How to Get Started as a Pet Photographer


i, I'm Nicole Begley! I'm a pet and equine photographer, pet photography educator, and podcast host serving the greater Charlotte, North Carolina area. I have been a photographer in this space for over a decade and am excited to share how I got started in pet photography, share what a typical session looks like for me, provide advice to new pet photographers, and show you how CloudSpot has changed my life in this niche.

How I Got Started as a Pet Photographer

My first career was as a zoological animal trainer working with marine mammals, primates, and free-flight birds. It was amazing and I loved every minute of it!

When I started my photography business, I started as a family photographer with a side interest in pets. In 2010, I didn't think that pet photography only would be sustainable - but it is!  

In 2015, I rebranded my business and focused completely on pet and equine photography. From there, it grew like wildfire. Now, I am also focused on helping educate other pet photographers through workshops, virtual summits, an online community, and a podcast.

What a "Typical" Pet Session Looks Like

If I've learned anything, it's the fact that there is nothing typical about animals! They are wild and unpredictable sometimes, but that is what makes them great. Most of my sessions are held outdoors during the golden hour and the details of the session really depend on the animals.

Generally, I try to start with the more posed and traditional images as well as any group shots. The sounds of a new person and a camera clicking are very intriguing at first. This is when I have the dog's interest and it's easier to get everyone's attention for these classic shots. You need this type of interest to capture their puppy eyes.

Once the interest wears off, and the dog becomes restless of still imagery with their owner(s), we move on to more activity, action, and casual lifestyle imagery. This is when it's fun to capture the dog sniffing the air, being silly, and running. It's great to bring a toy or two to the photo session so the dog can play around and have fun!

My Advice to New Pet Photographers

If you are looking to get started as a pet photographer yourself, my first advice would be to educate yourself on techniques and business practices. When I am not photographing my own clients, I am a pet photography educator through Hair of the Dog Academy, a comprehensive pet photography education platform that covers all aspects of shooting and editing. Our website provides editing tutorials, free mini-courses, access to our virtual summits, and other resources to help you improve your craft and grow your pet photography business.

You can also find post-processing, editing, business tips, and workflow hacks on my YouTube channel.

There are three critical topics to learn about before you are ready for your first session including the natural history of your subjects, how to read animal body language, and how to modify behavior through positive reinforcement training.

1. Learn the natural history of your subjects

Is a regular practice for me to ask my clients about their pet's history.

Where did the pet come from? Is there a story behind the pet you are photographing? Knowing the history of your subjects will help spark ideas on how to bring that relationship to life. It's also good to know that rescue and breeder dogs can sometimes behave differently in new situations.

Is the pet nervous about certain situations or new people? Please get to know the pet's temperament so you can learn how to make them comfortable.  

What are their favorite toys? Ask your client to bring a few of their favorite toys. This will help keep the pet's attention during the photo session.

2. Learn how to read body language

This goes for both your client, the human, and the pet! At the beginning of most sessions, your client will be praying that the session goes smoothly. It's a good idea to let your client know that they will have a great experience if you provide your knowledge on training and experience around these animals.

Learn how to read body language so you can be aware of when people or pets are nervous or comfortable. If they are nervous or uncomfortable, pets can tend to act out and it's time to modify their behavior.

3. Learn how to modify behavior through positive reinforcement training  

Reassure your client that their dog or horse can do this. Being in pet and equine photography for over a decade, there has never been a dog or horse that I couldn't photograph.

What are some learned training words the pet already knows (sit, stay, come)?

Do you have treats or clickers to ensure positive reinforcement training?

Are there any triggers where bad behavior or distraction could occur? (Squirrel!)

What are a few things that help the pet to listen? (Treats, clickers, squeaky toys)

Knowing these before your session will allow you to use positive reinforcement training in order to modify behavior during your session. Treats come in handy too!

All of these learned skills allow us to provide a positive experience for our clients and our subjects while ensuring that we capture relaxed and engaging expressions.  

How CloudSpot Bettered My Pet Photography Business

I love everything about CloudSpot! I've been a user since 2018 and my pet photography business was definitely changed for the better.

1. Easy Image Delivery

Instead of delivering the files via a file transfer service, I can deliver them through a lovely user experience and offer my clients the opportunity to order more prints and artwork with the files they've already purchased. This results in higher quality products for them and an additional revenue source for me. Win-win!

2. Auto-fulfilled Storefront

One of my favorite features of CloudSpot is the Store. Even though I run a boutique business with in-person sales and custom products, my clients receive the high-resolution digital images included with any wall art or album purchases.

My go-to Store catalog for pet photography includes Cards, Prints, Wall Art, and Albums. These auto-fulfillment products are sold on my CloudSpot Shop when I deliver their gallery images and ship them directly to the client.

3. Gallery and Client Mobile App Customization

In addition to the Storefront and ease of image delivery, the customization available in the online galleries and the ability to quickly create custom, client Mobile Apps for my clients make this software an MVP in my business.  

If you want to give CloudSpot a try, use my referral code to make a free account and get a huge discount off of your first 12 months when you upgrade.

Want more on the Hair of the Dog Podcast?

Last, but not least - CloudSpot founder Gavin Wade joined me on a recent podcast episode to discuss the software's backstory, how it's making photographers' lives easier (and more profitable!), and the GIANT next step for the company and its clients . Take a listen!