Contributor Conversations: How to start a successful pet photography business

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In this generation of viral content and memes, pets have taken center stage. In fact, photos of cats and dogs are among the most shared on social media. And who can blame people? These furry creatures are not only irresistibly adorable but also naturally photogenic.

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However, there's no doubt that photographing animals can be a big challenge. And while regular folks can get lucky with a cute snapshot every once in a while, it takes talented photographers like Annette Shaff to produce beautiful pet photos consistently—especially for stock photography.

Possessing an uncanny talent for capturing the energy and endless curiosity of pets, Anette has become known for her a lighthearted approach to her equally playful subjects. With a proclivity for shooting close-ups from a low angle, she brings a sense of intimacy to her photos that is otherwise only possible through real life interactions.

cute chihuahua in a hammock outside in the sun on a hot summer d

The Idaho-based photographer’s signature style is taking photos of pets in costumes. Her images of googly-eyed pups in goggles aren’t just Instagram-worthy, but are also the best-sellers in her portfolio. With a combination of skill and intuition, she captures the unique personality of each animal so effortlessly that it’s easy to forget how difficult it actually is to do.   

We asked Anette a few questions about how she started her pet photography business and how her passion for animals has been her fuel for success.

How did you get into photography?

For the most part, when I was in college and took many photography courses starting around 2001 with film cameras.I Stumbled across stock photography on the internet back in 2006.

And how about pet photography?

cute chihuahua rubbing his paws on his face in the sun in an aut

I had two super cute chihuahuas, and my roommate had two dogs also, so I began taking their photos for fun and it progressed from there.

How do you prepare pets for a photo shoot?

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In my experience, you really can't. If the pet wants to cooperate that's great, if not then you don't force them to.

What does it take to dress up pets?

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A willing participant. Hercules and Chuie were more than happy to oblige me, but not all pets will sit still with a hat on or want to wear an outfit. The photo is always going to be better if you have a pet that is not scared or nervous during the whole process.

How do you pose pets?

cute french bulldog in a super hero costume toned with a retro v

Usually, I just let them walk around on my studio table. If they know "sit" and "stay" that's helpful, but not always needed. Treats are very helpful to get them to look where you want or to hold still for a minute.

Pets can be moody. What do you do to calm them down?

senior dog laying in the grass in a backyard smiling at the came

I prefer the pets I photograph to be calm in the first place. There is no joy in trying to photograph a pet who is obviously not comfortable. Even for candid shots at events, if a dog doesn't like the beep of my camera, I won't try to take another photo of it.

What’s the most challenging aspect of pet photography?

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Finding models as good as Hercules and Chuie. I got really lucky with those two, especially Hercules, he was a ham in front of the camera.

Any memorable experiences while shooting pets?

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My dogs Hercules and Chuie would both vie to get into my studio for a photo shoot, so I had to shut the door to keep out the dog who was not supposed to be in the shoot. They knew that my studio was the "treat" room!

In your opinion, what does it take to be a pet photographer?

west highland white terrier with goggles on riding in a car with

Patience is probably the number one thing you need. They don't know what you want, so the actual communication barrier has to be replaced with patience.

Any trade secret you’d like to share to aspiring pet stock photographers out there?

No secrets but a tip: make it fun!

Anette’s work shows that starting a pet photography business is about more than just great photo skills, but also about establishing a genuine connection with the animals. It’s evident in her images that she is an animal lover who just happens to be behind the camera. And boy, you can see in the eyes of all the furry friends she photographs that they’re happy to be around her.