When I was 18 I got my first dog, Mallei. I was obsessed…and that obsession spilled over into taking photos. Now, as a professional dog photographer, I know that was the starting point that launched my new career path journey & lifestyle (and my online pet photography school!).
But back then, of course, I had one of those little 8 MP cameras, everything was on auto and I had really no idea what I was doing…how to be a professional dog photographer hadn’t even crossed my mind yet.
Yet those photos are so precious to me. Not because they were any good, but because of what they represented. Even if I’ve lost the original files, and what I have are tiny low-resolution things, it’s so important for us to look back and take stock of where we were and where we are now. Progress is hard, knotty and filled with doubt – as I know only too well and see so often with my students. But sometimes a little self-reflection can give us the boost we really need to keep trying, keep learning & be proud of what we’ve achieved.
So welcome to my photography journey! 🙂
This blog is dedicated to not just my journey, but the journey of my Inspawration Photography School students, who share their work with me in our Learning Community. Watching them progress has inspired me to not only share their fantastic work, but look back on my own progress too.
So let’s go back to the beginning…
At university I studied drama & literature (which I like to think comes across a little in my style), but I had a spare slot for a class. So I filled those two semester gaps with a Photography class.
In the first semester we had to use a 35mm film camera and learn about manual exposure settings. The second semester was all about digital manipulation – which was handy because I had already taught myself how to do that anyway! My main memory of this class was one assignment where I made 3 copies of a photo of my lovely Mallei going around sheep – the main task being to make sure he was casting realistic shadows.
Then adulthood happened (which no one warns you about, right?) and I got busy. I didn’t really touch photography for a while, I was too busy teaching and erranding and having a social life to think about picking up a camera and continuing my learning journey.
And then I got Loki. My gorgeous black, white, pointy eared & constantly hungry collie. And he was so gosh darn cute and photogenic that I was spurred on to pick up my camera again. It didn’t take long for the obsession to return, and I started to get more serious.
Though I was curious about taking better photos, what camera settings did and the magic of editing, at this point I still had no idea what I was doing. Until a professional photographer took photos of my boys for a portfolio shoot, and I was fascinated by her process. Specifically how she had the sun BEHIND the dogs. My. Mind. Was. Blown. And the results were magical.
So naturally I googled it, tried it myself & ended up with some bright and sunny backlit images. (Clearly my love of backlight photography hasn’t gone away…)
This was the time when I really started experimenting. I LOVED taking candid action photos of my dogs running around in the yard together. There’s something innocent and unpolished about those photos and that time, before I knew anything about “composition” or “rules”. It’s a magical space – one I always encourage my students to relish rather than rushing through.
Without knowing it, I took the last photos that I would ever take of Mallei – a bunch of slightly blurry portrait shots due to a slow shutter speed. But I still love them. One of them is the other photo in the banner for this post. Loki and I flew from Australia to Europe for an epic adventure, leaving Mallei with my incredible Aunt, and Lumen (the other Aussie in the photo above) with my ex husband.
For the next 2 years I travelled hard, living in a van with Loki for about 2 years, driving all around Europe, taking photos in .jpeg. I was blowing out the sky, chopping off legs, using only wide angle lenses… but hey – it was capturing special memories and trying to show the beauty of the amazing places we were visiting.
At some point during the travels I met a professional photographer, a friend’s boyfriend, who was AGHAST that I wasn’t taking photos in .raw. He introduced me to radial filters (which later became an editing tool I adored). I started photographing in .raw, meaning I could save a lot more data and do a heck of a lot more with my photos.
So, in the spirit of that guy – hey you! If you’re not shooting in .raw yet, why not?!
People on Facebook loved my travelling photos and I began to consider making this a proper thing. Like a job! I saw other photographers, professional photographers, whose work was of a similar level to mine. So why wasn’t I doing it?
It was time.
So I signed up for an online class and got my learning on. I soon started getting out and really experimenting with photography, working on my technical skills, finding my style & understanding how to harness the amazing technology we have today.
There was a guest photographer in the course who did an editing tutorial and I really loved his style. I emailed him and we organised a private lesson while I was in Holland, since I would be visiting over Christmas anyway. It was fantastic.
We went over the theory side, then did a photoshoot for a couple of hours, then we edited for a couple of hours. This was a huge turning point for my work – you can pretty much SEE the day I did the workshop with him on my Instagram if you scroll back.
Side note: He’s still as inspirational as ever, and we’re actually chatting about doing a combined workshop in the UK in a few months, if the world is open and everything is kind to us!
The top photos were all taken a couple of weeks before the bottom photos (after the workshop). Although the older photos may look ‘flashy’ all those bright, STRONG colours and bright light doesn’t match the dog (eg. a very serious intense dog in super bright super colourful settings). This makes the images not make sense (at least to me). There are so many distractions from the subject, rather than working to draw the viewer’s attention to the subject of the photo.
From there I started building my portfolio and gaining clients. It was magical doing what I loved and having the freedom to travel and meet new people – especially meeting their fur friends!
Everything was amazing and then…. covid hit.
But it was during this time that I saw so many Instagram pages, so many friends and family, and so many of everyone actually taking photos of their dogs. However, they often expressed the same frustrations I had when I started out. They were going through all the same problems: bad light, bad composition, bad settings… and the teacher in me hadn’t quite gone away. I desperately wanted to help.
So I started building a course. And then the course became 4 courses. And I was editing like CRAZY. Hours and hours and hours. And then people started asking me for editing tutorials, and if I did lessons. So those 4 courses became my fully fledged Learning Community – and here we are.
As you can see, I’ve included some old photos for reference. I hope they show you that starting out can be just as special as when you are years in. That the learning curve is more like…a learning slide. It can be a fun journey!
And below I’ve attached some of my favourite before and after photos from my students. They are proof that we can improve our skills, that online courses rock and that we can enjoy the journey! Check them out:
If you are looking to improve your dog photography in a flexible, enjoyable and supportive way, I’d totally recommend pet photography online courses. It’s how I started and it’s what took my work to the next level – both personally and professionally.
If that sounds good, then I’d love to meet you on the next intake round of my Learning Community. I only open this when I have space, and the time has finally come!
It’s a special place to develop your technical confidence, experience new ways of elevating your editing & get support from other amazing community members. All while working & learning at your own pace.
Intake opens 1st September and closes on 7th September. So if you want to start the journey together, let’s do this!