Tell us about what inspired you to create your business? When did you start your business?
I studied photography and graphic design in school. I began my career as a graphic designer and started Westway Studio as a design company. After adopting our pup, I took 12,647 photos a day of her. A friend eventually pointed out that pet photography is a thing and I should go do that. Whaaaaat! Well, my eyes were opened, my business did a massive pivot in 2011, and now I’m living and loving life as a Crazy Dog Lady… I mean pet photographer!
What is in your camera bag? Is there a particular piece of equipment that you just couldn’t live without?
I have way too much in my camera bag. I couldn’t survive without my Nikon D850, 70-200 f/2.8, and 35 f/1.4, though. My 24-70 f/2.8 is my least-used lens.
Do you have any advice for photographers that are trying to find their “style”?
Keep experimenting! Have fun playing with new techniques. Shoot in full sun, shoot in the shade, shoot in the studio, shoot in the city, shoot in the country, shoot with wide apertures, shoot with small apertures, work with big dogs, work with small dogs, and play with your editing. There is no right or wrong. As you shoot more, though, start to think about what speaks to you the most. What excites you? Is there a certain location, type of light, or anything else that makes you want to jump up and down? When you find that, build on it. And keep building on it. And then when you think you’re done, build a little more. Finding your own style will help you develop your passion. When you love what you do and what you are creating, others will love you, too! Find what makes you YOU and not someone else.
How did you learn the craft of photography? What advice do you have for those just starting out on their photographic journey?
I studied photography in high school and college. While it was simply a hobby for a long time, I embarked on making it my career in 2011. I knew the basics then — although I thought I knew a lot more — but I worked hard to continue learning. I took courses and workshops specifically on pet photography and business. I studied other photographers’ work and pushed myself to figure out how they did it. Some were kind enough to answer my questions like “is that all-natural light?” or “what shutter speed did you use to stop action like that?” or even “what focus settings are you using to achieve such a shallow depth of field on a moving subject?”
For those of you just starting out, I’m going to say something you probably don’t hear a lot: be hard on yourselves. Yup. Look at your images and think “how could I do this better next time?” Don’t beat yourself up if things don’t come out exactly as you envisioned or if you accidentally have your camera on single-focus instead of continuous and miss the shot of a lifetime (*cough, cough* been there, done that) but make a mental note for next time to be more mindful. Ask yourself, “why did I choose to photograph a sitting dog at ISO 4000 and 1/8000th when I could have shot slower, lowered my ISO, and achieved a better image?” Keep pushing yourself to be better. And don’t ever stop!
Another piece of advice: learn the business side. Learn customer service, accounting, project management, sales, and social media. If you have an introvert shell, work on learning how to break out of it when you need to. Running a photography studio is more business and relationship-building than anyone ever anticipates!
Where do you find inspiration for your work or trying new things?
I get inspiration EVERYWHERE! Exploring new places, I often think “I need a puppy right there!” When I watch TV at night, I look at lighting, placement, camera angles, color… everything! Architecture and interior design make me think about textures, patterns, and color. I’ll look at landscape photography, wedding photography, and portrait photography and ask myself how I could experiment with integrating a dog into such a location or theme.
It can be hard to feel motivated to try something new sometimes but share your dreams with a friend or partner — perhaps they can help! There have definitely been times when I thought “it’s too cold/early/late/gray/you-name-the-excuse” but my hubby reminded me “you want this, remember? Let’s go!” His gentle nudges have helped me capture some of my favorite images and memories of all time!
What was your most valuable marketing strategy when you started your business?
Setting up my booth at pet-related events like walks and 5Ks is absolutely what jump-started my business. It was a way to get in front of a ton of people, collect emails for my mailing list, and get clients signed up for sessions.
Shameless plug: Our Professional Pooch video “Showcase Your Business at a Local Event” is jam-packed with our event booth strategies, talking points, and tours of our booths. If you’re thinking about doing events, it will be an incredibly valuable resource!
What is your most valuable marketing strategy now?
Booth events still play a huge role in my marketing strategy but I’ve become far more selective about them because I’ve gotten more specific about who my ideal clients are and aren’t (i.e., they are not “everyone with a dog”).
I also started experimenting with Nicole’s silent auction donation strategy last year and it went extremely well. I’ll be expanding my donations this year and making it a larger part of my overall marketing strategy.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Would it be absolutely crazy if I said running the business and in-person sales? Don’t get me wrong, I love taking photos, playing with all the dogs, and getting to do all the creative stuff but I LOVE the strategy behind growing a business, the psychology of marketing, and what it takes to give my clients the absolute best experience I possibly can.
I also LOVE teaching. Like, seriously LOVE it. I love watching a student’s eyes light up because all of a sudden they understand something they’ve been struggling with. I love helping mentees work through a challenge and end up with an actionable strategy at the end of it. I love seeing the passion that others have for pets and photography and I love getting to be a small part of helping their business and artistry grow! This is all why Allison Shamrell and I started Professional Pooch and why I hope to host more in-person workshops in the future!
What do you think the next 5 years will look like for the pet photography industry?
I anticipate the next five years will bring more pet photographers to the market and it’ll continue to become more mainstream. I think more consumers will learn about friends who have hired pet photographers and they will be more open to hiring a pet photographer themselves. I think the level of talent in our industry is going to increase exponentially. It’s such an exciting time!
You can see the lovely image above where Terran applied her magical editing skills during her Guest Artist lesson in the Hair of the Dog Academy. Thank you for sharing a part of your process Terran!
If you would like to follow along with Terran and her artwork, you can find her here:
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