Join me in welcoming Haron Haghuis to the Hair of the Dog Academy as Guest Artist of the Month for the month of December. In his member's only tutorial, he takes us behind the scenes to show the specific conditions he looks for when creating a moody portrait, and he also demonstrates how he further enhances this concept with Photoshop. Before we get to the image that he chose to edit for the guest artist column, let's get to know Haron a little bit better first.
Tell us about what inspired you to create your business? When did you start your business?
My business actually started as a new hobby that got out of hand, which is not too surprising, I tend to completely throw myself into whatever new creative interest I develop.
I did have somewhat of a background in media and graphic design. I used to love drawing when I was younger. As I grew older I lost the patience to sit and draw for hours on end. Now I’m also quite the tech-enthusiast. After having spent over a decade in various pieces of software such as Photoshop, I finally bought my first DSLR in 2015.
At the time I already had my Border Collie, Milo, so it wasn’t long before I was bringing the camera on our walks to capture his daily shenanigans. This quickly evolved into posing Milo for more artistic images that I could then run through Lightroom and Photoshop. This then became my new creative outlet.
Considering how much I enjoyed the creative aspect and how well the images were received, I made the decision to set up my business and I haven’t looked back since.
What is in your camera bag? Is there a particular piece of equipment that you just couldn’t live without?
I currently shoot with the Nikon D850 and have the Z6 as a backup. I’m a huge fan of the Sigma ART lenses. I own the 35mm, 85mm and 105mm. The occasional action shot I take with the Tamron 70-200mm G2.
The piece of equipment I actually love is my bean bag. I recall discussing mini-tripods with Cecilia Zuccherato some time ago, since I don’t have the steadiest hands, which along with my poor eyesight apparently didn’t withhold me from convincing myself that becoming a photographer was a great idea. Anyway, she suggested I’d try a bean bag and it has been part of my kit ever since.
It’s such an affordable, simple tool, yet so very useful. Apart from providing support for your camera, it forces you to shoot from those low angles, which can greatly benefit your compositions. I actually make my workshop participants bring bean bags for that purpose alone.
Do you have any advice for photographers that are trying to find their “style”?
Generally, I advise against forcing or finding a style. I’ve found that some photographers get hung up on the idea of a signature style to the extent that they stop enjoying and creating images that they like. I believe the idea of a signature style can actually be quite restrictive when it comes to creativity.
Rather than trying to force a style, focus on your own taste. Let yourself be inspired, use that creative mind of yours and don’t be afraid to try new things.
If your personal taste and creativity lead you to a certain consistency in your work, then great! If you would rather experiment and try completely different ways of photography and editing every time, that’s just as great!
As long as you don’t try to force it, people will eventually start recognizing your work. Stop worrying about it would be my best advice.
How did you learn the craft of photography? What advice do you have for those just starting out on their photographic journey?
After I got my camera I spent a week binging instructional videos on how exposure works and how to manually set my camera accordingly. As I’ve mentioned, I did have a background in graphic design and apparently I had remembered more from art classes than I had initially thought. For the first time concepts such as perspective, leading lines and dynamic posing excited me since I could now apply them to dog photography. Yes, you can actually pose a dog dynamically! (Relatively speaking at least)
From there on I just learned by doing, which allowed me to develop my own methods when it comes to photography and editing. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of complex techniques. Being somewhat analytical I will often try to distill them to simpler techniques once I understand the theory behind them.
My advice would be to master simplicity first. Focus on quality before getting overwhelmed by the countless options that photography, equipment and post-processing software provide.
Also, don’t be afraid to practice and make mistakes. Avoid playing the comparison game. Just like social media might lead you to believe half your friend list is on a permanent tropical vacation, when it comes to photography you’ll often only see people’s best work.
You don’t get to see the out-of-focus shots, the poorly framed ones or the fact that Fido decided your yoga mat would make for an amazing toy to tear up and run around with. (Lesson learned, I just lie in the dirt these days)
Don’t think more experienced photographers have a magical golden shutter finger that produces award-winning images on every click. Each shoot will produce some “winners”, the images that have the quality you’re looking for. My poorer photos just make their way to the trash a bit faster these days.
With practice, you’ll learn to produce those “winners” more often and more consistently. Since you’ll know what to look for, you’ll have an easier time culling and filtering your selections.
Where do you find inspiration for your work or trying new things?
I’m actually somewhat of a geek. I will often ask myself whether an image’s mood and style would fit the style of a certain book or movie.
Sometimes I’ll listen to movie or fantasy soundtracks to help me visualize a style or mood. They’re actually nothing short of amazing for that purpose, considering they’re created to strongly evoke emotions. (Thank you Howard Shore)
What was your most valuable marketing strategy when you started your business?
I simply started posting on Facebook and handing out business cards wherever I would meet dog owners.
What is your most valuable marketing strategy now?
I hardly consider myself a marketing expert. Most of my clients still find me through Facebook or Google.
I suppose one of the benefits of living in such a small country is that it isn’t very difficult to rank highly enough to be on Google’s first page when it comes to national search terms.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Had you told me a few years ago that I would be teaching I would’ve told you you’re out of your mind. However, I’ve come to love the challenge of helping people figure out their personal creative or technical obstacles and help them get past those. I guess that’s where that analytical mind comes into play. The feeling when you notice it “clicks” in their minds, seeing them get excited and passionate about their craft again, that feeling has been very rewarding.
I also love the creative freedom that comes with the job, as stressful as it might be at times. I’m definitely a person that craves novelty and challenge. This job ensures that I never get bored since there’s always a new challenge I can set for myself. Plus I get to work and cuddle with dogs, so what more could you want really?
What do you think the next 5 years will look like for the pet photography industry?
Here in the Netherlands, I find that people are often still surprised that such a thing as a “pet photographer” exists. It seems that the profession is somewhat more common in countries such as the United States.
The genre is definitely starting to gain more attention here as well. I think it’s great that it’s receiving recognition and that it’s being appreciated for the art that it truly is. I hope the trend continues and that we’ll see a lot more of the amazing work that we see from all those talented artists.
You can see the lovely image above where Haron applied his moody editing enhancements during his Guest Artist lesson in the Hair of the Dog Academy. Thank you for sharing a part of your process Haron!
If you would like to follow along with Haron and his artwork, you can find him here: