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Pet Photography: A Lively Challenge

Interested in expanding your photography business to a new niche? You might consider pet photography. With more than 43 million dog-owning households in the United States,* pet photography is a rapidly growing market. But working with animals requires key skills:

• A love of action photography to capture wagging tails at full speed
• The ability to adjust a game plan quickly
• A high tolerance of both slobber and LOTS of flying fur

Imagine a park, a sunny afternoon, a Frisbee and a gravity-defying boxer mix named Jet alongside his owners. Now add a photographer experienced with action and sports. The result? Artistically brilliant pet photography that tells an energetic story.


The image above represents the understanding of Focal Flame Photography owner, Clint Thayer, of what it takes to get “that shot” during a split second of activity – even when the athlete has four paws instead of two feet.

About their custom pet photography session, Jet’s owner, Lisa Bell said, “Jet, our lab/boxer, is an air dog and loves to play Frisbee. Clint captured in-flight pictures of him that will be keepsakes in our household! He was able to capture Jet’s true essence with up-close beautiful pictures of a super happy dog and his super dirty Frisbee. We are in love with each and every picture!”

So is Clint. Especially the one of Jet’s aerodynamic flight, mouth open, ready to snatch the disk.

Thayer’s obsession with action and movement, originally manifested in sports photography, has easily transferred to other genres like pet photography. But this isn’t the only perspective he brings to the park.

The old adage “You can’t fool kids and dogs” has some truth to it. Animals are keenly aware of how they are treated. A dog can’t fake emotions nor demonstrate a comfort level it doesn’t actually feel. Trust is required for humans to be natural around a photographer, and with dogs, that need for trust is multiplied a thousand-fold.


“Capturing emotion” would be one way Thayer would describe an afternoon in the park with a pet and its owners. “What I find interesting is how quickly the focus of the session shifts from the pets themselves to the interaction between pets and owners,” relates Thayer. “I’ve found the most engaging work comes in those brief periods when pets and owners connect, giving me a glimpse of the mutual respect and love they have for each other. That is the story that needs to come out in the photos.”


Thayer’s visual storytelling approach lends itself well to custom pet photography assignments, such as with these two adorable pups and their owner. “These two Shih Tzu mixes totally lavished love on their owner and received plenty of adoration right back,” says Thayer.


Each of these dynamic dogs represents happiness in its truest form. Memories of their energy and ear-flopping runs across the park definitely makes us long for the “dog days” of summer, no matter the time of year.

Interested in applying your skills to pet photography? Consider partnering with your local humane society for your first project. Animals in shelters are in need of homes as soon as possible. Many people look through online directories to search for a canine companion, and a compelling photograph may literally be a lifesaver.

Be ready for anything during your first session, though. “A canine subject once crashed into one of my light stands while he was running at top speed,” shares Thayer. “Both the dog and the lighting equipment were fine, but the stand was toast.”

In addition to retail pet photography, Thayer applies his photographic skill, timing and expertise with dogs and their people in his coverage of a local six-legged race: one runner, one dog, 5 kilometers and endless smiles.

What is your favorite thing about pet photography?

*Source: American Veterinary Medical Association

About the Contributor:

Focal Flame® Photography is dedicated to Art that Moves You. This multi-photographer studio offers sport event photography, commercial photography, headshot photography and videography. Focal Flame Photography was founded by Clint Thayer and is based in Madison, WI. Visit us at www.focalflame.com.

The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!
The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!