Please help me welcome Jess Bell to the Hair of the Dog Academy as Guest Artist of the Month for the month of November. If you have seen Jess's work, you have probably been in awe of how beautiful it is. She is going behind the scenes to share her editing skills with us in the Hair of the Dog Academy. Before we get to the image that she chose to edit for the guest artist column, let's get to know Jess a little bit better first.
Tell us about what inspired you to create your business? When did you start your business?
I’ve been photographing animals for clients since 2016. It felt like a natural progression for me. I started out photographing my awesome dog, Cohen. Then I began photographing dogs owned by my friends, and it clicked: it was WAY easier and more interesting to photograph dogs that were being handled by other people. I found that it opened up new artistic avenues for me, and allowed me to delve deeper into my creative side.
Building my business has been a slow process. 2019 was a year that I set out to formalize a lot of my processes, charge appropriate amounts for my work, and focus more on developing the business end of photography.
What is in your camera bag? Is there a particular piece of equipment that you just couldn’t live without?
My go-to is almost always my Nikon D5 and my Nikon 300mm f2.8 for action, or my Nikon 105mm f1.4 for portraits. I use Godox flashes for my studio photography (AD600 pro, AD200s).
Do you have any advice for photographers that are trying to find their “style”?
I think that style comes naturally with time, confidence and experience. Don’t get too preoccupied with finding your style. Instead, work to expand your education with every photoshoot & every client. Style is mutable; having a solid foundation of knowledge on which to draw is much more valuable.
How did you learn the craft of photography? What advice do you have for those just starting out on their photographic journey?
I’ve learned photography with a great deal of experimentation and failure. My advice might be to save yourself a little bit of time and heartache and find yourself a mentor with whom to work! You don’t have to exist in a bubble, and you’re not on this journey alone.
Where do you find inspiration for your work or trying new things?
I get restless and unhappy if I don’t feel as if I’m accomplishing something new on a regular basis. Regularly, I set up model calls with friends & acquaintances with the caveat of “this is entirely new to me and it may be a disaster.” Setting up these shoots is a really nice low-pressure way for me to experiment without the threat of disappointing a client if it doesn’t work out the way I intended. Happily, these experimental sessions always seem to result in some of my best work.
What was your most valuable marketing strategy when you started your business?
Word of mouth was key when I first started my business. I was well-positioned in the local dog-loving community due to the work I did with my own dog. In addition to that, just maintaining an active business page on Facebook helped me get lots of eyes on my work and generate some buzz.
What is your most valuable marketing strategy now?
Since 2016, I’ve not done a lot to revamp my marketing strategy. It’s still widely word of mouth and interest on social media. Though I was lucky enough to have a local producer catch wind of my work after an article was written about my photography that resulted in a small video feature was crafted and aired on our national television broadcaster, which in turn pulled in a slew of new clients.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Feeling artistically edified. I use photography as therapy of sorts. It isn’t my full-time job, so I have the leisure of focusing less on making money and more on being happy with my work.
What do you think the next 5 years will look like for the pet photography industry?
I think it will look similar to what it does now.
Like with all arts & disciplines, I think that there will be a great number of people struggling to understand their worth when the thing that drives them is their passion, not money. I think that in order for professionals to stand apart, they need to embrace photography as a service, not a product, and to have a firm grasp of the business side of things, even more so than the art.
You can see the lovely image above where Jess performed her magical editing technique during her Guest Artist lesson in the Hair of the Dog Academy. Thank you for sharing a part of your process Jess!
If you would like to follow along with Jess and her artwork, you can find her here:
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