For most dog lovers, our dogs are our favorite kids. While the rest of your pack might sit for school photos every year or the occasional selfie with friends, our dogs tend to get neglected. Not because we don’t love them, but because taking a decent photo of a dog can be tricky – even for experienced photographers.
Great pet photography can be expensive and unfortunately the time we have to share with our beloved pets is often all too fleeting. And, as having our dogs photographed by a professional pet photographer or famous pet photographer isn’t something that most people do all that often, it’s all that much more important to ensure that you are hiring the right photographer.
When considering which photographer to hire to capture your dog it helps to know what information to look for on the photographer’s website and what questions to ask when interviewing them prior to your session.
Part of the process of shopping for a pet photographer is just doing due diligence. You want to make sure that a photographer will do a good job. But more importantly, you want to make sure that the photographer’s methods and style are a good fit for you and your dog.
30 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Pet Photographer
1. What styles of dog portraits do you tend photograph?
A professional pet photographer should be well versed in a variety of shooting and lighting methods. But pet photographers do tend to lean heavily towards producing specific styles of dog portraits. Sometimes this is due to a limitation of gear or space. Sometimes this is simply a matter of preference. More skilled talent often tend to lean towards more difficult shooting methods simply because it distinguishes their portfolio from their competition. Regardless as to why a photographer tends to shoot one style of pet portrait over another, odds are you will be happier working a photographer who often shoots in a style you prefer.
2. What do you think makes a great dog portrait?
With this question there is no one correct answer. The purpose here is more to understand how the pet photographer approaches the question. Better photographers tend to flip this question back at potential clients, as their focus tends to be more towards understanding and actualizing the intentions of their clients. But any professional photographer should be capable of speaking thoughtfully about the hows and whys of their craft. Any pet photographer that is entirely wrapped up on what they will do for you the client, should probably be avoided. Truth be told, the technical aspects of pet photography are fairly straightforward. But developing a narrative and reflecting the unique and authentic personality of a pet tends to be rather complicated.
3. How are you different from other pet photographers?
Again, this is another one of those questions aimed at getting to the root of how a photographer approaches their work. The creative process is about making decisions. While any professional would be slow to speak ill about their competitors (better pet photographers and pet portrait artists tend to be fairly supportive of each other), they should still be aware of how and why other artists deviated from their own creative decisions. It’s one thing to take the road less traveled, but if you don’t know how you got on the road less traveled — you’re not bold, you’re just lost.
4. Are you working on an ongoing pet portrait series or side project?
More creative professional pet photographers almost ALWAYS have an ongoing series or passion project that they are working on. There are multiple reasons for this. Some are more self serving, such as increasing brand awareness and encouraging invitations to show in galleries. But this work can also benefit clients. Photographers often use these more focused and creative side projects to push the boundaries of their work. By actively expanding on their portfolio, photographers are better able to educate potential clients on what they can create for them.
Asking a photographer about their side project may open the door to you benefiting from a concept or style you may not have otherwise known about. You may even be able to receive a discount just for allowing the photographer to use more experimental techniques or work on a more creative pet portrait concept that will help their portfolio.
5. Do you have a day job?
Anyone with a camera can pass themselves off as a professional photographer online. When pressed on the issue, some photographers will go so far to insist on the circular logic, that somehow getting paid is what make them a professional. There are professional photographer certification programs, but most don’t do much to qualify membership. Those organizations that do qualify potential members, typically only restrict membership to photographers who pass written exams on basic technical and compositional knowledge. As a result, many great photographers don’t feel the need to be certified and many awful photographers are certified.
But if pet photography has been their only source of income for any extended period of time and they’re not independently wealthy, odds are they know what they’re doing. More importantly, if pet photography is their day job you can trust that your commission is a priority. As such you should expect more session availability, as well as quicker turn around times for edits and proofs.
6. How much of your photography is dedicated to dogs?
Not every photographer works with dogs. Some photographers don’t photograph people, but work with other pets and animals — such as cats, rats, horses, goats, pigs, and other farm animals. Depending on the breed of your dog and their prey drive, that might possibly be a point of concern. Instinctual behaviors, like prey drives and other predatory behaviors, are not typically learned. These behaviors are often hardwired into dog breeds and as such can be difficult behaviors to modify.
Instinctual behaviors may also present in unexpected ways. Dogs that are otherwise fun loving, calm, and gentle, might get excited or react aggressively if it smells a horse or goat. If you have introduced your dog to cats, smelling a new cat won’t likely be a problem. But if you live in the city or suburbs and your dog has never met a goat or a horse, there is no telling what their reaction will be. Your dog might be fine. Or it might not. Which is why many dog owners prefer to work with pet photography studios that only work with dogs. That way owners can rest easy knowing that neither the studio or the photographer’s gear (especially fabric gear, such as camera bags, sand bags, reflectors and light modifiers) smells like any animals that may trigger a dog.
7. Do you have a dog friendly studio space?
Not every pet photography “studio” is actually a studio. Some “studios” are photography companies that operate exclusively in client homes, on location, or from within their own home. That’s not to say that there is anything inherently wrong with any of those methods. But each location type does introduce its own difficulties and limitations. So, it’s important to know what you’re signing up for before it’s time to shoot.
If you’re working outside, ask about the inclement weather policy. If the photographer is working in your home, ask how much room they need and what you can do to prep for your session. If you are working in another photographers home, make sure that its safe for your dog to be off leash there and if there will be any animals or children present. And if so, ask what efforts will be taken to minimize distractions.
8. Are photoshoots private and free of distractions?
Limiting interruptions and distractions is important in maintaining both a safe and productive set. You want to avoid shooting in any environment where someone may enter or walk by at random. Most dogs tend to great people when they see them enter. Some dogs are fearful or aggressive towards strangers. Some dogs may try to burst out an open door if given a chance. While double gates (like you see at most dog parks) can be effective counter measures to prevent runners and doggie jail breaks, they’re not fool proof. If your dog is going to be off leash, it is much safer to just keep the door locked. To that end, many studios that are dedicated exclusively to dog photography only accept sessions by appointment and go to great lengths to pad sessions start and end times. That way dogs are less likely to cross paths if a session runs long or a client shows up early.
9. Do you have a dog?
Dog people have dogs, it’s what we do. Why would you have your dog photographed by someone who wasn’t a dog person? If your pet photographer doesn’t have a dog, don’t be afraid to ask them why. Of course, exceptions should be made for any photographer who recently lost a dog due to death or divorce, or if your photographer in-between fosters. Handling dogs and understanding how to communicate with dogs isn’t something most people can pick up in a text book. It takes years of practice and intimate familiarity with dogs to truly get inside their heads. Most pet portrait clients find it best to work with photographers who live with and love dogs as much as they do.
10. Will there be any other animals at the shoot?
Taking your dog to work can be an awesome experience – unless you’re a dog photographer. Dogs tend to distract each other. It doesn’t matter if they’re bonded or how well trained they are, you’ll get better photos if you arrange for your dog to be the only one on site during your shoot. Notice we said “on site”. Putting a dog in a crate, in another room, or upstairs doesn’t usually help as dogs tend to have great hearing and enjoy audibly communicating with each other (read: barking). And, while keeping one dog outside may effectively separate the animals, it often isn’t fair or often safe for the dog being placed outside. Freeing your session of distractions will help your dog focus and make it easier to get your dog to cooperate during a photoshoot.
11. How long are sessions?
Good pet photography takes time to execute. The vast majority of dogs can’t be rushed or forced to perform on command. Remember, a pet portrait session is not a photo booth. Great dog portraits require patience. Most professional dog photographers allot at minimum one hour of studio time per session. Many others (including the Puptrait Studio) two hours of session time per dog with an hour of padding before and after to minimize client crossover and interruptions. By preventing canine clients from crossing paths can go a long way towards encouraging a safe and productive studio environment for all studio visitors.
12. Do you use flash?
A professional pet photographer may not always use flash or studio style strobes when photographing dogs. But all professional pet photographers should know how to use flash competently and have access to these mission critical photography tools if need develops. Lighting is a difficult skill for any photographer to master. So if a photographer tries to tell you that they never use flash it should be regarded as a fairly large red flag and a sign that they are probably best avoided. Contrary to what you might read online, photographing dogs with flash is safe and is a useful tool for photographers, even when working in already bright or naturally lit scenes for a multitude of reasons.
13. What do pet portrait clients say?
Before considering a photographer we strongly recommend researching how previous dog portrait clients have rated or reviewed the studio online. Take client reviews and quotes that photographers post to their own site with a grain of salt. These reviews can be easily fabricated and negative reviews are often removed before posting. Google tends to be a fairly reliable source of reviews. But 3rd party websites such as Facebook, Yelp, BBB and TripAdvisor are also a great source for client reviews.
14. What are your pet portrait sitting fees?
Sitting fees and session fees are basically how much a photographer charges for the photoshoot itself. Depending on who you are working with and what is included with your package, if anything, sitting fees may run as high as a few thousand dollars or sitting fees may be waived entirely if certain criteria met, such as minimum print commitment. Keep in mind professional pet photographers are just that, professionals. They will expect to be paid somehow and at some point. Some photographers front load their time and charge more for sitting fees. Other pet photographers focus more on charging for prints. Neither billing model is necessarily less expensive or a better deal than the other. We recommend that you weigh your options and expectations carefully when considering different photographers.
15. How much do your clients usually spend?
A reputable pet photographer should be able to answer this question without hesitation or concern about a perspective client’s budget. Our rates are what they are. Like most freelance creatives, pet photographers determine their prices based on the estimated time spent per project against a fixed hourly rate. Even if a pet photographer does not advertise their rate, they literally know what their time is worth. It is an unfortunate reality of the economics of our world that those rates are not accessible to everyone and some clients may not value the work highly enough to warrant such an investment. But either way, it’s best to understand that information upfront sp that both the client and the photographer can probably set expectations for the project.
16. What kind of prints do you make?
Not all prints are made equal. Some photographers focus on minimizing costs or providing images on the maximum number of images possible. Others put a higher emphasis on paper quality, image clarity and durability. Others still like to keep things more traditional, sticking exclusively to smaller print sizes and white matted frames. There are many ways to print dog photos properly, so as long as the photos are handles with care the most important consideration to weigh is your own personal preference. Specifically, what kind of art would you like to hang in your home or office? Would the piece look great along side the rest of your art collection or would a different hanging or mounting method better fit your space?
17. Do you work with multiple dogs simultaneously?
Many pet photographers will work with multiple dogs simultaneously. Others prefer to work one-on-one. Generally this split is depending on shooting styles. Studios that tend to produce more focused, tightly cropped and finely lit pet portraits often prefer to work with only one dog in the studio at a time. As even bonded dogs tend to distract each other. But more free form, journalistic style approaches to portraiture are less constrained by these limitations for the simple fact that their work tends to be less structured or designed.
18. How many images should I expect?
It’s important to keep in mind that a pet portrait session isn’t a wedding. There aren’t multiple ceremonies or subjects being captured, so there is rarely need for an album of photos following a session. To that end, shot diversity is going to dictate how many proofs are delivered. If your dog is photographed through a scene, it is going to present a wider range of poses across different looking backgrounds, you might expect to receive upwards of 25 to 50 photo proofs. But if you’re in a studio chasing a very specific look or concept, your photographer may only deliver as few as 6 proofs to choose from.
Which option is better depends a lot on the intended end use for the photos. Having 50 photos to select from might be a great way to fill your desk with smaller snapshots. But if you’re looking to have a giant high quality piece of wall art made, you’re probably better served selecting from 6 flawless proofs since you’re only planning on printing one.
19. How are proofs delivered?
How proofs are delivered and presented is a fairly important consideration that many clients tend to ignore. Some photographers require clients to revisit their studio to review proofs in person, often pairing these methods with high pressure impulse sale tactics. Other photographers upload the files to a password protected section of their website and let clients purchase prints online at their leisure.
Here at the Puptrait Studio we merge the two approaches to photo proofing. We save clients a trip to our studio by delivering online photo proofs and then schedule print consults to discuss the images and our various mounting options over the phone. But unlike in the high pressure sales scenario, we don’t close print sales over the phone. Instead we email clients an itemized invoice of their order that they can pay online when they’re ready or modify if they happen to change their mind after getting off the phone. We find this mixed approach is convenient, keeps client expectations informed, and remains pressure free.
20. When should I expect to receive proofs?
Different photographers edit their photos differently and take varying amounts of time to deliver session proofs. Some pet photographers deliver proofs in a matter of days, others may take a few weeks or up to a month on average to deliver images to clients. Estimates may vary depending on the time of year, how busy a photographer is, the state of their other workload, and what their backlog of work looks like.
21. Does editing or post processing cost extra?
Digital pet photographers who shoot in RAW should be editing their photos before delivering proofs (We recommend not hiring any photographer who shoots exclusively to JPG). There are multiple reasons for this, most of which boil down to the format being optimized for capturing image data and not presenting image data. To the point that even if you set the proper white balance on your camera, that white balance will not automatically be reflected in the image file. Because of this the vast majority of professional pet photographers include basic post processing and editing in their dog portrait sitting fee.
Of course, how “basic” is defined is up to the interpretation of every photographer. But generally speaking, most photographers will process for minor corrections to exposure, saturation, vibrancy, white balance, color balance and lens distortion. And then bill hourly for leash removal, compositing, and more advanced editing requests. Depending on the market and the skill of the photographer, you should expect photo editing to run anywhere from $50 – $200 an hour.
22. Do you edit or develop your photos your self?
Not every professional photographer edits their own photos. Some are too busy to edit their own photos or have a team supporting them in studio. Others don’t know how to use editing software. Often it’s best to avoid photographers in the latter category, as on the off chance that something goes wrong they won’t be able to fix your images on their own. As a general rule of thumb, photographers who edit or develop their own work tend to produce more consistent final images. Meaning you can more reliably count on your edited photos being of the same quality as the photos in their portfolio.
23. Where is your pet photography studio located?
Even if you found the portrait artist by searching online for a pet photographer near me the studio may not be the closest or most conveniently located pet photographer. While many clients will travel further to work with better talent or photographers capable of producing more unique imagery, all things being even, travel time is an important consideration. Being a great photographer doesn’t automatically make one a great digital marketer. There might very well be a great pet photographer located closer to you than initially presented in your search results. Distance calculated as the crow flies isn’t the same as travel time. Time of day and traffic patterns, such as rush hour, can create wide discrepancies between what is close and what is quick or easy to get to.
24. Do you have new props or costumes?
Hiring a professional photographer can be a great excuse to get your dog into adorable dog costume. But you should be weary of working with any pet photographer who uses a costume multiple times with different. Besides the obvious risks of disease and parasite transmission, most dog costumes are rather fragile. While a costume worn multiple times might look good enough for general use. Dog costumes don’t tend to hold up as well under camera. As small tears, frays and stains will be larger and more obvious when magnified in a photo print.
Most portrait studios will allow you to bring your own dog costumes. But better pet photographers tend to discourage clients from using off the shelf costumes or previously worn costumes for the simple fact that pre-made costumes tend to be designed with walks in mind, rather than photoshoots. Because of this costume designers tend to spend more time focusing on how the costume will look on the dogs from above or from the front when standing and their construction is often not as detail oriented as consumers think at a glance. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule — including this one. If you would like to have your dog photographed in a specific costume it is best to speak with your photographer prior to your session to discuss the outfit and how it will be used.
25. What is the scoop on poop?
Poop happens. Most professional photographers recommend walking your dog once you arrive at their studio. When walked, dogs will poop. It’s a good idea to find out what your pet photographers poop policy is prior to arriving. Odds are your photographer will have either have poop bags on hand for you to use or if their studio has a fenced in yard, they will regularly scoop following sessions. Either way, knowing what their poop policy is can help you from needlessly carrying around or disposing of a stinky bag improperly.
26. What is the situation with parking?
Depending on where your dog photographer’s studio is located your parking options may vary. Studios in more rural or suburban areas tend to have dedicated parking areas or lots. Where as pet photography studios in or near cities may require that photo clients use free street parking or a nearby pay lot. While street parking can be annoying, it’s important to keep in mind that you will be traveling with your dog. So, even if your photographer offers parking immediately next to their door, you will still have to walk your dog upon arriving at the studio and before leaving for home. So it doesn’t matter as much what kind of parking is offered at your nearby pet portrait studio as long as you know what to expect when you arrive for your dog’s photoshoot.
27. Are there things to do with my dog near your studio?
If you’re already out of the house with your dog, why not make a day of it? More often than not, dog photographers are also dog people. They probably know of other fun and interesting places you can take your dog after your session – such as dog friendly restaurants, bars, parks, or stores. Your dog photographer may even be able to provide you with discounts to local businesses in the area.
If you are traveling a longer distance to reach your pet photographer, it might be a good idea to learn of a few places you can hang out at just to kill time prior to your photoshoot. You typically don’t want to arrive too early for your session, as this may interrupt an earlier photoshoot or the pet photographer prepping for your arrival. So, knowing of dog friendly places your can grab a quick bite to eat or cup of coffee can be quite handy.
28. What happens if I reschedule or cancel?
Most reputable dog portrait photographers will either have you sign a contract or agree to fairly explicit terms outlining their rescheduling and cancellation policies when scheduling your session. Other dog photographers may list these policies on their website under Frequently Asked Questions section of their website. But it can still be helpful to walk through these polices with your photographer. If you’re planning on working outside make sure to ask about what happens if it rains.
29. What is your file back up protocol?
There is nothing worse than losing your files. Especially if you haven’t had a chance to order print yet. When you’re working with technology, accidents happen. Hard drive crashes can be surprisingly common occurrences. Which is why its important that your pet photographer has fail safes and redundant mechanisms in place to ensure that your files remain safe even if their hard drive or computer fails. Must reputable professional pet photographers back up their files immediately following a session and create redundant copies of the files to live on external hard drives on location, as well as off site or cloud based data servers.
Also, be sure to ask how long your photographer plans on holding onto your files. You may wish to have additional prints from your session made in the future. It’s not unheard of for prints to be damaged by UV rays, smoke, and fire exposure, or physical damage caused by falling or improper packing during moves. If any of these unfortunate scenarios might occur, you’ll likely be relieved to be able to have reprints made.
30. While I receive full resolution files?
The vast majority of professional photographers do not release production files or full resolution JPGs to their private portrait clients. Photographers live and die by their reputations. How a photographer’s images are handled, printed and perceived has a lot to do with how the quality of their work is perceived. For a photographer to allow clients an opportunity to edit or print their images would be taking a huge gamble with their reputation.
It’s important to keep in mind that many photographers who specialize in pet portraiture depend heavily on print sales to make a living. They often do not bill clients for sessions or when they do charge sitting fees, discount these fees heavily from what they would typically charge commercial clients (who are not normally interested in prints). In these instances, to give away production files would be tantamount to giving the session to a client for free.
Looking for Dog Photos in Maryland, Washington D.C. or Virginia?
Our dog friendly studio is located in the heart of Baltimore, conveniently just minutes off of i83. We also offer in home and on location pet portrait photography throughout all of Maryland, Washington D.C. and Virginia. Find pet photographer availability and session fees for a shoot in your area with the easy to use online calendar located below.
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