Recently I was asked by a photographer who is just starting out in pet photography how to find your style. Good question! I’ll be the first to admit that I did not practice what I am now preaching, so I am speaking to what I know now… and boy, it would’ve been nice for someone to tell me this back then! When I first started getting serious about starting a pet photography business, I was obsessed with looking at other pet photographers’ work. To the point where I inadvertently copied their style, tried to recreate their images, and even unintentionally created a website that was insanely similar to another pet photographer who I admired. I didn’t do this maliciously – and when the photographer called me out on it, I was like “oh. my. GOSH!” I had no idea I had done it because I was so consumed with taking in all of these great pet photographers’ websites + blogs. Their words + their images started to become blurred with my own and it was a disaster. A complete identity crisis.
That was a wake up call. It was then that I decided it was time to stop comparing myself to other pet photographers. It was time to concentrate on me, my work, and my vision for the future of my business. I knew I was never going to be successful by copying what other photographers were already doing. And the most important thing I learned along the way is that the greatest asset you have is not your camera body, or a great lineup of professional lenses, or a flashy website. It’s YOU. You are your greatest asset and you need to figure out what it is that makes you special. What makes you stand out from the rest of the pack? What can you offer that no one else can offer? Once you start to figure out who you are as an artist, you start to develop your own style and brand.
So my first piece of advice? Stop following other pet photographers’ blogs. Stop constantly comparing yourself to them. Stop drooling over their images and filling your head with self doubt. That seemingly “perfect” image of the dog running through the field with a shallow depth of field? Those tack sharp eyes? That brilliant color and flawless location? Let’s get real for a minute. You do realize that professional photographers edit their images, right? The honest truth is that professional photographers usually only post their finished images – the ones that have been edited to perfection – because that is the quality of work that they want potential clients to see. We all do it and as a professional, you should be editing your images to create perfect pieces of art for your clients. I’m not afraid to admit that I clone out leashes, dead grass, eye boogers and background distractions so that the images I present to my clients are 100% perfect. Just know that the images you see online are not straight out of the camera, so don’t beat yourself up about it.
So you’ve stopped constantly looking at pet photographers’ work? Good. Still need some inspiration to help you find your own style? I also strongly encourage new photographers to check out the work of non-pet photographers. Check out wedding photographers, newborn photographers, family + children photographers. Look at their lighting, their composition, their angles. Figure out what you like and dislike about their images and it will help you pin point what appeals to you. This can be very helpful because you can find photographic inspiration in other genres and start to dream up concepts + ideas that you can apply to your pet photography. It’s good to think outside the box.
I also recently read a blog post by a fantastic wedding photographer named Katelyn James that suggested creating a folder on your computer where you can organize your favorite images and dissect them in an effort to figure out your style. Anytime you take an image that you just big-puffy-heart LOVE, stick it in that folder. Go through this folder often, questioning why you are drawn to those images. What is it that you love about them and how can you continue to incorporate those qualities in the future? What do all of the images in this folder have in common? That is how you can easily see what your style is, even if you can’t quite put it into words yet. Man, I wish I had thought of this when I was first starting out! What a fun way to watch your style evolve… literally!
Finding your style isn’t easy and it won’t happen over night. It takes time, patience and probably most importantly, practice. Get to know your camera. Play with depth of field. Play with different lenses. Play with different shutter speeds. Play with different locations. Play with different light sources. Play with your editing software and try different things. Find out what it is that you love first because at the end of the day, you want to create images that you love. That’s right. Finding your style has nothing to do with the client. It’s about you. Once you figure out what you like and start putting it out there for the world to see, you will attract clients who also love your images. And in the end, that’s what it’s about. Attracting clients who love what you do.
It’s important to remember that your style is an extension of yourself. It’s completely personal. One style is not necessarily “better” than any other. If you like the vintage look, rock it! There are plenty of clients out there who also love that look and would love to work with you. If black + white just isn’t your thing, don’t force yourself into that style simply because you think it’s the “cool” thing to do right now. Trust me on this – if you are creating art that you are not proud of or that you don’t enjoy making, you will burn out quickly. So figure out what appeals to you and own it! Your style will most likely keep evolving over time, so just keep an open mind and do what you love. Everyone will be happier in the end.