Family photographs are rarely pleasant affairs. Kids with pristine comb-overs, hands resting awkwardly on shoulders, a cheesy smile destined for a dusty frame in the hall.
But while those frames once would have shown parents beaming proudly with their children, everyday Australians are increasingly choosing to feature their fluffier dependants, leading to a boom in demand for pet photography services.
With nearly 70% of Australian households owning a pet, and an industry growth rate of about 7.4% per year, there’s been growth across the board, and it’s led to the emergence of a niche, dedicated industry which may have seemed unimaginable 15 years ago.
One such snapper is Melbourne business owner Simon Woodcock, who runs the excellently named dog photography service Pupparazzi. He tells SmartCompany his history is in the publishing world, once sitting on the picture desk for the Daily Mirror and the BBC in the UK.
“My first foray into pet photography was a gig doing contract photography for a magazine published by a dog food company. It wasn’t until I moved to Australia in 2008 and got a few jobs shooting dogs at weddings that I decided to take the plunge,” Woodcock says.
“I knew the publishing industry was on the downturn, and I felt like I didn’t have much to lose. My sister-in-law came up with the name for the business, and fortunately, it found its feet quite quickly.”
With the business running for the last 10 years, Woodcock notes the demand has been noticeably increasing over the past few years, but says there are still only about eight other photographers who “do it well” in Melbourne.
“I started off making this up as I went along, and now it’s really found its niche. It seems to just have legs of its own,” he laughs.
“Local competition isn’t that fierce, we’ve all got our own styles and strengths. Some people book on those strengths, and others just say they’re booking because of my business name alone.”
Woodcock’s imagery is focused largely on the pets themselves, usually close-up, with the subject staring into the camera.
Katy Rickards and Michelle Campbell, founders of dog photography business Dogfolk, have a different style. Their images take after family photography, usually including the ‘parents’ in the shot, cuddling or sitting with their pets.
The two were inspired by the “crazy” rise in people creating Instagram accounts for their pets, feeling they could move the needle away from the standard photos of a dog doing something cute in a park.
“We felt there was a gap in terms of a real lifestyle pet photographer, capturing things around the home, in cafes, the actual places people hang out with their dogs,” Campbell tells SmartCompany.
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With Rickards having a background as a photographer and Campbell having one as a copywriter, the two launched Dogfolk in mid-2017, with a focus on showcasing the bond between dogs and their owners.
“Melbourne is such an eclectic city, we wanted photography inspired by the relationship pets share with their owners, one that shows the uniqueness of the life they share,” she says.
Joined by their adored Cocker Spaniel Ziggy, the two have run Dogfolk part-time, but have plans to turn it into a full-time business within a few years. Woodcock also runs Pupparazzi part-time, but says the business comes in peaks and troughs, and some weeks he’ll find himself booked out.
“Doing it part-time gives me a bit of freedom over what I charge and the shoots I choose. If it doesn’t sound quite right, I can turn it down. That doesn’t happen often, but there is that aspect of it needing to be the right fit,” he says.
Dogs over kids
Both agree the industry is on the up and only set to get bigger, with Woodcock believing it’s due to the rise in Australians choosing pets over children and treating them as such.
“People in Australia treat their dogs as part of the family. From my clients, I meet ones with kids and dogs, and some that just have dogs, and they’re a major part of the family,” he says.
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That means there’s money to be spent too, with Woodcock estimating his clients spend between $750-1000 on average for a shoot.
Campbell agrees, but also attributes some of the demand to a slightly different factor, pinning the growth on the rise of social media, and the desire for dog owners to show off their fluffy friends.
“More and more people are creating Instagram accounts for their dogs, and we’re seeing things like breed meetups happening in cities across Australia,” she says.
“That’s one thing we’re trying to get in on as photographers, but 10 years ago going to a meetup with 100 other Cocker Spaniels would have been unheard of.”
“It’s really taken hold.”
“I’ve certainly had worse jobs”
Both Woodcock and Campbell love what they do and the unpredictability the job brings, with pets often being much more dynamic subjects compared to humans. There have also been a few weird shoots, too.
“When I first started out, I shot a dog wedding,” Woodcock says.
“They both arrived in a little Cadillac, and one was in a suit and they performed a whole ceremony.”
But in the end, it’s the unpredictability which draws them to the job and makes every shoot different and enjoyable.
“Some days I’ll end up on a beach, and I’ll be shooting the dog and something catches its eye and it just completely changes the image. A spark in the eye, a prick of the ears, it can turn a photo from average to great,” he says.
“And at the end of the day, I get to go for a nice stroll and spend time with dogs. I’ve certainly had worse jobs.”