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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Images used with the permission of Liliya Brenner.