So you’ve decided to try to tap into the growing photographic demands of a larger than ever pet owner population! I applaud your decision.
The pet industry was exploding by incredible leaps and bounds even prior to the advent of the Internet. The ready availability of pet-based products that tapped into this new avenue for trade multiplied exponentially.
There are certainly a number of sites available where you can purchase almost anything you can imagine for your furry home companions, but as a professional pet photographer, I would like to stick to what I know and what I do best.
I take pictures!
Now, you are probably saying to yourself that you take pictures too, and that doesn’t qualify you as a profesional pet photographer. What makes me so special? The answer is that people are willing to pay me to take pictures for them and I manage to sell a goodly number of pet photo related items as well.
But let’s, for arguments sake, say that you take a picture that captures a special quality in someone’s pet that makes them ask if they can buy a copy. THAT is your introduction into the world of pet photography as a business; and here is where you can get bogged down.
There are thousands, literally thousands, of books about how to go about a start-up business and all of them probably have something worthwhile to offer. You need to remember that most of these books are in the business of selling books, not knowledge. It’s rather like the “Make Zillions in Real Estate” infomercials that promise you will quadruple your income in three days if you buy their program. Well, the owner of the program will undoubtedly make zillions, but most of it will come from selling you the program not necessarily from you using the information in the program!
Don’t get me wrong! There are books out there that will be of help to you. You just need to be careful about what advice it is you really need in order to create a business out of pet photography.
First! Define yourself.
Are you predominantly an artist or a photographer? Yes, of course you can be both. The question is, do you want to create pet portraits that are true works of art similar to professionally done portrait paintings? Do you plan to make as much of a statement about yourself as the artist as you do about the subject of your photograph? Do you want to develop the ability to capture the special relationship between an owner and his or her pet? Or do you simply want to go for the owner who wants a nice framed photo to acknowledge that their pet is truly a beloved member of the family whose photo deserves to be placed in a position of honor on the mantle place with the rest of the family?
These are important questions to ask yourself before you begin. I do not mean to suggest that you must choose one mindset over another. It will simply be easier to create a viable business plan for yourself as a professional photographer if you make yourself aware of your target audience and make yourself able to adapt to their specific needs. You will find that once you determine the sort of photography you wish to offer, the interview process between yourself and the prospective client will be the most important part of the process.
It is imperative that you be able to grasp the dynamic existing between the pet and owner. This will likely be a purely intuitive exercise on your part since the way the owner sees a pet is not always the way the relationship will come across. Are they overly affectionate and cutesy-adorable together? Do they enjoy roughhousing and outdoor activities? Are they quiet and sedentary together? These observations will give you insight into what the owner expects to see when they look at your interpretation of their bond with their pet. The portrait must reflect not only the personality of the pet, but the owner’s perception of that personality as well.
Pricing! I would suggest a sitting fee that is non-refundable. If someone is unwilling to recognize that your time is valuable, then they will likely be unwilling to pay for any photo packages afterward. A “sitting fee” requires a commitment up front that encourages a professional atmosphere on both sides. The owner realizes that they are paying for the privilege and you recognize that you have an obligation to the owner.
Franchises? With all the new avenues open to pet photographers both at the entry level and the professional level it is inevitable that the subject of franchising will come up. There is a built-in safety net when you choose to go with an established franchise, both in the formulaic manner in which they operate and in the general public awareness of a known “name.” But this comes at a cost and I don’t believe it is necessary for every start-up pet photography business. I would encourage you to research as many as possible and carefully peruse your own business plan to see if it is worth the extra expense for a limited amount of security.
You CAN do this on your own. You CAN become a professional in your own home with pet photography. You can become the “go to” photographer in your community. You just have to get out there and get yourself known. Volunteer your services at the local animal shelter. Take the opportunity to do “pro bono” (free) photos for special occasions that have built in press coverage. Get cards made up and pin them everywhere you can. The bottom line is…have fun with it! The best thing you can do in your life is find something you love to do and then find a way to make a living at it.