How to Start a Career in Pet Portraits


For those who consider their pets to be part of the family, there's nothing they wouldn't do for their precious dogs, cats, birds, horses or exotic animals -- including paying someone to paint them or take professional photographs. That's where you come in. If you have a passion for art, it can certainly turn into a career as a pet portrait artist or photographer. First, spend some time honing your artistic skills and learning to work well with animals.

Honing Artistic Skills

  • While some artists get their start by simply picking up a paintbrush or camera and getting started, others need more guidance. If you're the second type, pursue classes in art, photography, painting and drawing. The most formal way to do it is to earn a bachelor's degree in art, fine art or photography from a university. Even if you want to paint or draw, learn the basics of photography so that you can take photos of your subjects to use in portraits. For a less-formal path, take classes at a community or technical college, art studio or photography studio. In school, seek out mentors who can critique your work and help connect you with opportunities to showcase what you do.

Working With Pets

  • If you plan to work with live animals, instead of working just from photos, you also need experience handling them. That might include volunteering at your local animal shelter, working in a pet store or veterinary clinic, or even taking a dog training class with your own pooch. During the class, you'll be in touch with experts in animal behavior who can give you helpful tips. Plus, these experiences will give you subjects for your work. An article in Hyphen magazine describes how pet photographer Grace Chon gained experience working with dogs by shooting pictures at her local animal shelter.

Work for Free -- for a While

  • Throughout your learning phase, take any opportunity you get to do portraits of people's pets. If you find some people willing to give you money for it, great, but at the beginning, you might need to do some unpaid work to establish yourself and build your portfolio. As you gain more experience, research other local photographers' rates, so that you'll offer competitive rates. When you do a free portrait for a friend, family member or acquaintance, ask the person to write you a testimonial for your website and to refer you to at least two friends. Success in this career often involves getting local contacts and referrals.

Marketing Your Business

  • Marketing is the way you'll bring new clients in the door. This should include a professional website that showcases the work you've done, as well as social media channels such as Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram. Also attend pet-related events, such as dog shows to pass out your business card, or better yet, set up a booth and bring along large-scale examples of your work. For photographers, having holiday props and cute backdrops for your studio can also help you make time-specific sales, suggests the Steve's Digicams website. You could even do on-site portraits at pet fairs, county fairs and other large public events. When you find an interested client, lay out your prices and let the prospective customer know your value. Do not be afraid to be tenacious to close the sale, suggests Digital Photography Review.

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