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Working cocker spaniel dog tan and white showing her true personality flying over a log, in a forest in Ascot near Windsor

My path to being a Professional Dog Photographer

As I mentioned in a previous article, I took the decision to specialise in Pet Photography, and in our case, on location Dog Photography. I have been asked many times how do you become a dog photographer? This article outlines my personal path to becoming a professional dog photographer.

Whilst core photography knowledge can be obtained through many online and formal qualifications and courses, how do you get the additional knowledge and experience to specialise in Dog Photography? There are many ways, and I am sure that every professional dog photographer will have their own story. I feel authenticity and transparency is most useful in all situations, and so these are six of the key steps on my personal path to becoming a professional dog photographer.


1. Read, read, and read some more!

The internet is clearly a powerful source of finding a whole series of articles and resources to help understand Pet photography. Like most people, this is where I initially started, reading blogs, articles, and many online magazines. There are many books on the subject, but as a dog photographer, I will focus on three specific books that had the biggest impact on me personally and my journey.


Beautiful Beasties: A Creative Guide to Modern Pet Photography by Jamie Pflughoeft

For me, this book truly fired up my soul and helped me be certain that I wanted to be a professional dog photographer. Whilst Jamie does cover other pets, her Cowbelly Pet Photography was mostly focused on dogs. Jamie explains many of the areas to consider when establishing a Pet Photography business all of which were very useful in my initial phase. Her book also provides lots of ideas on the client experience, many of which we still use today.


Pet Photography: The Secrets To Creating Authentic Pet Portraits by Norah Levine

This was bought for me as a gift and wow, what a gift too (thanks Ben)! Whilst many of the topics that Jamie covers are in here too, this book is much more focused on the actual image and techniques to master our craft. It’s less focused on the business of Pet Photography and more on the skills, so a useful book in combination with Jamie’s book.


Dogtography: A Knock-Your-Socks-Off Guide To Capturing The Best Photos On Earth by Kaylee Greer

If you can only buy one book, then make it Kaylee’s! It is simply the best book dedicated to Dog Photography. If you’ve not come across Kaylee before now, then pop over to Youtube and search Kaylee Greer – and watch them all. I have!! Her enthusiasm and passion are so infectious, if you have the passion to be a professional dog photographer, you simply must read this book.

Kaylee covers camera settings, how to “speak dog”, and then shares all kinds of secrets and how to get action shots too. Kaylee helps the reader truly understand how to replicate her outstanding work. The quality of images and production of the book will be enjoyed by all dog lovers, but is an absolute must buy for anyone serious about being a professional dog photographer.

Tan and white working cocker spaniel dog in the forest with a head tilt, looking at the photographer

2. Podcasts

There are a number of photographer podcasts that over the last few years I have used. Of the many, three of these are still on my must listen list every week.


PhotobizX

In my opinion, this is undoubtedly the best photography podcast there is in the Photography industry, and is my Monday or Tuesday essential listen. Andrew Helmich, a photographer himself, designed the podcasts for photographers by photographers. Every week, he interviews amazing guests and digs deep on questions and gives us all great insights. Every week, I learn something new or additional to implement into our business. The free version of the podcast is a very easy and a useful way to start – the paid for premium version gives so much extra information, it’s truly worth the investment (note: this link is my affiliate link, providing a great 6 week trial membership for free!). There is a very powerful and active private Facebook Group too.

For the amount and quality of information constantly delivered, the most helpful and ego-less community of members I've experienced, and a host who authentically cares about providing incredible content to his audience, the PhotoBizX podcast and associated trainings available are simply the best.


Hair Of The Dog

Nicole Begley hosts this podcast dedicated to Dog Photography. This free podcast provides useful insights to running a Dog Photography business, and much of the content comes from Nicole herself and many of her network. Nicole positions her podcasts as weekly conversations to help pet photographers excel. Click here to access the podcast. In 2022, Nicole also launched the Hair Of The Dog Community which is where many of the world’s dog photographers communicate and help each other.


Pet Photographer’s Club

Caitlin J. McColl and Kirstie McConnell are the founders and co-hosts of this podcast dedicated to Pet Photography. The free version does provide a good insight and variety of guests that over the years I have found a great taster to wanting to learn more. These provide practical tips, insightful stories and thought-provoking discussions with real life pet photographers from all stages of business. I now pay for the membership of the Club, and gain additional insights too. Click here to access the podcast. There is also an active private Facebook Group that is good to be part of and participate in.

Tan and white working cocker spaniel dog sitting on a tree stump in the forest and looking directly at the photographer

3. Summits and Conferences

Whilst attending Summit and Conferences in person is hugely beneficial from a networking perspective, the pandemic enabled a series of these to become truly virtual and still extremely rewarding in their content and cost too!


The Societies of Photographers

It is important to be associated with a photographic body of members. I believe this provides two strong benefits: the ability to network with other members and also to achieve and deliver a professional standard on a consistent basis. In the UK, I am a member of the Societies of Photographers and specifically SWPP. For newcomers to the industry or considering a career change, they offer the most comprehensive range of educational seminars by inspirational speakers and a very powerful annual convention too. It is through this annual convention that I continue to expand my network connections every year, and also leverage the very strong mentorship options provided by the Society and its members.


Kelby One

In my opinion, our clients expect us to be the best we can. For me, that means continuous improvement through training and educational development, and KelbyOne is my provider of such training and education. I have an annual subscription and try to take a class every week. It’s particularly useful for when updates to LightRoom and Photoshop occur, as their “what’s new in …” really focus on what is important and what is not. There are so many inspirational interviews on the training catalogue too from a variety of different genres. You can even spend a few more hours seeing and hearing Kaylee Greer – so good to see her “Adventures of Becoming a Dog Photographer” behind the scenes shoots. I learn a lot from KelbyOne and often pick something obscure as a topic to expand my own experience and knowledge, that I can then potentially leverage in a future project.


LightRoom and Photoshop Conference – KelbyOne Live

If you are not sure that the annual subscription makes sense for you from KelbyOne or you are unlikely to be able to be disciplined to take regular training, then attending one of their 2-3 day Photoshop World Conferences is a great way to dedicate a period of time to maximum learning. I initially did this, and then in the following year, took out the annual subscription to KelbyOne. The live online conferences are very powerful.


Hair Of The Dog Summit

How about a virtual conference dedicated to Dog Photography across multiple days? Yes, that’s the Hair Of The Dog Summit. I have now attended three of these, and every one is full of truly amazing information to improve and enhance my knowledge and also our business. From social media to pricing, branding to products, head swap editing to advanced Photoshop techniques specifically for editing fur, so much gets covered. The great thing about this as well is that they are on a platform that once purchased, you can replay at your own pace (something I have found truly beneficial). More details on these specific Summits are available here.


Tan and white working cocker spaniel dog sitting on a tree stump in the forest and looking directly at the photographer

4. 1:1 Coaching & Workshops

It’s like anything you really want to improve on and take seriously, 1:1 coaching and small group workshops can be a game changer. Whether it’s improving your golf swing or learning to cook from a gourmet chef, so many of us have experienced significant improvements in our own ability following such coaching. If you want to develop from an amateur to a professional, coaching and workshops will help make that happen.

It is really important to find a coach that can bring the best out in you. From my experience, you should already admire their work and see them as an elite level that you’d like to strive to one day. They also should be clearly knowledgeable and have references to back that up. Finally, they should be fun to spend time with – you are potentially going to spend a complete day as a minimum, and likely multiple sessions. All of this should be discoverable through their website, or referrals (feel free to contact me on my three listed below).


Nick Ridley

Nick Ridley is a published author of dog photography books and over the past 30 years, has taken thousands of gundog images. With over 100 front covers published in various field sports magazines, he is considered by many as the leading gundog photographer in the UK. Nick launched the first dog photography course in the UK in 2006 and many of the UK’s dog photographers have started with Nick. I took his Gundog Photography Course, but he also has a Puppy Photography Course and an Agility Photography Course, as well as 1-2-1 Photography Lessons. The Gundog Photography Course is a practical course with the emphasis on taking images and how to set up shots. Nick provides a good variety of well trained different gundog breeds including Labradors, Springers, Cockers and HPR’s. In the sessions, canvas retrieving dummies, and cold game are used. Our course covered scenarios such as dogs hunting in woodland and rough areas, jumping, retrieving, and jumping and retrieving from water. Setting up shots to increase your hit rate, Nick also passed on some valuable tips on gundog body language and how to maximise that knowledge. More details on that specific course are here.


Maria Michael

Maria Michael is a qualified, award-winning professional photographer and has a reputation as a leading specialist Pet Photographer. Maria regularly shares her knowledge and experience at seminars and webinars including the International Photographic Convention and The Photography Show.

Hearing Maria at one of these seminars, I loved the way she explained how she seeks to create stunning photography with special, deeper meaning for clients. As I fully aligned with her core values, I took advantage of her 1:1 coaching and mentoring.

Maria tailors her coaching to meet the specific needs of the photographer. On our first full day session, we explored the principles of our business, our Why, our ideal client, and a whole series of topics I had never considered before, for which I will remain forever truly grateful. A year later, I had a follow up session to specifically understand how Maria sets up and runs her Studio, and get a better insight to her workflow and editing styles, again with a key focus on enhancing style. Maria is a wealth of information, and a key reason I specialise in Dog Photography.

Tan and white working cocker spaniel dog in the forest using her nose to detect new scents

5. Learn from the Champions

As with any talent, if you get the opportunity to spend quality time with a recognised true Champion in that speciality, it’s not only rewarding but so motivational too. The additional energy and determination gained through quality time focusing with true Champions of their talent is simply the best feeling.

If at all possible, my plans for continuous improvement will always include some quality time with true Champions in the years ahead. I have had the opportunity to date to learn so much and significantly improve my own talent through two true Champions of Dog Photography, Charlotte Reeves of Australia and Claudio Piccoli of Italy.


Charlotte Reeves

Like all the Champions I admire, Charlotte still runs an exceptional Pet Photography business in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Bring a true Champion, Charlotte is so generous with her experience that she simply wants to help all dog photographers be the best they can. As well as writing a number of online books (all of which I have read and highly recommend), Charlotte developed the series, RealShoots, a complete course and behind-the-scenes reality show about dog photography. It was this course that simply made my passion serious and completely unlocked my desire to be the best I can and learn from Champions like Charlotte.

RealShoots provides all the tips, tricks and insider secrets of a real-life professional dog photographer on real outdoor shoots. In this series of 10 episodes, you learn exactly how to work with any type of light nature throws at you, and also see how Charlotte then edits and post processes each image. It’s simply the same as watching over her shoulder as she shoots 10 full-length dog photography sessions. I cannot recommend this course enough, and now teamed up with Craig Turner-Bullock as they created Unleashed Pet Photography Education together, there are many different ways to access the education and so much more.


Claudio Piccoli

Maria Michael first encouraged me to follow the work of Claudio Piccoli, and if I ever had the opportunity, then to attend one of his photography workshops. I immediately watched his various work available on YouTube, and highly recommend his “Dog Photography Secrets Revealed” of a talk he gave to 2,500 people. Claudio is a Nikon Ambassador for Italy, and is simply the world’s Champion and ultimate Master in “Dogs in Action” photography.

Like Maria did for me, I strongly encourage anyone wanting to truly learn from the best, then if Claudio is in your country with one of his workshops, do everything you can to attend it. As I made some enquiries with Claudio, he kindly encouraged and offered me the opportunity to become a Master through his Dog Photography Master courses.


Tan and white working cocker spaniel dog in the forest discovering new scents and looking directly at the photographer

6. Become a Master

I have often found in life that you learn the most and develop the best when you are challenged. Stretching yourself and achieving is so fulfilling. Claudio does exactly that through his Dog Photography Masters courses. As he says, you won’t be the same photographer after the course, and it’s a way of consolidating years of experience from true Champions into potentially six months of dedicated and intense effort and challenge.

As well as covering the shooting topics for portrait, action and landscape dog photography, there are dozens of amazing advanced editing techniques to make post production workflow faster and easier, and to the highest standard, that of a Dog Photography Master. There are business topics too, live webinars and dedicated support throughout.

Claudio says it the way it is. When my work was not of the standard required, he’d make that very clear – how else can you develop? In my case, after just over six months of learning, development, examinations, and image submission, Claudio certified me as the UK’s first Dog Photography Master – something that I will remain forever proud of and like many others in our profession, being on his register of Dog Photography Masters around the world. Since my certification, Anne Geier and Audrey Bellot also instruct with Claudio as together they increase the number of certified Dog Photography Masters globally.


Summary

Whilst we still occasionally hear a comment “I didn’t realise that dog photography really is a thing” (read my article here on that one!), I hope that this has helped better in the understanding of my personal journey to becoming a certified Dog Photography Master. I appreciate that this is my journey and that there are many different ways to complete any journey, but I do hope that this has provided some useful insights. You are welcome to comment or feedback as appropriate - Feel free to message me privately on any of the above if I can be of any specific assistance as I am always happy to help.


Chris Miller

MIL Pet Photography

www.millersimage.com


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