As 2021 draws to an end, it seemed like the perfect time to reflect on the year in Inspawration, for pet photography and pet photography education, things I’ve learnt, things I’ve discovered, and where the road will be taking us moving forward. 

It seems impossible that 12 months have passed. I guess I say this every year, but it seems like only a few weeks ago that we were breathing a sigh of relief to leave 2020 behind, and looking forward with reckless optimism to 2021. And as many countries tighten restrictions again, I hope some of us will be able to find a creative outlet in taking photos of our pets. This has certainly been something

I’ve seen throughout the year: the joy, pride, inspiration and excitement that comes from the process of learning and improving, and falling in love with creating beautiful portraits of our furry companions, has been unexpected and wonderful. 

The past 12 months: 2021

On my end, it’s been a rollercoaster. I launched the Learning Community in February. I expected 15 students. 80 signed up. I was blown away by the support, the enthusiasm, the desire for both pet parents and pet photographers alike to learn and improve their craft – and to trust in me to be a part of that!

We quickly got to work, finding a rhythm in our little community, as I held the first workshops, the first editing tutorials were posted up, we edited together and met on Zoom on Saturday evenings for somewhat-awkward social chats.

Throughout the year, I offered more courses, held private lessons (including one amazing student who drove a 7 hour round trip to spend the day learning with me!), did a portrait session for a baby, and a rainbow session for a beloved senior dog. I opened the LC another two times, and bit by bit, became… worn down.

Sometimes it felt like drowning... and all I could do was tread water, or force myself to swim forward.

One of my students asked the other day during a Q&A how I was. I was tired. I’ve moved from one country to another, dealt with bureaucracy, taxes, visas, getting my business set up here while half my “stuff” remains in the UK (I’m leaving to pack it up tomorrow!). I’ve fought to stay on top of things that my ADHD brain declares impossible (admin? Bookkeeping? Never heard of her.). I’ve filmed hours, upon hours, upon hours of video lessons and content for the Learning Community. I was asked multiple times when the Photoshop course would be released, and when I did release it, I heard next to nothing about how people were finding it…

And that’s hard. I have struggled. We probably all have. My story and my experience certainly isn’t an unusual one, but one thing I’ve noticed throughout the year, through multiple private lessons and discussions in the LC, is this pressure we place on ourselves as photographers.

Struggle and Perfection

This pressure to create a perfect photo, with some kind of mystical, unobtainable green. The crippling fear of noise or a high ISO that stops us from simply capturing the moments in front of us. The belief that we have to edit in a particular way in order to create beautiful photos. The sense that we need the most magical of locations to make something worthwhile.

Part of my goal this past year became about breaking down some of these ideas.

I wanted to encourage my students to play. To experiment. To try a tool in Photoshop, to slide a slider, to capture a candid moment, to reflect on why a pose or expression or location might not work, but accept that that is simply part of the learning process. 

I wanted us to stop being so hard on ourselves. 

I wanted us to forgive a bit of noise in the pursuit of a meaningful photo. After all, whether it’s for us, or our clients, what is preferable? Having captured the photo at all but with a bit of noise? Or simply not pressing the shutter button for fear of the noise? 

I know what my clients would prefer. I know what I would prefer.

If you need permission in 2022 to free yourself of some of these fears and constraints, this is it. 

Create what makes you happy and inspired. Own it. Don’t apologise for it.

If you want to edit something a bit more dramatic or darker than normal, do it. Maybe you’ll love the result, maybe you won’t. Take that, and learn from it. If you love it, post it and own it! Don’t say: “Sorry this is a bit darker than normal….” I guarantee you, we are our own worst critics. The moment we point out something we’re uncertain about is the moment that our audience is immediately drawn to that very thing and notices it too.

Finding Balance

The other thing this year has taught me, and continues to teach me, is about balance. Balance in my own life, finding my way through holding events for my students and constantly trying to create new content for them, or for social media, or for marketing…. While still having enough time for the dogs, their fitness and training, my own fitness and training, and to keep my life in some semblance of order…

But also balance in the work we do. Balancing posing with candid photos. Balancing client expectations. Balancing the amount we charge with the amount of time we spend on our photos (I recently saw a 2 hour photoshoot, with 20 photos included advertised for £75. This is not sustainable.). Balancing small things in editing as well. I find myself often saying  to my students “It’s a balancing act…”

It’s a balancing act with black dogs. We cannot have things two ways: a black dog who is pure black, but who is also light and bright, with each strand of fur clearly visible. He is either black, or he is grey. Somewhere in the middle of these two shades is the balance point, where our black dog looks black, but has shape and detail.

It’s a balancing act with cameras, settings, their capabilities and the available light. At what point do you underexpose and have to brighten in editing? At what point will your ISO be so high that the photo is nearly unusable? 

White balance, contrast, saturation, dodge and burn, all kept in balance – or at least, they are for me. That’s my style, though. I call it “Fantastical reality.” It is a little too colourful and too dramatic to be truly real, but real enough that it doesn’t feel like a complete fantasy. We’re going to be starting off 2022 thinking about style. Maybe you want to join us! Keep an eye out for workshop info or join my mailing list for all updates! 😊

What’s next for Inspawration?

The Learning Community will be opened up again, with a bit of a new format that will hopefully allow me to better serve my students, to find some of my energy help bring that to their work. Right now, I feel so tired and spread thin that something has to change. I want to inspire my students to learn, but I can’t do that without energy.

I want to hold more in-person workshops next year, assuming Covid doesn’t get out of control. If you are interested in helping me organise a workshop, this is how my calendar kind of looks for 2022. I need people “on location” to help me find places to hold the teaching/indoor parts of the workshop, and to find a nice location for the shoot itself.

January: Germany (mostly near Luxembourg)

February: Germany?? No plans yet!

March: UK (England & Scotland!)?

April: Hopefully filming for Top Dog (Köln?), maybe Italy at the end of April (depends on Top Dog!)

May: Holland! & Northern Germany

June: ??? Competition near Augsburg (maybe) early June. Maybe Sweden????

July: 7-10 maybe Slovenia? Or end of July France (Bourgogne)

August: 5-7 Belgium? 18-21: Switzerland?

September: Nothing planned! Very cautiously considering Australia, of all things. 

October: Nothing planned yet.

November: Nothing planned yet.

So, as you can see, I’m all over the place. Nothing is really “nailed down” just yet, because many of the agility competitions I want to go to haven’t opened so I’m not sure if we’ll get a place, but they will be the goal. 

If you are in/near any of the areas I listed above and are interested in a workshop, lesson or portrait session, send me an email! I’d love to hear from you! [email protected]

As for the rest, I want to keep building on what I’ve started. New courses to be made, with some input from some guests. Getting my name out there. Helping pet owners fix simple things in their photography to take better photos. More editing tutorials, but also continuing to spread the word that solid foundations behind the camera tend to be way more important than the editing side of things.

And I’ll put it out to all of you, dear followers of Inspawration, lovers of pet photography and fans of my two boys: what would you like to see from us in 2022?

What educational offerings are lacking? What would help you move forward with your photography? How would you love to learn? Let me know in the comments, I would love to hear from you.

Until next time, happy photography!

~Emily, Loki & Journey

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