does avoid areas with distracting crowds or cluttered backgrounds, and she tends to stay away from perfectly manicured lawns, preferring instead the natural look of taller grass. 

Drumming Up Business 

Business-wise, Brenner finds her biggest challenge to be marketing to the ideal client, someone who cherishes their pet enough to find value in a boutique portrait experience. “Partnering with a local shelter or a rescue is a great way to get your name out there,” she said, as well as seeking out high profile charity events to which she donates gift certificates. She often uses Eventbrite as a search tool to find these types of events.

Image used with permission of Liliya Brenner, Lily Raven Photography

Brenner has ventured into the realm of human portraits recently, but she says pet photography has had her heart ever since she began to photograph her beloved Raven, the namesake of her business, who passed away a few years ago. “What always amazed and inspired me is that dogs love their families so much, how forgiving dogs can be, and how they can live in a moment and enjoy life to the fullest.”

You can see more of Brenner's work on her website or follow her on Instagram.

Images used with the permission of Liliya Brenner.

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Tim Ericsson's picture

My dog can't even play fetch right, let alone become a successful photographer. Very impressive!

Mark James's picture

Good read. Another thing I've found is some people like action shots of their dogs. Most people can't get a good action shot with their phone, so they get excited about them. It can be a challenge in its own right, but it is super fun.

To scout for clients, try going to a dog park in the nicest part of town, because those are the people with disposable income. Bring your camera, and have some of your best work handy on the phone to share with people that seem interested. Having a dog with you is even better.

Deleted Account's picture

I think Kaylee Greer suggested volunteering your time to photograph pets at your local shelter to get your name out there and, more importantly, help the animals get adopted.

Mark James's picture

I tried that, just to help them, and it didn't work out at our local shelter. I only wanted to do it so they could post nice pics and maybe help get some dogs adopted, but they just made it too much work. Give it a try, you might have a better experience then I did. In my opinion, that's not the clients you are looking for if you are truely after income.

Deleted Account's picture

Actually, I wasn't completely sold it would be a good strategy. I could see them not wanting to spend the money to even use them to good effect. In fairness, though, they probably don't have a budget for that kind of thing.

Deleted Account's picture

Your photos are great! Every time I think, "I could do that!", I see your photos and realize, "No. No I can't." :-(

Chad D's picture

thanks :)

pet photos are like pizza to me :) all good just dif toppings flavors styles but all pizza is good :) except with fish on it NO NO NO :) hahahahahaha

I keep wanting to get some time ahead to start some youtube vids :) oh I need more time :)

Deleted Account's picture

I've not tried it but Dominos, in Japan, has various seafood on their pizza. 😝
Please make some time!!