Love Playing With Cats and Dogs? How to Become a Pet Photographer
It seems there's no end to the ways you can make money serving pets and their owners.
Not convinced? Previous posts have covered everything from building cat enclosures, to earning $100 per night pet sitting, to becoming a pet detective. We even reported on one woman who has almost paid off her mortgage by selling used pet toys.
Here’s one more option to add to the list: become a pet photographer.
When people look at photos of their pets, their brains respond in many of the same ways as when they see photos of their kids, according to Health.com. That's no surprise to those of us who already refer to our cats and dogs as our “children.” And just as people pay for pictures of their kids, they pay for photos of their pets.
Here’s what you’ll need to know to build a business taking photos of dogs, cats and birds -- or even ferrets, lizards, horses and other animals.
How Much Can You Make as a Pet Photographer?
Taking pictures of dogs and cats can be more than just a side gig; for some photographers it's their primary business.
Rates vary quite a bit, but as an example let's look at Dog Street Photo in Sarasota, Florida. Owner and photographer Kim Longstreet charges a session fee of $175, which includes up to two hours of photo time. Clients get a few photo prints, plus up to 50 more in a "password protected online viewing gallery," which remains active for three weeks. Longstreet sells additional professional prints starting at $40 each, and offers packages starting at $175.
Of course, a pet photographer has most of the same expenses as any other photographer. And the time involved never ends with the last click of the shutter. For example, Longstreet travels up to 25 miles from home for a shoot -- so she needs to consider how much she’ll spend on gas and other travel costs.
Photographer Shannon Holden says she had to raise her fees once she discovered that, after expenses and accounting for all the time she spent on her photos, she was making less than $6 per hour. Here are some of the ongoing expenses she says you'll have to plan for:
- Repairs and replacement of equipment
- Business registrations
- City occupational taxes
- Sales tax license
- A professional accountant
- Liability insurance
- Educational workshops
- Fees for professional organizations
- Magazine subscriptions
- Advertising materials
- Website hosting
These costs can add up to thousands of dollars annually! You might put off some expenses until you're doing well (if business is slow, you could do your own accounting, for example). However, only a portion of what you charge will make it to the bottom line -- something to keep in mind when pricing your services.
Getting Started in Pet Photography
Even if you're already a photographer, you may need additional training and preparation to work with animals. Holden suggests that you take thousands of photos and constantly look at how you can improve them. Start with your own pets, experimenting with various backgrounds. She also thinks you should join a club or online forum where you can share your work and get some unbiased feedback and advice.
The experience you get and the technical skills you develop will be 20% of your success, according to Holden. The other 80% comes from your business skills. In other words, it's even more important that you learn how to run a business and market yourself.
This is not a low-cost startup, especially if you're not already a photographer. Holden says she spent $40,000 on equipment in her first few years (cameras, light reflectors, editing software -- the list goes on). You may need to spend a few thousand dollars before you even get hired by your first client.
Buying into a franchise is another option. It's a more expensive route, but you'll have support and a system to follow. For example, a Lil’ Pals Pet Photography franchise costs about $71,000 to start, of which $10,000 is your initial franchise fee. The rest is for your mobile photography studio, basic equipment, training, insurance and other startup costs.
Their basic business model is to contact groomers, veterinary clinics, pet stores and other hosts to set up photo sessions for their customers' pets. After you develop the photos, you return them to the host location and let that host distribute them to pet owners. You get an exclusive territory as part of your franchise.
Pet photography clearly isn't an easy business to get off the ground, but if you love animals and love taking pictures, it could be a rewarding side business.
Your Turn: Are you good enough with both cameras and animals to become a pet photographer?